The State of the Black Union and Other Uppity Negroness


First some housekeeping stuff:

I received two books to review and I’ve been quite remiss in doing so.  To the publicists of these books, if you’re reading this blog, I’ve not forgotten about you.  I’ve just been swamped with work–I am in grad school.


Text derives from the Latin textus (a tissue), which is in turn derived from texere (to weave). It belongs to a field of associated linguistic values that includes weaving, that which is woven, spinning, and that which is spun, indeed even web and webbing. Textus entered European vernaculars through Old French, where it appears as texte and where it assumes its important relation with tissu (a tissue or fabric) andtisser (to weave). 

That’s essentially what one of my professors said on the first day of his Theology of Preaching class.  And hearing that struck a chord with me, so when me and one of my friends, who has begun to engage heavily his Universalist Unitarian proclivities gave me the UU approach to sacred writings that:

We do not, however, hold the Bible – or any other account of human experience – to be either an infallible guide or the exclusive source of truth. Much biblical material is mythical or legendary. Not that it should be discarded for that reason! Rather, it should be treasured for what it is. We believe that we should read the Bible as we read other books – with imagination and a critical eye. We also respect the sacred literature of other religions. Contemporary works of science, art, and social commentary are valued as well. We hold, in the words of an old liberal formulation, that “revelation is not sealed.” Unitarian Universalists aspire to truth as wide as the world – we look to find truth anywhere, universally.

Well, he didn’t say quite like this Wikipedia article did, but it was damn close.  And that too struck another chord with me.  It further reminded me why cultural criticism appeals to me so much.  Thankfully intellectual cultural criticism, particularly in the African American context doesn’t pull on the biblical scriptures but rather that of the human experience that has been woven together as a result of other human experience.

In fact, the human experience is a text itself!

Personally, this was one of the joys of being able to watch the State of the Black Union two weeks ago on that fabled fourth Saturday of February.  I take joy in hearing black intellectuals discuss and disseminate ideas about their particular experiences that have led them to their various conclusions about being black in America.  What I don’t get is all of these “itchy and scratchy Negroes” running around decrying that intellectuals with degrees who have done the damn thing is nothing more than people sipping on Tavis Smiley Kool-Aid ultimately hating on Barack Obama.

accountable-tavis-smiley-unabridged-compact-discs-simon-schuster-audio-books1I still have YET to figure out what’s wrong with holding each other accountable–just on a basic level as humans.  Many bloggers and blog comments have said that if John McCain or even Hillary Clinton had won the election that Tavis wouldn’t have published a book with Obama’s face on the cover and entitled it Accountable as he has with the last book.  The insinuation is that blacks don’t hold white elected officials accountable for their actions.  I’d raise the question as to what have blacks living in America been doing since we arrived on the shores of this country: from slavery until this moment in which I write this blog, African Americans have been holding whites accountable for their actions.  In fact, I’d make the claim the problem is that we’ve stopped holding each other accountable.

Other nations and races have their own problems and it’s easy to point them out.  In fact let’s continue to point out the injustices that have been experienced by blacks from white Americans, but at the same time, let’s hold each other accountable.  What I gathered from numerous blogs was that SOTBU came off as nothing more than a bunch of pompous intellectuals who have nothing better to do than complain rather than offering solutions to the problems.

One of the first problems I have with that assertion, if it’s in fact how many feel, is that we, African Americans, feel as though talking isn’t doing something.  Let’s remember nothing can get done unless we first talk about it.  Some say we’ve talked enough about it, we should start doing something.  I hear that, but there are enough local opportunities with which to become active in actually doing something.  I’d be very interested to know the personal life stories of those who left comments on blogs and those blogs that actually criticized SOTBU as to what do they do that places them so much higher than that of those panelists.

A second problem I have that I noticed with the black blogs that I read is the undaunted air of arrogance.  I know I come off that way too in MANY of my blogs, I can admit that, but let me clear it up right here and now: I don’t have all of the answers, nor do I think I have all of the answers.  Granted I have my grand moments of embracing my uppity Negritude,  but my blog is but ONE viewpoint shared out of many that attempts to move humanity forward toward ultimate reconciliation.  What I get from many blog comments, and some blogs themselves, is that “I’m the only enlightened one” mentality.

It’s not cute.

The problem with that mentality is that it closes one off to hearing other viewpoints and other possibilities.  It’s okay to disagree, but usually when people take stuff personal is when you realized that the air of “I’m the only enlightened one” has taken up residence.  Aside from the Jeremiah Wright issue, I really try my best not to get personal about hot button issues. I know I take out-the-box viewpoints on many popular culture views: Jeremiah Wright, SOTBU, Obama, church and society, anti-intellectualism and even these two latest posts about homosexuality on HBCU campuses and the idea of the Empire of the United States.  Those viewpoints are but one of many: my ultimate question is what can we do to reconcile the differences; what can we both give up in order to co-exist.

Usually people with this type of mindset would go into the event of watching the SOTBU expecting to find fault.  Well 9 times out of 10, if you go looking for something, you’ll find it.  

1. Criticisms such as “there wasn’t enough diversity on the panel” speaks to the fact that no one took up time to read about this 10th anniversary special: it was Tavis’ intent to get as many original panelists from the first year in 2000 to be on this panel.

2. Another was that why don’t Michael Eric Dyson and Cornel West teach at HBCU’s.  Initially, I don’t see what that had to do with the quality of information they dropped during the SOTBU, but anywayzzzz…Cornel West had said before that to make that assumption is to automatically condemn the level of education and professors already teaching at HBCUs.  Don’t get me wrong, we got some NATIONAL FOOLS that teach at these HBCUs, but that’s just academic life in general.  Every school, black or white, private or public, JC or four-year institution has professors that are just dynamic.  Take my school for instance: Dr. Riggins Earl, Dr. Randall Bailey, Dr. Margaret Aymer, Dr. Wallace Hartsfield just to name a few–and then you got fools that participate in Fool Fest Circus Show all day everyday.

3. The ultimate one is the corporate sponsorship by Wells Fargo.  How can he spout all of this uppity Negro-speak and still take money from corporate giants?  That’s an easy one: from a combination of lack of personal responsibility ANNNNND from white power structures hell bent on keeping events like this silenced, blacks have failed to have entities that could have fully sponsored this event making it free and open to the public.

What about Oprah you say?  Hmmmm….she tried that long ago donating money to random people and remembered she didn’t want to be shat on again.  I don’t blame her.

soapboxAnd of course my soapbox issue is the rampant anti-intellectual spirit that pervades EVERY facet of this dumbnation of idiots.  My friend, same one who’s dabbling in UU, had often lamented that if we had lived about 50 years ago, most certainly around the turn of the 20th century, our peer group would have already published a book or ready to sit before our respective board of examiners to defend our doctoral theses.  Think about it, back in the day, Negroes were quite clear that education was the way out–and we had no problem with it.  I always used to say that this whole debate about being smart as synonymous with white was a myth, but apparently it’s something that has subconsciously seeped into out mindset as a people even those who have sucessfully graduated high school and college.

I mean what the hell kind of criticism is it that Michael Eric Dyson uses too many big words?!?!?!


It’s as if we’re allergic to knowledge.  My mother, my entire life used to say “If they [hahaha, who was they? LOL] wanted to hide it from black folks, they put it in a book.”  


We don’t even read blogs.  **rolls eyes**

We skim paragraphs and if its something we really like, then we read it.  Now, this isn’t a negative criticism of these various sites, but gossip blog sites get tons more traffic than sites like mine or other sites that require heavy reading.  No, this isn’t a ploy to guilt you into reading my blog–I’m just making an observation.  Moreover, another friend of mine has talked incessantly about video blogging on Youtube, commonly known as vlogging.  That’s fine, but it still is a dumbing down, in my humble opinion because we all know how much easier it is to watch the news rather than pick up a newspaper–well, they don’t have a lot of those anymore–or go onto your local town or city’s paper and actually read the articles.

To those that have read this post up until now and still think I’m off my rocker, let me see if I can drive it home this way:

Blacks en masse were telling the story of how Obama was Harvard educated and was the first African American over the Harvard Law Review board and how Lady Michelle Obama was Princeton educated and how these two black ivy leaguers had hooked up with one another.  We bashed the conservative media for making the assumptions that he was elitist because of his education.  No doubt we heard the likes of Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Michael Eric Dyson and Cornel West at one time or the other make the claim that Obama did what white America had told blacks to do, and did it by the books and it still was considered a negative.  Ultimately, he got the education, but then he was too high.

It’s same criticism that I in turn pose to the critics of the SOTBU.  How can we worry about black kids equating white with being smart and how that’s not a positive, get mad when the conservative right criticizes Obama for his education–but then get mad at Dyson for using big words?!?!

By a show of hands how many people have read at least one book by any of the panelists that were on the SOTBU–and still felt that all they were doing amounted to nothing more than intellectual masturbation?

It seems as though as African Americans, we drink a different type of Kool Aid.  We love to jump on the bandwagon.  Don’t misunderstand me, it’s okay in many instances.  But, I think too often we fail to critically question why we did what did.  And we have the nerve to get insulted when someone calls us out on it.  We attach deep emotions to our beliefs and our convictions.  Far too often we fail to take a moment to pause and actually think about our decisions.  We go through a cursory decision-making process and then we make the choice.  As a result our Kool Aid comes out red.  We then look at the other person crazy when they come out with green colored Kool Aid.  

To work this analogy more, I’d be more interested in mixing all of the flavors together and get that nasty looking brown crap, but it tastes the best out of all of the Kool-Aid–then I want to ask the question, “Why are we drinking flavored sugar water?”  What’s the nutritional value of what we’re drinking?  Does it do nothing more than satisfy our thirst or our sweet tooth?

It becomes easy to bash Tavis.  But the majority of us didn’t really follow him up until last year.  He was just another random negro who got the axe from BET back in the day.  Let’s just be fair in the whole process.  Because ultimately what we’re doing is hatin’ on the haters.

What is the ultimate state of the black union?  I’m not sure exactly if one can pin it down, but if you anyone can find a way to do so, use small words.

If you have any commentary, rebuttals or any other nameless pieces of refutation for this article, just leave them in the comments section below.

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL

9 thoughts on “The State of the Black Union and Other Uppity Negroness

  1. Is there some critique of the SOTBU that you would find legitimate? In other words, if we are to hold each other accountable, is there something/someone that Tavis Smiley et al. should be accountable for or to?

    I agree that talking is something. In fact, there was a time here (and currently in other places) where talking was so dangerous it could get you killed. I think a valid argument with the SOTBU is whether or not it has become an institution in and of itself, and whether or not it has a role in spurring next steps.

    1. @ppscribe

      Usually when I hear someone critique SOTBU I’m just leery of the level of “hateration” I hear. I don’t really have a problem with meaningful disagreement. Not everyone’s going to agree. My personal pet peeve is that many of the people I’ve talked to and read blogs from, they made it sound so personal. I’ve heard a few professors from a few schools, including mine, that criticized it so heavily, I was quite convinced they had some personal jealousy problems.

      In fact, I think we are holding Tavis accountable as it is. Personally, I think we’re holding him accountable to the wrong standard, but it is holding him accountable nonetheless. I think that we’re holding him to a standard based on our knee-jerk and gut emotions rather than a deliberate intellectual standard. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when emotions are needed, I just don’t think this is one.

  2. Okay Uppity,

    Let me take a crack at this….. BTW you need to coin that phrase itchy and scratchy negroes…

    I think the concept of the State of the Black Union is generally a good idea. I have no problem with intellectual black folks holding discussions on how to improve the race. I think many of us that attended HBCU’s did the exact same thing during our time in school. Some individuals do think that the SOTBU is useless. The points run from sort of valid to hating. Because Tavis wants to hold people accountable he has to be held to the same standard. Playing Devil’s Advocate let’s talk about why folks might be salty towards SOTBU.

    One of the issues that people beat Tavis Smiley over the head with is the end game? After 10 years of talking what do we actually have to show for it? He has sold “Best Selling Books” but what after that? What policies have been created? What institutions have been created? What tangible piece from the agenda has actually been turned into legislation?

    A second issue is concerning the sponsorship for the event. Wells Fargo, Exxon Mobile, McDonalds etc….I know that finding black corporations to sponsor the event is probably not easy to do. They probably don’t have the capital to fund the whole event. But the ones that sponsored it are questionable at best.

    Wells Fargo, currently named in a lawsuit by the NAACP for taking advantage of black folks. How did they do that? Apparently African Americans were given Subprime Mortgages at a higher rate than White Folks (duh!!).

    Exxon Mobile, posted profits during our best times and our worst times. How many black folks have you seen at the pump just putting in 5 bucks trying to get home? And why is gas higher in the hood than it is in other places? Have you heard Exxon asking for a bail out? Nope.

    The last point is with Tavis Smiley himself. Let’s be honest and say that he played himself with that whole Obama thing last year. He made himself look bigger than what he actually was. The problem is he did it right when Obama was catching fire with black folks. It’s like if Kelly Rowland decided to grab the mic from Beyonce. Nobody wants to see Kelly (even with the breast implants). They came to see Beyonce. Tavis has become (partly through his own actions) the official black person spokesman. In an age where black folks are breaking out of the pack mentality that is not what they want to see.

    Do I think we need a Tavis Smiley…….yes!! Someone has to prick the black consciousness on the intellectual side. Also we need civil rights leaders that will prick the consciousness on justice. All of these people together can and should hold Obama accountable. Just as Frederick Douglass did Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did Lyndon Johnson. But as the saying goes Action Speaks Louder Than Words………….

  3. @ citizen ojo

    See, that argument makes sense to me. I feel ya 100%. What I was criticizing was random folks jumping on the “hate Tavis” bandwagon and hadn’t really analyzed the whole situation. That’s what I really have a problem with.

    Real talk, Flava Flav could say the exact same thing that Cornel West would say, but I’d put more stock in what West had to say simply because West has a different (perhaps wider) worldview than Flav. The problem, as I see it, and I could be totally off, is that too many of us speak from a POV of ignorance and at least when one’s opinion is stated, at least be aware enough to acknowledge one’s ignorance.

    Again, I’ll say, I’m sure from another point of view than mine, I could be totally off point.

  4. Yes, Uppity Negro, I get your further explanation. And the “critique” from fellow academics is another whole issue entirely. Higher ed has yet to figure out how to do “public engagement” in a way that “productivity” can be meaningfully measured. If you want to engage the public, you have to do so in ways that may seem…unseemly to traditional academics. Folks who are good at it (e.g., appearing in movies, in popular press, etc.) and who make money at it are often looked down upon. But surely the PhD participants of SOTBU reached more people with that exposure than will read their academic journal articles–possibly than will read all their journal articles combined!

    Citizen Ojo, I like your analysis. The sponsorship thing is one of those things that makes me uneasy without my being able to put a finger exactly on the why. I hope these corporations aren;t thinking they get a “get out of racism free” card by sponsoring this event. LOL

  5. @pprscribe

    Perhaps because I have my own Ph.D. aspirations, but I get real confused because those at SOTBU were definitely the generation that was taught “Get your education” and it amazes me that we tell our kids to go off and get an education, but when they do, then they come back to the black community and we accuse them of being uppity.

    It’s as if the African American community operates in this bubble where we don’t take value in scholarship.

  6. UppityNegro said:
    “I mean what the hell kind of criticism is it that Michael Eric Dyson uses too many big words?!?!?!”

    Michael Eric Dyson is a windbag, period. The use of his “big words” is not the issue; I have been an avid reader since age three and I still love looking up words I don’t know the definition of and incorporating them into my vocabulary.

    The issue is that he rolls them out in rapid succession when there are simpler words that would make his point much more effectively. And in my opinion, he seems to do it for the “applause” factor (“Ooh Michael Eric Dyson knows big words and he used them all at one time! Everybody clap for this good talkin black man!”). I HIGHLY doubt he speaks like that when there isn’t a camera on him. And if he does…God bless his family, friends and the poor students at Georgetown who have to listen to him blabber for an entire semester. I’d rather bang my head on a brick wall.

    Malcolm X (R.I.P), on the other hand, was a master at speaking intelligently without having to roll out “big words” one after the other. Clearly he understood that it’s not what you say, but HOW you say it.

    I love intelligent conversation and the exchange of groundbreaking ideas. What I don’t like are loudmouthed blowhards like M.E.D. who speak over people and talk incessantly because they want attention.

  7. @Alicia

    You make some interesting points, but IMOHO,I think MED is actually speaking to someone like you who truly understands what he is saying. Those of us who ‘get it’ know how to incorporate finer lines and simpler ways of reaching others who actuality reject whatever comes out of MED’s mouth because of who we think he is.

    We must all, at some point, look past the messenger and hear the message. ‘Do your work’ based on the message.

    Peace on you. Stay true.

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