Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What Happens When Uppity Negroes Have Kids

Here's a funny story: I'm shopping in target with my daughters and have found a cute shirt for the 2 year old. I hold it up to her to see if I like the color against her skin and she says, "Mommy, this will make me an uppity negro just like you." My first reaction is disbelief because clearly she couldn't have used the phrase "uppity negro" correctly in a sentence. But she did. My second reaction was hysterical laughter. Because it's funny.

Part of my job as director of African American Studies at the College of Charleston is to publicize and generate buzz about the program. I attempted to do this by having a contest to pick the new AAST t-shirt. One t-shirt says "uppity negro" on the front and as the AAST logo on the back. The other has the logo on the front and has a large black power fist and "not just in february" on the back. You can see both of them here.

Students love the uppity negro shirt and I, in fact, really want that shirt to win. I want to wear it to class and have students ask me why I'm wearing it and have people understand that calling me uppity (which I assume means that I don't know my place and I presume I am welcome where I'm not and I refuse to abide by prevailing notions of blackness--yep that's me) in no way offends me. But of course it is horribly offensive to some, particularly to black people a generation older than me (who sometimes faced violence and came to horrible ends because of their "uppity" ways), and potentially a problem for the College, especially if it is perceived as willfully insulting black people.

My third reaction to my 2 year old gleefully declaring herself an uppity negro was the thought of how horrified my mother would be. While she would not be surprised that I don't find being called uppity an insult, I am not sure she would approve of me passing that lesson along to my kids. My mother wants all her daughters to be well-behaved and walking around with a shirt that says uppity negro is the antithesis of well-behaved.

But maybe good behavior is overrated. And would that be such a horrible lesson for the 2 year old to learn?

2 comments:

jody said...

I look forward to the days when Frances and Catherine govern this country.

Melvin said...

It's funny because the model for the uppity negro shirt is white.