T-shirts aim to redefine activism

BY VICTORIA EDWARDS
Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 10, 2005

It’s not every day that you think of a line of T-shirts as a vehicle for change, but founder of “Uppity Negro” T-shirts Andrea Carter claimed in a talk yesterday at the League Ballroom, that her product is a social statement meant to propel the black race.

The event was sponsored by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The term “Uppity Negro,” as inscribed on the T-shirts, symbolizes the black person who refuses to be complacent and bow before the white man — or anyone for that matter.

Carter explained how at first, her goal was not to promote social change at all but rather to “get hers,” become a professional and “make it” according to the standards of the white middle class.

However, she said this was impossible when she was thrown into different situations that forced her to confront her conscience and the phony mask that she wore in front of the world.

Carter said during her first job as a teacher in a Baltimore middle school, a student forced her to step back and evaluate the dishonest person she had become.

“I was trying to act so high … but I didn’t have the compassion to understand I was so much like them. I was just someone who didn’t want to be exposed,” Carter said.

Carter said she was fired from two jobs because she began to voice what she was honestly feeling. It was in the wake of her newfound honesty and epiphany of self-respect that she came up with the idea of “Uppity Negro” T-shirts.

“There was backlash from blacks. Do you know what an uppity Negro is? They think it is a bourgeois black person but really … on the plantation when they told you to pick cotton and you stood up for a second … they’d call you an uppity Negro,” Carter said.

It is this sense of self-respect and honesty that Carter claims that her T-shirts embrace. She said a huge problem with the black community right now is that no one is willing to stand up and be an uppity Negro, no one is willing to challenge the system. She said she hopes that through her T-shirts, more people will be inspired to do just that.

LSA freshman Dara Epison said the talk was received well and that there were points that Walter discussed that were especially prevalent to the future of the black community.

“I think her discussion on lack of leadership in the community and the tendency to sit back and accept information and not to do anything with it, just let other people take a leadership role,” is a real problem in the black community, Epison said.

The speech was attended by 15 people, and Carter said she was disappointed in the poor showing for the event, especially because she felt the message of self and respect and honesty were important not only to blacks but to members of different races as well.

LSA freshman Brittney Hall echoed Epison, saying that she felt the message was universally important.

“I thought it was a very nice presentation. It had issues that not only (affected) black people but all people. … No people should feel ashamed or feel they have to suppress who they are,” Hall said.