Why Being an Uppity Negro is Still Relevant

In 2007, I started blogging like any good millennial.

Blogging has had its highs and lows. My writing got better. My thoughts matured. This blog is a place where I’ve flexed my opinions—good ones and bad ones—and worked out ideas in real time. No edits. I’d hit the “publish” button and walk away. I’ve called people out. Actual names and titles. I’ve dared people intellectually to “not come for me unless I sent for them.” I’ve landed punches, I’ve taken blows. It’s a place where personal feelings emerged and writing became more of a cathartic process than it was for the sake of public intellectual consumption. I’ve even taken social justice stances such as an open letter that went semi-viral. This was a platform that pre-dated Twitter. In fact, I “live blogged” election night 2008 when Barack Obama was elected.

But I got older. I never managed to flip my writing into a full-time gig (anyone who’s reading this and thinks I still have a chance, HOLLA AT ME!), and so full-time work ate up much of my time. The better writing became longer and less people wanted to spend time reading it. The mature thoughts resulted in muted blows as I didn’t see the need to pull back and throw punches for the altruistic and non-existent sake of a black intellectual community. The posts got less and less and the gaps of posting were large and wide. The effort it took to write and publish in a space perceptibly impervious of “going viral” didn’t seem worth it most days.

Still, I maintained this blog as basically what it began as, an opportunity to stake a claim for uppity Negroes.

And twelve years later, my sentiments haven’t changed much.

I began blogging in a world where Rev. Al Sharpton was the king of black social justice talk radio, in a world before Cornel West and Tavis Smiley met the business end of black politick’s assault weapon and the biggest activist crisis of my generation was the Jena 6. Before Obama. Before Zimmerman’s acquittal. Before Ferguson. Before Baltimore’s uprising. Before Donald J. Trump.  A lot has changed, but the need for a world of uppity Negroes hasn’t.

Being an “uppity Negro,” such as it is, remains relevant in 2019, and for the foreseeable future because there’s still a social requirement for blacks to occupy spaces that are askew enough from the status quo to make the establishment uncomfortable. As a Christian minister, there’s a spiritual dimension that leans into the ancient Hebraic prophetic tradition such as that of Amos that says “Woe to those at ease in Zion.” In light of the Lord rejecting the festivals, the rituals and even the sacrifices, to be an uppity Negro is to have a social, political, religious and economic orientation that favors justice even at the expense of comfort. For me, this is what it still means to be an uppity Negro.

The phrase, obviously, is an antiquated one. The term “Negro” fell out of common use in the 1960s with the rise of the Black Power Movement, and the racial term “Black” became the standard. In the early 1980s, as the rise of black political figures in municipal and state government—even Jesse Jackson’s run for president in 1984 and 1988—the phrase “Afro-American” came into general use. This morphed slightly into “African-American” and black folks saw themselves into a hyphenated existence by the 1990s.

While most interchange “Black” and “African American” as one and the same, they are not. The former is a racial category, the latter is an ethnic one. However, “Negro,” this old term, encapsulates both. Perhaps this is why it still resonates with me. And I’m not alone. The 2010 Census still used of the word as a category box to check. To be a new Negro is what it means to lean into what Alain Locke wrote about in 1925, to be an American Negro is to be part of that tenth demographic that W.E.B. DuBois wrote about. To be an uppity Negro is to stand in the long line of black folks who found the courage to speak up on their jobs in the face of discrimination, to register black voters in a Jim Crow South, to use their actual voice to speak Truth to Power and in turn speak a truth that empowers. This is why being an uppity Negro is still relevant.

It’s clear that institutions have their place in society, but institutions, as we see are just as susceptible to human failures. From the banking institutions that were bailed out by our government that failed the American middle class to law enforcement agencies, as an institution, that face no consequences for the killings of unarmed black men. But as large ships that take a long time to turn, this institutions oft times need help in turning. On their own, there appears to be no course corrections. While I desperately desire change, I realize that our institutions—education, entertainment, churches, government, civil infrastructure etc.—will be slow in change.

Many, rightly so, use our political system to figure how to change these things. Phrases like “reform” and “root out corruption” or “…will not be business as usual” get quoted by our elected officials. David Brooks, the New York Times columnist observed in an episode “The Disillusionment of David Brooks” on The Ezra Klein Show podcast that our political system, however, is probably too “thin” to handle the gravity of change that is needed. I’m inclined to believe him in that we’ve gotten to a point where as an American society we’re asking too much of our political system. It is indeed too thin to handle the load that has been placed on it by the failure of our larger institutions.

While I don’t think my words on this blog—I’m assuming I’ve long surpassed the 1,000,000 word mark—have made a dent in altering the long course of human events by impacting our institutions in a detectable way, my hope is that the growth of my personal thoughts plus my increasing willingness to engage authentically and intellectually has helped a few people along the way participate in a course correction in their respective locations. As still a self-proclaimed uppity Negro, I’m most interested in doing work that changes the hearts and the minds of the people who read my words or who hear my voice. I’m interested in raising one’s consciousness and broadening one’s awareness. I believe I do this best through my writing, my preaching, my photography and my music.

To be accused of being “uppity” in the Jim Crow South may have resulted in a visit by the Ku Klux Klan; it may have resulted in an unsuspected firing from a so-called “good” factory job in a steel mill if it was up North. To be accused of being an uppity Negro in a post-Obama world may result in being labeled a “change agent” or a “social justice warrior.”

May we muster the courage to fight for what’s right and participate in letting justice roll down like rivers of water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

The Reverend Joshua Lawrence Lazard
June 18, 2019

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2 thoughts on “Why Being an Uppity Negro is Still Relevant

  1. Just in time for Juneteenth, thank you Uppity!

    Keep up the good fight with thoughtful words and direct action, continue to be the change that brings humanity through the stony roads we trod.

    Keep it uppity, be radical when it matters; be kind because you care and because you can.

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