“I am not a victim” is the message that conservative African Americans send to the left in the new film “Uncle Tom.”
The movie, which was executive produced by radio talk-show host Larry Elder, features interviews with prominent black conservatives, such as Carol Swain, Robert L. Woodson, Allen B. West, Candace Owens, and many others.
Elder joins the podcast to explain the purpose of the film and why it is so critical at this moment in history.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
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Rob Bluey: We are joined on The Daily Signal Podcast today by Larry Elder. He’s a bestselling author and popular radio talk show host. You can listen to “The Larry Elder Show” daily on the Salem Radio Network. Larry, it’s a real pleasure to have you as a guest on The Daily Signal Podcast. Thank you.
Larry Elder: It is my honor. Thank you for having me.
Bluey: Well, we are going to talk about an incredible movie called “Uncle Tom,” which you played an important role putting together, but I want to give our listeners first an opportunity to hear a little bit more about your story.
You’re known as the Sage from South Central. You’re unafraid to take on the left and increasingly, and lately, the Black Lives Matter movement. Tell us how you began and how you got to where you are today.
Elder: Well, Rob, my story, frankly, began with my father. And my attitude, my ideology, my personality, my resolve, my drive, all come from him. My mother obviously played a role in that too, but they’re both from the Jim Crow South—my mom from Huntsville, Alabama, my dad from Athens, Georgia.
My dad and I had a difficult relationship growing up. Difficult because I just thought he was moody and grouchy and was easy to anger and spanked us too often, too hard, until I didn’t really care for him. And unfortunately, he started a little cafe when I’m 10 years old and all of us have to work for him. I didn’t like working for him either.
Now I’m 15 years old and my dad spoke to me harshly in front of people. It’s a small little diner. When I say restaurant, it sounds like something grandiose, it’s not—a little diner, hot dog stand, breakfast. And so when the old man yells at you, everybody in the diner can hear it and so it’s embarrassing.
So now I’m 15 years old, the guy yells at me and I told myself, “The next time this SOB yells at me, I’m going to leave.” Now, that is an act of defiance unheard of with my dad.
And my dad yelled at me, I walked out of the restaurant, and my dad came home that night and he was furious. He said, “Why did you leave?” And I said, “Dad, I got sick and tired of the way you spoke to me,” which was also an act of defiance. I never spoke to my dad that way because I was afraid of him.
My dad threw the $10 a day that he paid me at me as I lay on my bed. He walked out of my bedroom and, Rob, I’m not kidding you, he and I did not have another conversation for 10 years. And when I say not have another conversation I mean not even, “Do you think it’s going rain? Think the Rams are going to win?”
I’m in high school at the time and so I graduated from high school, my dad worked long hours, so it was easy to avoid him at home. And then I go away to college in the East Coast, law school in the Midwest, so … I go home to visit my mom. I rarely see this man for 10 years.
Now, keep in mind, he’s not an alcoholic. He’s not abusive. He’s not doing anything other than his responsibilities. I just did not like it.
So now I’m graduated from law school, I’m making a great deal of money, I pass the Ohio bar. I should be living large and I can’t sleep. And I know the reason I can’t sleep is because of my dad. Not that I ever thought we’d become friends, but I knew there was something unresolved.
So I call my secretary and I said, “Cancel all my appointments.” I was in Ohio in those days. I flew back to LA, didn’t tell my dad I was coming. Walk into the cafe and my dad, of course, is shocked to see me. And I said, “I want to talk.” And he said, “Fine, wait until we close.”
So I sat for an hour and I said, “Don’t yell at the guy. Don’t tell him everything he’s ever done. Tell him a couple of things, 5 minute conversation. He’ll call you an ungrateful son, you’ll call him an SOB. Maybe you’ll be able to sleep.”
So, Rob, the man and I sit down and we talk for eight hours.
Elder: And during this eight hours I learn that my dad … OK, let me back up. We sat down and I violated what I said I was going to do, which was to give him the highlights. I talked for 20 minutes nonstop about all the things he ever said to me, ever did to me that I did not like. Twenty minutes nonstop. And the man just took it. He sat at the counter, every now and then he’d get up and pour some more coffee, but basically he just took it.
Pretty soon I was out of ammo, had nothing else to say. And my dad looks up and he says, “Is that it? You didn’t speak to me for 10 years because of this?” And I said, “Yes.” And he said, “Let me tell you about my father.”
Honestly, Rob, this is the first I’ve ever heard of this. Because I didn’t like the man, I didn’t care about his life. I mean, I knew he was an only child because we never got any presents from anybody and I met his mom one time when I went down to Athens. But aside from that, I knew nothing about him. I didn’t care.
And he said, “Your last name, Elder?” I said, “Yeah?” He said, “That’s not my father’s name.” Now, I’m 25 years old. I said, “What?” He said, “Elder was a man who was in my life the longest. My mother had a series of boyfriends. Each one more irresponsible than the other one. I came home at the age of 13 and I started quarreling with my mom’s then-boyfriend. She sides with the boyfriend, throws me out of the house. Never to return.”
Now, you’re talking about a black boy, Athens, Georgia, Jim Crow South, at the beginning of the Great Depression, because my dad was born in 1915.
And I said, “Well, what did you do?” And for the next eight hours, he told me about his life. He goes down the road, does anything, ultimately becomes a Pullman porter. They were the largest private employer of blacks in those days.
So my dad traveled all around the country and he was shocked when he came to California, he was able to walk into a restaurant in the front door and get served. And so my dad made a mental note that maybe some day he’d relocate to California.
Well, Pearl Harbor, my dad joins the Marines. And I knew he had joined the Marines and I said, “Why?” And he said, “Two reasons. They go where the action is and I loved those uniforms.”
My dad became a staff sergeant, island of Guam, cooking facilities. My day could look at a cake, Rob, and tell you what’s in it. That’s how good the man is.
He goes to Chattanooga where he had met and married my mom to get him a job as a short order cook and they told him, “We don’t hire N-words,” to his face, except, obviously, they didn’t say “N-words.”
My dad goes to the unemployment office. The lady says, “You went through the wrong door.” My dad goes out to the hall and looks up. He sees, “Colored only.” He goes to that door to the very same lady who sent him out. My dad went home to my mom and said, “This is BS. I’m going to California. I’m going to get me a job as a cook because I know I can get one there.”
Comes out here, walks around for two days, and the restaurants all tell him the same thing, “You don’t have any references,” which was code for, “We’re not going to hire you because you’re black,” except they were more polite about it.
My dad goes to the unemployment office, this time just one door, California was more progressive. And he took the first job he could get, which was cleaning toilets at Nabisco brand breads. He took a second full-time job cleaning toilets for a company called Barbara and Bread. He cooked for a family on the weekends to make conditional money and went to night school two or three nights a week to get his GED.
The man never slept. This is why he was cranky all the time. Talk about sleep deprivation, what it does to you, this is how this man operated. Not just month after month or year after year, decade after decade.
And as my dad is telling me this, Rob, he is getting bigger and bigger and Larry is getting smaller and smaller. Now I’m crying. I’m crying. I said, “Dad, please forgive me for having these feelings about you.”
And my dad put his hand up and said, “There’s nothing to forgive. You didn’t understand. Just, I want you and your brothers to follow the advice I’ve always given you. Hard work wins. You get out of life what you put into it. And Larry, you cannot control the outcome, but you are 100% in control of the effort. And before you whine about what somebody did to you or said to you, go to the nearest mirror and ask yourself, ‘What could I have done to change the outcome?’ And finally, no matter how good you are, how hard you work, bad stuff will happen. How you deal with that bad stuff will tell your mother and me if we raised a man.”
And my father, Rob, lifelong Republican and the reason, he said, is because “Democrats want to give you something for nothing. And when you try and get something for nothing, you almost always end up getting nothing for something.” And that’s my story and that’s my attitude and that’s why Larry’s the way Larry is.
Bluey: Larry, thank you so much for recounting that. Of course, I should mention that you’ve written a book called “A Lot Like Me: A Father and Son’s Journey to Reconciliation,” which is available and I would encourage our listeners to read it and hear more about your father and his influence on your life. Thank you so much for doing that.
By the way, hard work is a message that I took away when I watched “Uncle Tom.” And you were the executive producer of “Uncle Tom.” It’s just an incredible film. It includes interviews with so many successful black conservative thinkers.
I just have to ask, there was no way you could have anticipated we would be having this conversation in our country right now, but what went into putting this together? What inspired you to bring together these really successful individuals to tell their story?
Elder: Well, I can’t take credit for the idea. The idea was from the young director, whose name is Justin Malone. And he came to me a little more than two years ago with an idea to do a documentary called “Uncle Tom.” He wanted me to participate, to be one of the people featured in the movie.
So I agreed to interview him and I think we talked for maybe an hour, hour and a half. I really can’t even remember. And I had completely forgotten about it. And then a couple months went by and he contacted me and he said, “You remember me? I’m the guy that … ” And I barely remembered him because a lot of people interview me and a lot of people come with ideas and you never see them again. And so he came over and showed me the footage.
As you know, the film is shot in black and white. I thought that was a really intriguing way of doing it. I loved the way he interviewed one other person he had interviewed before me and that was Jesse Lee Peterson.
And I said, “How far are you along to getting this movie done?” And if it were a baseball game, he would have been in the top half of the first inning. I said, “How much money do you have to do it?” And he told me how much money he needed, he had zero money. I said, “Look, I will raise the money, make me a co-writer, make me executive producer, let me help you with the structure of this thing and let’s get it done.”
So we did and fast forward to two years later, all these protests are hitting the streets, and we’re hearing all this stuff about institutional racism and systemic racism and structural racism and I think [that] gave us a new adjective, foundational racism. When in fact, racism has never been a more insignificant factor in American life.
I mean, my goodness, how does Barack Obama win and then get reelected? People seem to think talking about Obama as an example of how great America is is somehow some sort of cliche, but you have to analyze this. He got a higher percentage of the white vote than John Kerry did and he only got 52% of the vote, but by the time he went into office, his approval rating had gone to 70%. That means a whole bunch of people who didn’t vote for him still pulled for him.
Why? Because they knew himself, that he was the symbol that would put in a fork in the notion that America is institutionally racist and we’re letting people know because he’d won the highest position in the land, a position where if you don’t want to vote for somebody black after having told all the people in the world you’re going to vote for him, you could not vote for him because you are by yourself in that voting booth or by yourself sending in your ballot.
So if people want to practice their racism, they are perfectly free to do so. It didn’t happen and indeed his popularity went up after he got elected. How do you explain that in a racist nation? It is BS.
And all of the people in this film—whether it’s Carol Swain or Candace Owens or Herman Cain or Col. Allen West or Brandon Tatum—they’ve all come to the same conclusion, sometimes different ways, in some cases from the left, but come to the same conclusion that America today, for black people, is as great a country as there could possibly be.
In the ’90s, a left-wing sociologist at Harvard named Orlando Patterson, who’s black, said America with all of its flaws is the least racist majority white nation in the world. It provides better opportunities for blacks than all of the countries in the world, including all of those of Africa.
Now, he said that in the ’90s, for crying out loud, and America is more racist now than it was then? It’s ridiculous.
And all of the people in the film are simply asking people on the left, “Let’s have a conversation. Can we talk about whether or not we should be in the party of opening borders? Can we talk about whether or not we should be in the party of Roe v. Wade? Can we talk about whether or not we should be in the party of anti-school choice? And can we do so without me having a different point of view and being dismissed as an Uncle Tom and a coon and a sellout and things I can’t say on family radio?”
Bluey: Larry, there’s so much to unpack there. The film begins, of course, with these scenes of Obama and his successful campaign in 2008 and the inauguration in 2009. And of course, we all remember that moment. And you even have individuals who don’t necessarily agree with his politics, but just obviously feeling that pride in what he had just achieved.
And yet you look at the Obama years, and I picked this up from the film, where it was perhaps an opportunity for him to help us maybe heal some of those wounds that some people had. But instead he, in some senses, poured more gasoline on the fire and some of the comments that he made and positions he took, do you feel that we took a step backward during the Obama years, that led us to the position we find ourselves in today?
Elder: I do. He had an ample opportunity to change the entire conversation about race in this country and failed to do so.
I remember when Nelson Mandela was freed after 27 years of bondage. He was criticized for being so magnanimous to his former captors. And he said, “If you expect more of people, you’d be surprised to the degree or the extent to which they will rise and meet those expectations.” And he held that country together. He didn’t confiscate property from white farmers. He wasn’t vindictive.
Robert E. Lee gets his butt kicked in the Civil War and he then begins talking about his opposition to the construction, not just the Confederate monuments, but of any monuments, because why should we talk about the vanquished and the victors? We should be talking about healing the country. And that’s one of the reasons why so many people in the South praise him, despite the fact that he was a so-called traitor.
Obama could have done the same thing. He had so many chances. His first one was when his good friend Skip Gates is on vacation, comes home, and forgets his door key, and he and the driver break into his own house. A neighbor sees it and astutely calls 911, just as we want our neighbors to do.
Police show up, very politely see a man in the house. Don’t know whether or not the house and the man belong to each other. So they very politely ask him to come out and show ID and rather than do so, he had an attitude and said something about, “I’ll come outside if your mama tells me.” He gets briefly handcuffed and it becomes this big thing.
And instead of Obama going on television, Rob, and saying, “Look, I’ve known Skip Gates a long time. He’s a good friend of mine. But honestly, Skip, you are a tenured professor at Harvard and, by definition, a role model. One of the problems we have in our country is with young people not cooperating with the police when they’re pulled over and stopped, thus escalating into all sorts of tragedies that are unavoidable.”
Instead of telling people this, you’re sending them the wrong message. “That’s what I told my friend Skip Gates last night. And that’s what I’m telling you, America, publicly.” Wow. What did he do? “The Cambridge police acted stupidly.”
Trayvon Martin. “If I had a son, he looked like Trayvon.” I don’t know what that means. And what happens? George Zimmerman is found not guilty and according to the jurors who spoke publicly, not a single instance did race come up.
There was a black alternate, he didn’t sit on the jury, but there was an alternate and he said, “Had I been on the jury, I also would have found George Zimmerman not guilty and race had nothing to do with it.”
Ferguson. Obama gives a speech before the United Nations and said something to the effect of, “We’re not perfect in America. We have our own problems. There’s a place called Ferguson. I know you heard about it.” Ferguson was a lie. The man did not have his hands up, did not say “don’t shoot.” And the officer was completely vindicated.
And we hear all this stuff about the Ferguson PD being institutionally racist. Here’s how they concluded this: 67% of Ferguson is black, 85% of the traffic stops are black. Eighteen-point gap, ergo racism, really?
New York City is 25% black, 55% of those who are stopping traffic stops are black, that’s a 30-point gap. Yet the NYPD, most of the officers are people of color, and in the Ferguson PD, almost all white. Yet the one of all people of color had a much higher gap than the other one.
You can’t do it by looking at numbers. You have to do it by behavior. And it turns out—according to a study done that came out during the Obama administration, put out by the National Institute of Justice, which is the research arm for the [Justice Department], they did a study on race and traffic stops—75% of black motorists admitted that they were stopped for legitimate reasons.
It turns out, you name the offense, whether it’s speeding, driving without a license, driving without headlights on, driving with expired registration, you name the offense, a black motorist was more likely to do it.
I’m sorry, but isn’t that good news that the reason for this has nothing to do with racism? Instead, when I talk about this, I’m called an Uncle Tom and a boot-licker. Can we have a fact-based discussion in the black community without one side being presumed to be evil? And that’s what “Uncle Tom” is all about.
Bluey: Larry, the thing I think so many people love about you and your show—and there’s a great testimonial from Candace Owens in the movie about how she herself was somebody who didn’t realize or had maybe a different perspective on life until she started listening to you and some of your commonsense ideas and actually understanding the true nature of it.
So let me ask you this, both through your radio program and all the things that you do and this particular movie, what do you hope that Americans get out of it? And how can we start to shift that conversation to a point where we do come back to some commonsense things? If you are pulled over by a policeman, rather than resist, that you actually comply with what the officer’s saying.
It seems like we’re heading down a path, and I’m just wondering if you have some ideas or solutions that can get us back into the right trajectory.
Elder: Well, the movie has a lot of goals and they’re pretty ambitious, but the main one is to give a history of both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party.
So many young blacks have no idea about the racist history of the Democratic Party. It is a fact that Democrats founded the KKK. It is a fact that Democrats opposed the 13th Amendment that freed the slaves, the 14th Amendment that gave slaves citizenship, the 15th Amendment that gave them the right to vote. Democrats opposed those things unanimously.
It is a fact that, as a percentage of the party, more Republicans at around 80% voted for the Civil Rights Act of ’64, then Democrats did at around 60%. And it is a lie that parties switched in the mid-’60s en mass because of the Civil Rights Act of ’64. If that were true, you’d have to ask yourself, how many of the Democrats that voted against the Civil Rights Act in the House and in the Senate switched over to the Republican Party?
The answer is one in the Senate, Strom Thurmond; one in the House, whose name I can’t even remember. Outside of that, all the rest of them died Democrats—including Al Gore’s dad who helped to lead one of the longest filibusters, the longest filibuster in the history of the Senate at the time, to prevent the thing from even coming on the floor.
And finally, think about it, you’re a white, racist Democrat and you’re mad because the Civil Rights Act has passed. You’re going to join the party whose members voted for it at a higher percentage than yours did? It doesn’t make any sense. Yet, that is a thing that has been peddled. And I got an email after someone saw “Uncle Tom” and he said, “In my history class, my teacher told me that literally the Democrats and Republicans figuratively changed, shook hands, and switched sides.”
So, if you’re taught that, why not believe the worst in the Republican Party? Why not believe the best in the Democratic Party? These are lies. And so one of the things the movie does is put that to rest.
The second thing I’m hoping it will do is enable people to have a conversation without, again, my side being perceived as evil.
One person told me he saw the movie, a liberal, and he assumed two things. He thought the movie was going to be about me. I said, “That would have been boring.”
And he said, “The second thing is, I thought I was going to be an hour and a half of a bunch of people telling people what to think. You guys didn’t do that. You told people that they are free to think for themselves.” And that’s exactly the reaction I was hoping I would get from people who don’t agree with me otherwise.
Bluey: Yeah, it’s really powerful. And you capture these personal stories of individuals who are both well-known and just kind of everyday Americans.
So you have a situation where Herman Cain and his success story, Godfather’s Pizza; and Allen West, a former member of Congress; Bob Woodson, who’s such a personal hero to so many people for what he has done, … Carol Swain, when she was running for mayor. So I really applaud you for the combination and Justin Malone for how you’ve packaged the entire story together. It is just an incredible film.
Now, let me ask you this, Larry, because I know that it is frustrating that you see the true history of the Democratic Party and how they opposed so many of these civil rights initiatives. And yet in today’s world, we live in a situation where Republicans struggle to get over their single digits with black Americans in terms of the vote.
So do you see that changing in the future? It seemed that, prior to COVID-19, we may have had a situation where President [Donald] Trump was headed in a direction where, thanks to the economic success, maybe that would change the fortunes. But I just wonder, if it’s so ingrained in the media, it’s so ingrained in our education system, if there are other things that we need to do or we can be doing as conservatives to tell our story?
Elder: Well, there’s lots of things that we can and should be doing, but regarding President Trump and the black vote, I think we’re going to be pleasantly surprised. I think he’s probably already at 50% to 100% more than what he got in 2016. He was around 7% or so in 2016.
I think a lot of black people, before the coronavirus pandemic and the shutdowns, were looking at the results and, as President Trump has been bragging about, unemployment for blacks, all-time high; unemployment rate an all-time low; and all-time unemployment low for Hispanics and for Asians.
And President Trump signed the First Step Act to allow prisoners to have their sentences reviewed if they feel that they’re excessive. And so far a thousand people have taken advantage of that, almost all of them have been black men who’ve had their sentences reduced an average of 70 months.
He spent more money on historically black colleges than any other president. He pardoned that woman named Alice Johnson, who was convicted of a nonviolent drug offense for a long sentence.
And he pardoned Jack Johnson, no relation, but he’s the first black heavyweight champion. And he was convicted of violating the so-called Mann Act, which was passed to make it illegal to transport a woman across a state line for illicit purposes. He was known to consort with white women and that’s why he was charged and found guilty of that and fled the country. And even Obama didn’t pardon him.
Look, this president wants to do something about borders and there’s a economist named George Borjas who’s probably done more work on the impact of legal and illegal immigration than maybe any other economist and he said, “There are winners and losers behind illegal immigration, but one of the clear losers are unskilled black and brown workers who have to compete for jobs that are currently being held or competed for by unskilled illegal aliens, who also put down with pressure on their wages.”
And you’ve got a president who wants to do something about this and finally, you’ve got a president whose secretary of education, Betsy DeVos wants choice in schools.
I went to Crenshaw High School, that’s a high school that was in the center of the movie “Boys in the Hood.” You’re probably too young to have seen the movie, but it was a movie starring Cuba Gooding and about the inner city where I grew up.
And right now only 3% of kids at my former high school can do math at grade level, 3%. And if it’s a Crip school, meaning a school that’s dominated by the gang called the Crips—I know that because Ice-T, the rapper, went to my high school and chose it, he told me later on, because he wanted to go to a Crip school.
Now you’re living within a geographical radius of Crenshaw High School and are mandated to send your kid who is interested in education, you’ve immersed him or her in books, gotten them excited about education, you’re sending that kid to a school where only 3% of kids can do math at grade level and is a Crip school. And the Republican Party wants to gives you an option out and you’re pulling that lever for the Democratic Party. What is that all about?
So I think more and more people, if we Republicans make that argument … education, we keep talking about how education is a civil rights issue of the 21st century. Well, if it is, why aren’t we talking about the fact that Baltimore has 13 public high schools where 0% of kids can do math at grade level and a half a dozen where 1% can. That’s half of the public high schools in Baltimore. And we’re not talking about choice? Honestly.
Bluey: Right. There’s so many policy solutions that make so much common sense, Larry, that it is frustrating. And let’s face it, right now with the situation we find ourselves in with COVID-19, I think it’s an opportunity to push forward some of these ideas.
In fact, as a parent myself, what I’ve seen is the private schools, the ones that if we had choice throughout our country, they’re providing educational opportunities right now to our children that some of the public schools are failing to deliver on. And so you’re absolutely correct on that.
Larry, as we wrap up here, I want to make sure that we tell our listeners how they can watch the movie. I know you have a website, uncletom.com, where it’s available. Salem Media has been promoting it. We had a great partnership with Hugh Hewitt recently at The Heritage Foundation and I know he is somebody who’s talked about it a lot. So, tell us, if they want to watch it, can they order a DVD? What are the options to see it?
Elder: It’s real simple. Just to go to uncletom.com, you can watch it online or you can order the DVD. You can also order you some “Uncle Tom” merch. Be the first in your hood with an “Uncle Tom” T-shirt. And if you buy one, send me a picture and I’ll post it on social media. Just go to uncletom.com.
Bluey: That’s great. It truly is. It truly is a fantastic film and I applaud you and Justin and everybody else who was involved for putting it together.
Larry, I also want to just thank you for being a voice for reason, somebody who every day is out there advocating for some commonsense messages and hopefully changing minds and hearts along with it. So we appreciate you being a guest on The Daily Signal Podcast today.
Elder: God bless. Thank you so much for that.