Another voice on the ‘uppity’ issue and other coded language

Here’s a blog post I just came cross, from AdAge.com, that adds to the dialogue on the use of the word “uppity” to describe African Americans.

Pepper Miller points out that some African Americans take the use of “elitist” to describe Barack Obama as code for “uppity”:

As another example, WVON-AM Chicago talk-show host Perri Small nailed the rationale for black frustration over charges of Sen. Obama’s “elitist” attitude during an appearance on CNN last month. Ms. Small explained that many in the black community took “elitist” to mean “uppity,” a particularly troublesome translation as the term “uppity” dates back to pre-Civil Rights and the Jim Crow era. Despite progress in the black community, “uppity” continues to be perceived as code for blacks who do not “stay their place.”


My pal Leland Rucker and I had a discussion about my earlier post and he explained why he didn’t think my choice of using Sen. Daniel Inouye in an example of a potential use of the word “sneaky” worked for him. I wasn’t clear enough that since I had grown up hearing the phrase “sneaky Jap,” that if I ever heard the word “sneaky” used to describe ANY Asian or Asian American, I’d get a knot in my stomach.

He thought I wanted to ban the word “sneaky,” as well as the word “uppity” from ever being used. That’s not the case, I replied. It’s all about the context. He agreed that the next word that comes immediately to mind after the word “uppity” is the “n” word.

That’s where I make my case: Don’t you think that someone who works for a major national news network should have enough presence of mind to be aware of the history and context of such words, and know when not to use them?

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2 Responses to Another voice on the ‘uppity’ issue and other coded language

  1. I read Mr. Rucker’s post and, not to sound condescending, but I don’t think he sees the implications of the word “sneaky.” Historically, Asians have a reputation in the mainstream for being “sneaky,” a la Hank Hill’s Laotian neighbor and other little Asian characters that always try to pull a fast one by the White man throughout 20th century mainstream films and television. I’m not at all saying Mr. Rucker is oblivious to it, it’s just that it’s so socially accepted that many are not aware of it. Some people, to this day, still say “Oriental” and don’t have the slightest clue what it means historically.
    Gil, I don’t think many people are consciously aware they might be using insensitive words that might offend a certain community of people — let alone some imbeciles that anchor the news. I think many people are more aware of issues within the African American and Latino American communities, but have the slightest inkling as to what gets underneath the skin of Asian Americans. The problem is they don’t see it. There is a lack of awareness not just in the Asian community, but also the Arabic and Desi communities as well. It’s not just White people I’m talking about, it’s the general public..

  2. Gil Asakawa says:

    It’s true, the Asian American community as a whole is much more susceptible to these kinds of “subtle” race-related issues, because the “mainstream” doesn’t think of us the same way they do of the African American or Latino populations. We’re invisible in mainstream pop culture and in the news and also off the radar when it comes to racial and cultural intelligence.

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