On the Specific Meaning of the Term “house negro” and On Its Tactical Use
Every revolution has a counter-revolution. The establishment provides continuous resources to eliminate resistance. Justice-minded independent thinkers navigate a sea of deception. Powerful words are constantly transformed into non-threatening phrases geared towards creating compliance and self-monitoring.
A brilliant liberation strategist finds just the right language and collaborating service intellectuals are on it. They will first try to bar its use as being “excessive,” “confrontational” (used as a negative), and “counter-productive.” If this assault is not successful, then they will, in the longer run, “create the needed interpretive framework”.
A prominent example is Malcolm X’s “house negro” term for modern use.  What could be clearer in terms of identifying disguised collaborators against Black liberation? One solution is to make the term itself into a “racist slur”, thereby putting everyone on guard against its use.
Another avenue is to dilute its meaning and to apply it only selectively against the highest profile Black public figures such as Barack Obama and Condoleezza Rice, rather than in the daily local resistance struggle.
This essay is a call to be clear on the modern meaning of the term “house negro”. Arguably the first definition of “service intellectual” was given in my 2006 essay Gradual change is not progress:
Comfortable First World liberal and left intellectuals claiming to work for change often project the opinion that positive change is best achieved by incremental improvements, gradual progress, dialogue, and negotiations that acknowledge the legitimacy of the other side. They assert that confrontation is ‘counter productive’. There is an army of academics, managers, and professionals, who will argue this point quite strenuously. They are the service intellectuals.
Their job is to block any model that would involve people of the disadvantaged side actually demanding change in the structure that keeps them at the bottom. Instead, they promote a dialogue model in which the disadvantaged side enters into loaded and unwinable negotiations with players that hold all the cards. These negotiations ensure that institutional structures of inequity are reinforced rather than progressively dismantled. [...]
In retrospect, the term is a race-neutral version of the “house negro” term defined for modern use by Malcolm X.  It is race-neutral in the sense that service intellectuals are recruited, for superior benefits and specialized service, irrespective of race: any advantageous personal characteristic will do. Both these terms, “service intellectual” and “house negro”, are precise, needed, and powerful in liberation praxis. And it is important to preserve their meanings without allowing dilution or imprecision or re-casting. Therefore, I want to stress the difference between a “service intellectual” and what I will call a “service manager”; or between a “house negro” and what one could call a “manager negro”. Many critics will be outraged at my alleged disrespect as a white man to be defining terms such as “house negro” and “manager negro” and would have me chastised, fired, sued, or jailed. To you I say four things:
- Good sense is where you find it.
- Would you prefer that a service intellectual - of any colour - define the terms?
- Most whites when they talk about race say shit but a white can be right on race.
- Suppression of freedom of expression is harmful.
Unlike a “service intellectual” (“house negro”), a “service manager” (“manage negro”) is not primarily concerned with image and mental environment maintenance but instead has the primary assigned task of managing some sector or enterprise for the hierarchical bosses.
In a “race conscious” racialized hierarchy of dominance it is useful for white masters to employ black managers. But it is more than useful in terms only of “race relations” it is also simple recruitment from the appropriate class base and it can be strategic in terms of the sector or enterprise to be managed. Given these distinctions, I would say that figures such as U.S. president Obama are more “manager negroes” than they are “house negroes”; just as the modern white presidents were mostly manager whiteys rather than service intellectuals (no argument there!). To call Obama a “house negro” is to dilute and weaken the term. He is primarily a manager. I suggest we preserve the meaning intended by Malcolm X, following his years of study in a unique prison library and years of battle in the public arena and avoid most of the newer “hogwash” meanings proposed by the ever growing army of service intellectuals and manager academics.   As stated by Malcolm X (Autobiography, Chapter 14):
Since slavery, the American white man has always kept some handpicked Negroes who fared much better than the black masses suffering and slaving out in the hot fields. The white man had these “house” and “yard” Negroes for his special servants. He threw them more crumbs from his rich table, he even let them eat in his kitchen. He knew that he could always count on them to keep “good massa” happy in his self-image of being so “good” and “righteous.” “Good massa” always heard just what he wanted to hear from these “house” and “yard” blacks. “You’re such a good, fine massa!” Or, “Oh, massa, those old black nigger fieldhands out there, they’re happy just like they are; why, massa, they’re not intelligent enough for you to try and do any better for them, massa— Well, slavery time’s “house” and “yard” Negroes had become more sophisticated, that was all. When now the white man picked up his telephone and dialed his “house” and “yard” Negroes— why, he didn’t even need to instruct the trained black puppets. They had seen the television program; had read the newspapers. They were already composing their lines. They knew what to do. I’m not going to call any names. But if you make a list of the biggest Negro “leaders,” so-called, in 1960, then you’ve named the ones who began to attack us “field” Negroes who were sounding insane, talking that way about “good massa.” By no means do these Muslims represent the Negro masses— That was the first worry, to reassure “good massa” that he had no reason to be concerned about his fieldhands in the ghettoes. “An irresponsible hate cult”…“ an unfortunate Negro image, just when the racial picture is improving—”
In addition to diluting the term “house negro”, the other counter-liberation tactic is to so vilify the term as to make it universally unacceptable, even among blacks. This is achieved in two steps. First, one postulates the usual “racism is bad” irrespective of context absolute. Second, one advances that certain words such as “negro”, when used as part of a criticism, are intrinsically racist, that the term “house negro” is a racist slur. It follows that using the term “house negro” is racist, and therefore unacceptable in society. Of course, the technical point that “racism” is defined as belief in intrinsic superiority (or inferiority) on the basis of race, and/or as discrimination on the basis of race, is not even a consideration when a service intellectual or the establishment so decides to canonize a term in itself as being a “racial slur”, irrespective of intent or context, and irrespective of the political dimension. Anti-liberation strategists typically go one step further to amplify the unacceptability of the term “house negro”. They advance that to call a black person a house negro is to state that the said black person is a “race traitor”, a pariah in “the Black community”, and a person who has forfeited his/her racial identity. When status-disadvantaged blacks make these “race traitor” statements, they mean “you have betrayed us”. But when those protecting the collaborators and the collaborators themselves make these same “race traitor” statements, they intend to amplify the insult received to an unacceptable level: “You accuse me, a black person who must carry my blackness wherever I go, of not being black!?” In other words, the “race traitor” device, in the mouth of the establishment, is one where race is again used as an absolute in order to blur the fundamental class distinction which is inherent in the “house negro” term. In a hierarchical context, there is no “the Black community” because blacks are divided by class. The house negro chooses the side of house negroes and works against field negroes. The house negro protects the interests of black house negroes, and therefore the term “house negro” cannot also mean “race traitor” without accepting that field negroes are more representative of the Black race. Since the house negro does not accept the latter when he/she uses the “race traitor” device to cast the “house negro” term as an unacceptable supreme insult that cannot be uttered against a black person, then this device is logically invalid. Muddled thinking on social issues comes from compliance, and is usually not thinking at all. Malcolm X’s clear thinking about the “house negro” criticism came from his praxis. He provided an eminent historical example of the benefits of the use of the “house negro” criticism. Malcolm X explained how and why, in his view, Martin Luther King was an Uncle Tom, in part: 
The white man pays Reverend Martin Luther King, subsidizes Reverend Martin Luther King, so that Reverend Martin Luther King can continue to teach the Negroes to be defenseless. That’s what you mean by non-violent: be defenseless. Be defenseless in the face of one of the most cruel beasts that has ever taken a people into captivity. That’s this American white man. And they have proved it throughout the country by the police dogs and the police clubs.
A hundred years ago they used to put on a white sheet and use a bloodhound against Negroes. Today they’ve taken off the white sheet and put on police uniforms, they’ve traded in the bloodhounds for police dogs, and they’re still doing the same thing. And just as Uncle Tom, back during slavery, used to keep the Negroes from resisting the bloodhound, or resisting the Ku Klux Klan, by teaching them to love their enemy, or pray for those who use them spitefully, today Martin Luther King is just a 20th century or modern Uncle Tom, or a religious Uncle Tom, who is doing the same thing today, to keep Negroes defenseless in the face of an attack, that Uncle Tom did on the plantation to keep those Negroes defenseless in the face of the attacks of the Klan in that day.
Dr. King did not attack Malcolm X but rather became more radicalized in pursuing his work; as he went on to vehemently denounce the Vietnam War . King went on to position the civil rights movement against US warring, thereby additionally threatening both recruitment and acceptance of the war. Malcolm X’s harsh and insulting criticism of Dr. King was part of needed interactions which enriched the broad movement of liberation.
- ^ I use lower case first letters on both “house” and “negro” in the term “house negro” to emphasize the term as an inseparable whole expression, which has been adapted to non-Black contexts, rather than stress “Negro” as though one were simply characterizing members of the Negro race.
- ^ Gradual change is not progress, Denis G. Rancourt, Global Research, May 3, 2006. http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=viewArticle&code=RAN20060503&articleId=2377
- ^ The autobiography of Malcolm X, told by Alex Haley, Random House, 1964; Chapter 14. http://autobiography-of-malcolm-x.wikispaces.com/ 14_black_muslims
- ^ Critical race theory, in the service of whitey, Denis G. Rancourt, Activist Teacher blog, 2011. http://activistteacher.blogspot.ca/ 2011/ 08/ critical-race-theory-in-service-of.html
- ^ ‘Anti-racism’ in support of racism, Denis G. Rancourt, Activist Teacher blog, 2011. http://activistteacher.blogspot.ca/ 2011/ 10/ anti-racism-in-support-of-racism.html
- ^ Malcolm X: The White Man Pays Reverend Martin Luther King, YouTube video of TV interview, http://youtu.be/ nIdfVxCttZQ
- ^ Martin Luther King, Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam, YouTube video of sermon, Sermon at the Ebenezer Baptist Church on April 30, 1967. http://youtu.be/b80Bsw0UG-U