The Problem with MSNBC Calling Spike Lee "Uppity"

By now you’ve probably heard MSNBC's Courtney Hazlett remark about Spike Lee and Clint Eastwood’s little tiff. If not, watch the video, but I’ll give you the short version. “…Spike Lee got really uppity with Clint Eastwood…”

Huh? What did she just say? Many of you will not understand the impact of her words. Uppity is defined in the standard dictionary as (def.) taking liberties or assuming airs beyond one's station; presumptuous; like:

“so and so was getting a little uppity and needed to be slapped down” -
But don’t kid yourself. Most of you lived through the Civil Rights movement, and if you didn’t you’ve seen Roots or Mississippi Burning. You know that the UrbanDictionary is much closer to the everyday meaning of this word. (def) An out of place black person who is out of line and thinks they are as good or better than the white person they are standing next to. Like:
“Rosa Parks was an uppity nigger bitch who thought that she didn't have to move for the white people on the bus.” -
I have to admit, I’m kind of surprised that people don’t get that the word is racially loaded. Do I think Ms. Hazlett should lose her job over it? Absolutely not. Call me naïve, call me crazy, but she’s clearly one of the people that doesn’t know how loaded a term it is and I don’t really think it’s her fault. We’ve become a country that likes to hide and push back the negative and not so pretty parts of our history.

I just finished this massive history research project, looking up images from the Jim Crow era and the Civil Rights movement in libraries and historical societies in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia – all the states that were the hotbeds of activity in the 1950s and 1960s. The images I found were of happy people helping one another, Martin Luther King visiting town, and a couple of photographs of children playing. Gone were photographs of police brutality, segregated swimming pools, mobs of people surrounding a group of peaceful protestors…

A search in the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collections for Japanese Internment brings back 16, that’s right 16 photographs. Half of which show people dancing and playing sports and smiling for the photographer. They all seem to say “we are American and we LOVE being ripped from our home and racially profiled for absolutely no reason!”

So do I fault Ms. Hazlett and others who don’t understand the racial implication behind the word “uppity,” who don’t understand my grimace when someone calls me articulate? No. I fault all of us for glorifying the good parts of our history and choosing to forget the ugly racist and mean parts. After all, those who forget history are doomed to have it repeated on Morning Joe and on YouTube and in People Magazine again and again and again.

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