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Code Word: Is 'Arrogant' the New 'Uppity'?

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No. "Arrogant" is not the new "uppity." The word "arrogant" has long been a euphemism for "uppity," a disparaging term used to describe a person who reveals an aptitude or desire to transcend social hierarchies that are premised upon racial, gender or ethnic stereotypes. What could be considered new, however, is the apathy and apparent mainstream acceptance of the word "arrogant" as a proxy for "uppity."

Use of the term "uppity" has experienced a revival since Barack Obama's election as the nation's first Black President. More than a few of Mr. Obama's detractors have taken to calling him "arrogant" and at times, they have dispensed with the veneer of political correctness by even calling him "uppity." This seems especially to have been the case after some of Mr. Obama's opponents have found themselves outmaneuvered politically. Such indictments seem to be a rhetorical refuge of sorts, for bruised egos mystified by his successes.

Indeed, charges of uppity-ism have also been directed at First Lady Michelle Obama for, among other things, her fervent advocacy of exercise and better nutrition. Those believing the Obamas to be uppity perceive the couple's words, deeds and aspirations to be demonstrative of an audacity that is unacceptable for people of their racial background; in other words, the Obamas don't know their place.

Recognizing the political incorrectness and well-deserved criticisms which accompany the use of "uppity," a more palatable, less provocative adjective was needed. Enter, Arrogant.

Arrogant is an opportune surrogate for uppity. Arrogant is sufficiently expressive of the suggestion that an individual has an exaggerated sense of self-importance or that she has the temerity to believe that ill-conceived conventional notions of her place within social hierarchies, could or should not be determinative of her lot. On its face, use of the term "arrogant" is defensible. Arrogant is also easily deployable as an ad hominem attack, and doesn't carry with it uppity's historical baggage of prejudice and slight.

Over the past several years the Obamas have been the most public recipients of accusations of uppity-ism and arrogance -- Attorney General Eric Holder too has been on the receiving end of such insults recently. However, this euphemistic phenomenon doesn't just pertain to successful minority politicians and policymakers. It and similar, albeit less obvious microaggressions, happen daily in educational institutions at all levels and in the private and public sectors alike, revealing how pervasive subtle forms of prejudice and racism continue to be within our society. Charges of arrogance can result from minorities advocating for themselves, excelling in certain areas, or simply by their challenging preconceived ideas of who they should be and of what they are capable.

If this national dialogue on race that American society was to embark upon a few of years ago is to move us closer to a more perfect Union, we must individually and collectively dig deep to engage in some sincere objective introspection. This will require that we ask ourselves why it is that we hold certain beliefs about particular groups of people and through sustained dialogue, challenge ourselves to dispense with misinformed beliefs about race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. As Attorney General Holder recently said to Morgan State University's 2014 graduating class: "Discrimination does not always come in the form of a hateful epithet or a Jim Crow-like statute. And so we must continue to take account of racial inequality, especially in its less obvious forms, and actively discuss ways to combat it."