Starbucks' Uncle Tom

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UNCLE MICHAEL'S NAPPIN'

By G.M. Gast
8/28-29/2007
813 words
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Michael Gates Gill's forthcoming book, How Starbucks Saved My Life, promises to be a classic racial parody (conjuring up the pre-Civil War American novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1850-51), by Harriet Beecher Stowe), if the excerpt published in the September/October 2007 issue of AARP The Magazine is any indication ("Wake Up and Sell the Coffee," page 99)[1].
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I had no sooner written to a friend of mine that whites, especially older whites, are becoming the new servant class in America than I received my copy of AARP The Magazine and saw it right there in black and white: Uncle Michael himself, the epitome of the New White Slave.
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This riches-to-rags Starbucks story is allegedly by an aging, formerly privileged white boy who zealously embraces his slide into poverty as a gratifying social re-education where every day brings a welcome new attitude adjustment session.
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Imagine him as an aging, formerly privileged black boy (of whom there are many) extolling the virtues of his newfound job as a shoeshine boy in New York City's Grand Central Station. The Rev. Al Sharpton would be hotly objecting in an instant, organizing Outrage Rallies and boycotting Gotham Books.
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Speaking of imagining things, I blinked in astonishment at the lead illustration. The artist had managed to subtly depict Michael as a "blue-eyed devil," with horns coming straight out of his head above his ears. A Black Muslim signature, I gasped?
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Oh. What a relief! It was only the bottom edge of the sign on the wall directly behind his head bearing the Starbucks Coffee logo ... uh ... the ball-shaped logo with the bawdy split-tailed mermaid centered right over his bald head, the sexy siren who lures men to their doom and steals their souls. Ouch.
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And what was going on with that sign recommending Caramel Machia instead of Starbucks' famous Caramel Mocha? Who ever heard of Caramel Machia?
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I had to get my eyes off these details by any means necessary. Maybe I could focus on the little black on white zebra squiggles on Michael's apron instead. (Ahh. A minor form of Machiavellian success!)
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I tried to track down this Michael Gates Gill on the internet. While it is well-known that the internet is not always a reliable source of information, I nevertheless managed to piece together the following history of the author (with apologies to all the fact-checkers out there).
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His ancestors on the continent of Am'rika came from the royal lineage of Gill Gates, the richest man in the world, who happened to be white. That's how Uncle Michael got to be white himself.
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He used to be a free man, but was cast out of his former life when he lost his job as an executive vice president of advertising at J. Walter Thompson. In spite of his business acumen, he had trouble maintaining his own consulting practice, and after ten years he was financially strapped. That made him a sitting duck for head-hunting slave traders.
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Suddenly, he allowed himself to be taken captive by the first slave trader to make him an offer. He eagerly took a lowly job at Starbucks. Being tired and hungry, he felt grateful to be employed at all.
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Years of struggle and poor nutrition, however, had taken their toll. The incredible speed of his young and well-fed black co-workers intimidated him. He said, "I became scared and withdrawn." In spite of having been in charge of many advertising accounts in his previous career, he had "fears about mishandling money" at the cash register. As for his young black female boss, he was "frightened and desperate for this young woman's approval." He apparently needed less stress and more sleep.
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So the slavers gave him a place to stay at Uncle Tom's cabin, where his soul, which used to be so full of self confidence and pride, was replaced with a more humble character. Tacked onto the walls were pictures of kindly old Uncle Tom, blackface minstrel shows, the Amos 'n' Andy radio show and black vaudeville actor Lincoln Theodore Perry's "Step and Fetch It" character: Stepin Fetchit. His new family, his cabin mates, made him happier and happier every day. He was never to be disturbed while he was getting his much-needed rest: "Shh! Uncle Michael's nappin'!" There were high fives and hugs, and love was all around.
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One day, his young black female boss, Crystal, tested him. "How do you feel about picking cotton today?" she gently asked. It was really a command disguised as a question, Southern style. "There's nothing on earth I'd rather do," he snivelled sappily, with a servile grin plastered across his white face. "No sirree, ma'am!"
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His fall from power and elevation to slavery were complete.
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Time to wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe tomorrow.
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-THE END-
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[1] "Wake Up and Sell the Coffee," excerpt from How Starbucks Saved My Life, by Michael Gates Gill, September/October 2007 issue of AARP The Magazine, page 99. Text scanned:
http://listserv.uri.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0708&L=theforum-l&T=0&P=14306
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© 2007 Gloria Merle Huffman
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