Would You Invite Your Uncle to the Cookout?

Everybody has “that one uncle” in their family.  You know, the one that wears the two-piece suit to the family picnic and makes his second to-go plate before folks finish eating; or, the uncle who always come through for you in the clutch. In Black communities, uncles are often like second fathers to their relatives’ kids and play a crucial role in supporting the family.

Though not related by blood, there are some famous uncles from American pop culture that we all know and share in the Black community. While Uncle Phil from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is probably the most well-known and respected among the group, Uncle Tom, Uncle Ruckus, and Uncle Ben are also household names. Let’s take a deeper look at the fascinating stories behind these three men.

Contrary to popular belief, Uncle Tom was not an excessively subservient Black man who groveled at the white man’s feet. It turns out that Harriet Beecher Stowe completely mischaracterized the story of a man named Josiah Henson in her book “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” which led to the derogatory stereotype associated with the name. Henson was actually an enslaved African who escaped to become an abolitionist and minister. He later went on to open up a 200-acre settlement and laborer’s school in Canada for other fugitive slaves who escaped America’s brutality. All of that is to say he was far from the docile submissive man that Stowe portrayed him to be.

Now, Uncle Ruckus from The Boondocks is a completely different story. If you have an uncle like him in the family, he just might not get invited to the cookout. The infamous old angry man claimed to have a disease that turned his skin from white to Black when he was a baby because he has an intense hatred for all things African American. He believes Black people should never have existed at all. Unfortunately, Ruckus acquired this mindset from his mother who was extremely poor and claimed her life would have been completely better if she was born white. If you are interested in some of Ruckus’s most outlandish statements about Black folks, click here.

Uncle Ben’s rice is a staple in many Black homes, but how many people actually know who the man is on the box? It turns out that the face and name, “Uncle Ben,” come from two entirely different people. Ben was a Texas rice farmer known for delivering high-quality rice to food buyers in the 1940s. The word “Uncle” was attached because it was a common trend in the South to refer to older Black servants or slaves by the term. The face of Uncle Ben’s rice originated from a man named Frank Brown, who was a maître d’ at a Chicago restaurant frequented by the rice company’s top execs before WWII. The combination of Ben’s name and Frank’s face thus birthed one of today’s most iconic food brands.

While the names of these Black uncles may be famous, their backstories aren’t as well known. Can you spot them at this summer’s family cookout? What about the Mack Daddy Uncle, the Preacher Uncle or the Baller Uncle?  If you do, let us know and check out more profiles of famous Black uncles.