What Do I Really Mean By “Uppity Negro?”

I was raised in two parent household in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago—that alone qualifies me as solidly middle-class.  And along with that upbringing, I’ve never once in my life heard either one of my parents use the word “nigga” or any derivation of it; it was always referred to as the “N-word.”  I became liberated enough to use the word “nigga” et. al. after I read Randall Kennedy’s book my senior year of high school and my AP English teacher encouraged me to use that book for one of the class projects.  And even then, my parents would sometimes cringe when I used the word, not in reference to a person, but since it was the topic of study, I believed that on should not be afraid of the word, but rather call it what it is. 

Midway my high school career I had gotten in the habit of calling people “Negroes,” and one of the junior deacons at church preached a sermon and interwove that idea into her sermon.  This is to say that those of us who use the word “Negro” are not in a position of judgment to criticize those who freely use the N-word. 

Now, in the “good ol’ days” the phrase “uppity nigra” [phonetic sp.] was often used by whites toward blacks who had stepped outside of the socio-political construct with which they had defined themselves.  I chose the name of this blog because for me the literal word “Negro” was never used in quite the derogatory way that “nigra” was.  For me, “Negro” is a word that should used in historical context and every time that I use it or I hear someone else use it, I try my damnest to break from that habit.   

My attempt by using it in the context of this blog, and this blog only is to take the phrase and flip it on its head and redefine it quite much like the people of the Uppity Negro clothing company.  And secondly, because many of my friends always joke around with me and say I participate in so many “uppity Negro” affairs. 

And again as I said in my introductory blog, this is place to give the unapologetic middle class, elitist view.  I’m sick and tired of watching many black political pundits having to be apologetic for their viewpoints simply they are the product of their upbringing.  We should not apologize for our world outlook no more than those who grow up on the proverbial other side of the tracks.  This means that if I get labeled elitist, then so be it; if I get labeled “uppity Negro,” then so be it.  I am who God made me, and there is no shame in that. 

What I fail to comprehend is that why are the sons and daughters of professional people forced into thinking that they have to kick it with the people from the other side of the tracks in order to “keep it real?”  I’m still confused as to why do the sons and daughters of professional parents feel the need to join street gangs?   

Alas, yet another blog entry for another day. So even as my Ethics and Society professor, in the epitome of black elitism uses the phrases “Negro folk” and “colored folk” ad nausea and ad infinitum, hopefully the readers of this blog will at least be conscious of how they use the word “Negro” from now on. 

Grace, peace and luv, JLL 1:52am 10.17.07

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11 responses to “What Do I Really Mean By “Uppity Negro?”

  1. Personally, as far as your definitive meaning for “elitist” negros go, I don’t necessarily believe that it is a matter of their attempt at keeping it real, as you say, but more a matter of what they are naturally & socially inclined to participate. Just because someone was reared in a economically privileged home, doesn’t necessarily mean that their nature would reflect with something consistent with what a society believe would be appropiate, ie snobbish, cocky, judgemental, etc. You said it in your blog–you are what you are, and if that’s not what an individual aims to achieve, then really they are no individual at all. I think in a sense you contradicted yourself in saying if you (being Joshua) are called this and called that…then so be it, because obviously you consider yourself all those things. But again, who are you to say that someone of your equal, can’t be defined as the total opposite?

  2. I’m quite confused. It seems as if your saying that black people are predisposed to act a certain way by saying that is is “a matter of what they are naturally & socially inclined to do” and I think thats a very erroneous statement.

    Secondly, I never ultimately defined myself as any of those things. I said “if I get labeled as….” then so be it. I wouldn’t reject part of what defines me just because the label has a somewhat negative connotation. So, I still don’t see how I contradicted myself.

    And of course, if someone of my “equal” feels the need to define themselves as total opposite, I’d say to them “Go ‘head Doc, do your thing.” I’m all for an individual defining for themselves who they are. It is just my opinion as to why do some people act and respond to situations that are so counter to their historic context and culture and then define it as “keepin’ it real?”

  3. I would like to say that this article is one that should be severly scrutinized for the simple fact that it’s the truth. I must admit that I am quite guilty of using this word, not taking into account of how important it truly is, and more seriously neglecting to pay attention to the connotations and history of such a debasing word as “nigger.” I admire the fact that you took the time to make such a positive statement. I’m sure, every black man that has strived to become educated and do something with his life and eliminate the sometimes ignorant and provincial mindsets of his peers has had to also encounter the word “uppity negro” or has been similarly been coined ” white-washed.” Point-blank, when the sun sets and rises the next morning, you can take pride in knowing one thing; you are striving to do something that few people try to do and that is better yourself, represent your family well, and improve the image of your own race. By choosing to step outside of the “box,” you are making the decision to walk hand-in-hand with those that changed this world (i.e. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X) by showing that we are highly-intelligent, strong, and a people to be reckoned with. I applaud this article and will further make the attempt to ban such words from my vocabulary; we all should do the same.

  4. Josh, I must commend you on such a piece of work. I remember our long conversations about the term “Nig, Niggah, and Nigger,” I must honest attest to you being the first person to object the use with what to me was deemed as a valid and supported reason. Your reasons went back to your cultural upbringing though it was in America the fact that the Motherland Africa still had that of a great influence on you and your family.

    The usual reason I was given as not to use the “N” word was just because it was wrong and that it was the works of the “man” bringing us down through self destruction.

    I do not believe the word should be erased from out vocabulary for it is apart of our history and heritage. The only problem I see is the misuse of the word through ignorance of the matter.
    I feel that this problem can be directly associated with the old Georgia flag with the confederate symbol, I feel that a lot of blacks took the concept and idea of the flag out of context because the flag was not designed and created by whites but by our ancestors (blacks or better yet Negroes) to me that was the proper use of the term If you beg to differ you are indeed entitled to your own.

    I do feel that my boy Joshua addressed a much needed topic and it should be given much more recognition than that of the three comments I have read so send all of your friends the link and tell them to leave feedback.

  5. I am interested if persons who dabble on the other side of the track are tryign to keep it real or are they just down to earth people, who fell connected to the oppressed and downtrodden fo society. WHen one is an uppity negro, they sometimes do not identify with those who need to be pulled up by the us’es who made it. It may be a sin to have an elitist worldview, becuase you are in fact syaing that others are “less than.” and if so, then God resides with the oppressed and the oppressor (Elitist Uppity Negro) needs some liberation as well. What kind, I do not know.

    Glad to see the blog, but be careful of words, they can seem to bite and take hhold in a way that was not originally meant.

    The use of the “n-word” nig, nigga, niggah, and nigger will mean different things to different people. For hiphopsters they are terms of endearment, and for those one to two generations out of slavery it is a hurtful and damaging word. Education is needed. Respect of the ancestors who had to endure the black codes, slave codes, jim and jane crowism, segregation, and forced integration should be respected enough to not want to act like homie the clown and use the above words when talking to an individual.

    Rent the movie the N-Word from blockbuster adn watch how white folks feel that this word has no negative and derrogatory history to it.

    So whether you are colored, negro, an uppity negro, african, or african-american, beware of those who are watching you. Because God watches all.

    Selah

  6. Well, I would be interested to see what does it really mean “when keeping it real goes to far” as did Dave Chappelle. Now Chappelle made a spoof of it, but I fail to see how joining a gang or having friends that knowingly engage in dangerous activities that can endanger your own life qualifies as “keeping it real.”

    Still I don’t use the n-word, and I’m trying my best to stop saying Negro.

    And I guess the pitfalls of the written word, especially in the form of blogs is that sometimes what is said is often misinterpreted.

    JLL

  7. With what word do you propose be used in place of ‘Negro?’ Uppity and Negro has a synergism that works for most reasonably concious black people, young and/or old. What’s wrong with ‘people (brother/sister), puleeze….’ ???

  8. This issue of slavery is a simple one if understood. Slavery is about the control of Negro women and her children, by relabeling her, the U.S. has made invisible, and removed from memory of humanity, her existence in the world. Because of this horrific, experience, her children, and future generations have lost her gift to them (heritage inheritance) of lands belonging to the continent of America (formerly known as the Americas) Because she was captured and brutalized by Europeans, she has lost her husband, she has lost her ability to create for her race, resulting in loss of industry for her people. By reclassifying her as African-American, every person of color, coming into the U.S. is wrongly assumed to be a Negro, and are partaking in the so-called civil rights without responsibility, that were allegedly hers in the first place. The one drop of black blood theory has caused irreparable damage in so-called Negro communities by causing her to absorb other races children into her communities, resulting in further loss of economy, and industry and human rights. However, this is a very basic explanation. The so-called Negro woman is the original woman of North-America. Pres. Clinton apologized to so-called African women for slavery, while this was commendable, we are not Africans, we are the races of American Indians.(Negro Indians) To date no one has apologized to the American Negro Woman for anything! Accept it or reject it, nevertheless it is true. We cannot get free until we understand who was enslaved, and what they were before enslavement. The very word Negro is the key to that freedom, and we are running away from it. We Negroes (now known as black-Americans, African-Americans) must learn something about our heritage/STOLEN LEGACY. We are not AFRICANS!

  9. To INDIGENOUS:

    I think we’ll have to part ways at the beginning because I don’t believe that the issue of slavery is simple at all. Nor has slavery, as a result rendered the current race situation in the United States a simple one to solve. Moreover, I’m wondering what about the black man in this particular worldview. I’m not against what you said, however, it seemed to be at the expense of what the black male had to offer; you make it seem as though the black woman operates in a vacuum in which only she and her offspring (which she would have had to create by herself) exist.

    I’m curious as to the “so-called civil rights without responsibility” that you’re referring to, I don’t want to assume.

    While yes there are some issues that are governmentally systemic because of our status as descendants of slaves in this country that has left economic and social disparity along racial lines, there is something called personal responsibility–not EVERY thing can be blamed on outside sources.

    Ultimately, where we REALLY depart company is this whole issue of Negro versus using the word African. You make it seem as if it’s a dirty word and in my opinion, that’s what the miscegenation of the races here in America did a good job of, making us negate our African heritage. It seems as though you would rather identify with North American Indians before you’d identify with the tribes from West Africa and I fail to see a) what’s the rationale behind that b) what does that ultimately accomplish by TOTALLY disavowing the African part of our existence.

    Granted, I’ve vascillated about this word “Negro” because it is one word and it quickly describes who we are as American’s and it removes our hyphenated status as African-Americans. However, personally, I never use the hyphen when talking about blacks living here in the United States. I feel the need for this because it acknowledges our history prior to slavery–my history did not begin 1865, or even 1619 for that matter. It also forces other immigrants to recognize themselves as foreigners in a strange land; granted ours was a result of forced immigration, I think to gloss over the fact that if it were not for European involvement, the numbers of what we now know as blacks living in the Americas would not be quite as high as it is now.

    The reason I personally like African American is because it always puts my African heritage first. Whether I was living in Japan, I’d be African Asian, or living in Europe, I’d be African European. So for me the argument of white Afrikaaners claiming African American-hood, needs to stop: they are European Africans!

    All of that said, I’m quite comfortable with being called black, and I’m quite comfortable being African American. Negro, for me must be qualified with being “uppity” for me to accept being called a Negro simply because that word has a lot of unpacking that needs to be done in order for us to fully understand its derivation, its intended use and how we moved from Negro to black to Afro-American, to African American.

  10. i peeped your post, interestin’ perspective…

    - although not a word i use in everyday vernacular, i don’t consider ‘negro’ as bad as ‘nigra’ or ‘nigga’…however i haven’t had the same experiences you have in dealing with the word

    – “And secondly, because many of my friends always joke around with me and say I participate in so many “uppity Negro” affairs.”
    i actually thought this was the main reason, lol.

    - ” I’m sick and tired of watching many black political pundits…I am who God made me, and there is no shame in that.”

    i agree, God made you, who you are…and i personally don’t feel that those that have a more privileged upbringing (or more middle class) upbringing should have to mask their opinions to keep it real; ALL of us have a story to tell. but ya gotta recognize as well, that God made others, how they are..we live in a bigger bubble than just our opinions. and part of this whole life thing is learning how to exist with people with totally different experiences and opinions (and that’s something i’m slowly learning with the advent of more accessible social media).

    • @Peter Parker

      Thanks for your comment. And let me give some context.

      Mainly, this was a post from three years ago. I had just begun the process of forming my thoughts on the subject, and this what was birthed. My ideas have transmogrified from this date when I published this. Also, this was NOT some of my best writing. I’ll be the first to say that. I hadn’t quite found my blogging stride yet. Anyone who reads my posts that I published just this past week compared to this one can easily see that things have changed (I guess it’s up to the reader as to whether it was forward or backwards progress, lol).

      What I didn’t say in this particular post, but was a sentiment that I’ve offered in other posts, I’m far too pluralistic and postmodern to try and force myself and my opinions on others. But, by the same token, I’m not going to apologize for what I believe. Usually, I’m pretty good with allowing others the ability to speak for themselves and offer an opposing view. What I have problems with is when people resort to ad hominem attacks. Generally speaking, anything short of that, I’ll engage one for discourse.

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