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Book Talk: Uncle: Race, Nostalgia, and the Politics of Loyalty with Cheryl Thompson

January 31, 2023
12:30 PM EST - 1:00 PM EST
Online via Zoom webinar
Adrianne Kenmir, Alumni Relations Officer —
Book Talk: Uncle: Race, Nostalgia, and the Politics of Loyalty with Cheryl Thompson

About the Book

From martyr to insult, how “Uncle Tom” has influenced two centuries of racial politics.

Jackie Robinson, President Barack Obama, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, O.J. Simpson and Christopher Darden have all been accused of being an Uncle Tom during their careers. How, why, and with what consequences for our society did Uncle Tom morph first into a servile old man and then to a racial epithet hurled at African American men deemed, by other Black people, to have betrayed their race?

Uncle Tom, the eponymous figure in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s sentimental anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was a loyal Christian who died a martyr’s death. But soon after the best-selling novel appeared, theatre troupes across North America and Europe transformed Stowe’s story into minstrel shows featuring white men in blackface. In Uncle, Cheryl Thompson traces Tom’s journey from literary character to racial trope. She explores how Uncle Tom came to be and exposes the relentless reworking of Uncle Tom into a nostalgic, racial metaphor with the power to shape how we see Black men, a distortion visible in everything from Uncle Ben and Rastus The Cream of Wheat chef to Shirley Temple and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson to Bill Cosby.

In Donald Trump’s post-truth America, where nostalgia is used as a political tool to rewrite history, Uncle makes the case for why understanding the production of racial stereotypes matters more than ever before.

About the Author

Dr. Cheryl Thompson, Author, Public Speaker, Professor
Dr. Cheryl Thompson

Author, Public Speaker, Professor

In 2022, Dr. Cheryl Thompson joined Performance at Toronto Metropolitan University at the rank of Assistant Professor. She was previously faculty in Creative Industries (2018 – 2021). She is the author of Uncle: Race, Nostalgia, and the Politics of Loyalty (2021) and Beauty in a Box: Detangling the Roots of Canada’s Black Beauty Culture (2019), (external link, opens in new window)  Dr. Thompson is currently director of The Laboratory for Black Creativity (The LBC), which extends the pedagogy of THF470: Black Creative Practices, an open elective course that unpacks Black creative origins, forms, and styles. The LBC aims to be an incubator for research, conversations, and events on music, dance, theatre, festivals, fashion, media, and the visual arts. The goal is to create space for Black creatives, scholars, artists, musicians, actors and directors, dancers and choreographers at The Creative School.

In 2021, Dr. Thompson was a recipient of an Ontario Early Researcher Award (2021 – 2026) titled, “Mapping Ontario’s Black Archives Through Storytelling,” this project aims to catalogue Ontario’s Black archival collections, and through ethnographic interviews with the province’s creative community, collect stories about the collections that will culminate with a public exhibition curated by Dr. Thompson and her research team. In addition to publishing in academic journals, magazines, and newspapers, Dr. Thompson has also appeared on numerous podcasts and media platforms in Canada and internationally. Dr. Thompson holds a PhD in Communication Studies from McGill University. She previously held a Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Theatre, Drama & Performance Studies, and the University of Toronto Mississauga’s Department of English & Drama. In 2021, Dr. Thompson was named to the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists.

About the Moderator

Dr. Anne-Marie Lee-Loy, Associate Dean, Undergraduate Studies, Faculty of Arts, Toronto Metropolitan University
Dr. Anne-Marie Lee-Loy

Associate Dean, Undergraduate Studies, Faculty of Arts, Toronto Metropolitan University

Dr. Anne-Marie Lee-Loy is the Associate Dean, Undergraduate Studies in the Faculty of Arts at Toronto Metropolitan University. Her research and teaching interests emerge from her Caribbean heritage and her background in postcolonial studies. She is an award-winning author whose work has focussed primarily on questions pertaining to representations of minority diasporic populations in relation to the construction of cultural identities with a particular interest in the representations of the Chinese in the Caribbean. She has served as the Chair of the Department of English and, most recently, was part of the committee that developed the proposal for the Black Studies Minor at TMU.