Politics / Pop Culture / Random Thoughts from an Uppity Negro / The Color Line

Asking The Hard Questions

questionsI had a commenter tell me that she had noticed marked disillusionment in the tenor of my posts and I didn’t really respond, but if you’re reading this, you’re more than correct.  It’s hard being 25 years old and being an African American male who has a wider world view and broader understanding of, hmmm, shall we say epistemologies for the lack of a better word.

Wait?  Epistemologies?!?!

I know most of y’all are saying “Using words like that makes you truly ‘uppity.'”

The traditional 25 year old African American male wouldn’t have a problem with using another word that has probably about three or two syllables, but of course not, this uppity Negro merely encourages the listener to pick up a dictionary and increase their own knowledge about knowledge (Hint hint!!)

It’s hard being in my position.  I see things differently.  It’s hard sometimes to not come off as elitist and distance when a certain issue is raised, most easily one concerning pop culture vis a vis politics, race and religion.  I generally want to dismiss most conversations around those topics as surface and only dealing with symptoms of a root problem.  I’m always interested in asking the hard questions; the one’s that are politically incorrect and that offend people’s sensibilities.  So even when I try and sugar coat those questions as to not offend, my questions are summarily dismissed which makes me even more frustrated and stressed out.

That being said, a good case of me being frustrated is caught up still in the Morehouse College dress code policy.

As I’ve talked to some more people, I’m still hearing the same basic arguments: an infringement of personal rights versus the idea that this is an institution of higher learning and these young men need to know how to dress for a job.

Blah, blah, blah.

I’d rather talk about why certain young men on campus either felt the need to wear shades in class, wear the oversized clothes, wear the fitted caps or even wear the grillz in their teeth.  I think it has something to do with black males and their understanding of cultural identity and masculinity.  This is why I said in my previous post that for Morehouse to take away those particular cultural identifiers is to go down a slippery slope.  I know they’re not advocating their students to be in a uniform, but still, this is a tacit assertion of what it means to be a black male in this country that is coded by saying what it means to be a man of Morehouse.

question mark typewriter keyThe problem I foresee with this is that to take these away is, as I said before, assimilationist.  That is this is hearkening back to a mindset where blacks felt the need to assimilate to a point where it a) didn’t offend white people b) for the sake of garnering equal rights with regards to the Jim Crow segregated South.  Newsflash to Morehouse: this isn’t the modern Civil Rights era.  Engaging in modernist ideals in an ever-increasing post-modern society is not going to set a standard of excellence as many believe, able to produce the next Benjamin E. Mays or Martin Luther King, but rather render these young black men obsolete in a world that requires them to be in touch with lives of all in the global community.

Talking to Citizen Ojo of The Desultory Life and Times of a Public Citizen via Twitter earlier yesterday, he said he went back to his HBCU alma mater for homecoming this week and he simply said he didn’t like what he saw–with regards to dress.  Okay, well tastes aside, are we really ready to impose on a younger generation our clothing tastes?  It’s more than just the clothes.  I’m sure alumni over the past few years have visited the school and done a double take at what they’ve seen.  It is what it is, but I guess for me, this boils down to a few concerned alumni, trustees and various people within the administration being more concerned with outward appearances than what’s in the brain of the students.

The word education has it’s root in the Latin word educare which was a combination of ex and ducere which has a literal translation of out of and lead, guide or conduct respectively which leaves the word educare to pull out of–which is the exact opposite of the banking method of education which is to pour into with the expectations of replication for the purposes of a test or even in larger society.  By forcing someone to change their dress doesn’t change their mind, if nothing else, it will do nothing more than make them want to do it even more.

And of course, I’m quite clear this letter was homophobic. (The fact that 24 of 27 member’s of Morehouse’s Safe Space Organization were in favor of this dress code is a bit beyond me–the oppressed becoming the oppressor can we say?)

don't ask don't tellLook, I’ll be honest, I don’t know or have the foggiest idea why someone with a male anatomy who wants to dress up in women’s clothing and attend Morehouse.  It’s beyond me.  Is this really who they be?  Is this a political statement that they’re making?  Or is this general undergrad B.S. that is really just some immature students who are doing it for the sake of garnering attention no matter what that attention is.  Whatever the case, I’m convinced that failing to ask these hard questions contributes to the general “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of the black community.  This policy isn’t confined only to issues of sexuality, but as much as we are an oral and aural people, some stuff we just don’t talk about.

I’ll be honest, I’m a bit saddened and grieved that it’s 2009 and we’re still fighting silent injustices such as this.  Most of us see this as a black and white, cut and dried, this or that situation; but of course this uppity Negro doesn’t.  This world hasn’t been that simple in quite some time.  I don’t know what the answer is, but I’d rather face reality and live in the liminality and struggle in the tensions that life presents, anything else is a detriment to my soul, to my community and to my God.

I write this because more or less this is my only outlet.  I don’t really have the privilege of talking about these things with most people; when I bring it up it gets dismissed as me just being “the uppity Negro” and no one really ever challenges me on my ideas.

Meh. Such is life.  You keep on living.

I came to the conclusion last month when actually I was challenged on a particular idea and the other person kind of hinted around “what’s the limit” or really asking how liberal are you willing to be when we were discussing the ethical and moral issues surrounding the universal health care plan and began talking about each and every person as a human being.  I was saying that once we begin to see everyone else as human then I wonder if we’ll stop inhumane treatment toward others.  That lead me to simply quote Dr. Martin Luther King “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  That is to say that wherever someone’s humanity is being threatened whether they be black or white, gay or heterosexual, old or young, homeless or own’s their own island, I personally, have a responsibility to say something.

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL

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8 thoughts on “Asking The Hard Questions

  1. Another interesting post. I can’t really address the issue of a dress code because the two places of higher learning I attended, college and graduate school, were both public universities. At public universities, it is pretty much anything goes. I did have a couple of thoughts on both assimilation and on questioning and the questioning of questions.

    Everybody faces issues of assimilation. It isn’t just African Americans. I think most people try to walk the line between giving up their own identity and blending in enough to be accepted. Nobody has ever accused me of being a snappy dresser. I’m a jeans, t-shirt, and sneakers person. But I will dress up when the occasion requires. In some instances, it is out of respect (a wedding or a funeral) and in other instances, it is a matter of having and keeping a job. It is something I’m willing to do in the interest of a greater goal. I’m the same person regardless of what I’m wearing so it isn’t as if I’m compromising my fundamental principles.

    As for the questioning, the life of a questioner is most likely going to be a frustrating one. I read in a couple of your posts about frustrations with older people not listening to your ideas. This can happen for a number of reasons. For starters, I’ve found that most people these days are perpetually in a hurry. They have such a long to-do list and an ever increasing pile of responsibilities that someone asking questions is like a fly buzzing around their head. It is also the case that when most people look back at their 20s, they think about all the things they ended up being wrong about, the misplaced idealism, or upside down priorities. In looking at you, they see themselves at that age and they think… what does he know of life. I think it is one of life’s ironies that in accumulating the experiences that will prove or disprove what we think, we become old.

    That’s all for now. I’ll say again that I enjoy reading your blog posts. Good luck.

  2. Love it! I think you are more than just an “Uppity Negro” (btw, I’m happy to see the Uppity Negro movement still going even though the shirt disappeared). I have news for you: You are a Martian from Saturn! Sounds Sounds weird I know. I just posted a blog about it. Your alienation comes from the fact that in a world of people who allow the obvious to rule the perception of what they see. People like us see what the rest of the world does, but the way our brain analyzes the information is much different.

    Keep asking “The Hard Questions” even if all aren’t ready to entertain a reprocess of information. Keep doing what you do. Don’t let anyone detour you. When you start getting frustrated visit http://www.TED.com – you’ll get a chance to view videos of other people who aren’t afraid to keep proposing questions, presenting their ideas, and computing information differently than most.

  3. Uppity,
    Only 25 years old huh? Not bad. For someone so relatively young, you got a hell of a world view and even better way of articulating it. What ever you do keep it. I’m 37 and I can tell you that society, employers, families, etc will erode your perspective over time if you’re not vigilant about it. Why do you think there are so many complacent and mediocre middle-aged people, who were once upon a time very sharp and ambitious? Sometimes you get the bear and sometimes the bear gets you. But you, despite being a bit myopic on the Morehouse piece (LOL), will be alright. I appreciate who you are and where you’re coming from.

    • @ Mason Jamal

      I’m actually quite frightened to see what the years will do to my worldview: will I be cynical? will I just become go-along to get along and fall in-line with the rest of the world or even become so radical that I end up alienating myself from the rest of the world. Scary thoughts for a 25 year old.

    • @ Jim

      Not particularly. I’m much more interested in going back to pulling out of individual with a synthesis of ideas rather than just depositing information for the sake of regurgitation in the form of a test.

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