Monday, May 9, 2016

Death To Respectability Politics


I often speak about respectability politics, against it to be more specific. I rail against the politics of respectability because it simply is about appeasing the mainstream and viewing life through the dangerous White gaze lens.

According to Abagond: "The white gaze is looking at the world through a white person’s eyes. In America it is everywhere. It is in history books, on billboards, on television, in films, in fashion magazines, on the Internet. It is the world as told by white people for white people...

Most White Americans do not see it that way: they are just presenting the world as it is, the way anyone would who was being fair, honest and open-minded. Any twist it might have is purely a personal one.

They fail to see how the colour of their skin colours their view of the world. That is for two reasons:
  • Many live in such a white world that their white gaze is rarely challenged and so they do not even notice that it is there. Only certain black voices make it through into that world, mostly those of Rented Negroes.
  • Whites like to believe “I do not see race” and “we are all the same”. In a colour-blind world there is no white gaze. They believe, want to believe, in a colour-blind world, which means the white gaze should not be, therefore must not be."
For this reason we (Black people) have been conditioned via respectability politics to take on the mantle of westernized, Eurocentric attitudes and sensibilities in order to get crumbs and little slices of respect from the dominant group in this society, White people.

"Funny how it's divisive to point out problems in our communities that make marginalized people feel unsupported and unwelcome -- but it's not divisive to, you know, have those problems."
- Greta Christina


"Isn’t it bad enough that everything about who we are is devalued and denigrated by the mainstream LGBT and Straight communities?!" - APW

Respectability politics can kill, it has killed and will kill countless Black folks who are told that they cannot be themselves. We automatically start by devaluing ourselves within our own community of orientation, the Black community. It is as if we are fulfilling the crabs in a barrel stereotype, like we are in a forced competition with ourselves. Respectability politics reinforces tone policing, sexism, hate, fear and a host of other redundancies that hold us back as a collective. We can't express anger, have to dress a certain way and present an overall image that will improve things just enough for us to work three times harder in order to be twice as good as our White counterparts. This is so contradictory to me that we as Black people in general are automatically groomed in that manner and then achieve some level of success only to be told not to be too expressive or too intersectional. We become shells of ourselves, one dimensional to the point that we even view our own intelligence as a threat to ourselves and others.

We are talented beyond binaries, we are intersectional beings that are unique and we must be respected for it! Respectability politics needs to die a swift death, so that we can thrive and not just survive. It needs to die because unsolicited directives about how we should express our individuality is no longer acceptable. This is where we have to cease the tone policing and disrespectfully crossing boundaries that don't need to be crossed. The need to "play the game" has long passed its prime, we simply need to walk to the beat of our own drum and celebrate differences. We can still be unified, unique and learn from others with different perspectives. If we shake the fear of things outside of our social norms that have instilled within us by respectability politics, we can then listen actively and learn something new about ourselves.  To put it another way, actively listening/watching others is the key to becoming more self aware, which allows us to see the intersectionality within ourselves and as a collective.


"As a Black man I see the images that illustrate that there are two ways to live get educated or live a street life. We get beat down by those who look like us when we show signs of intelligence and are belittled for being educated." - APW


"We have the RIGHT to ask questions of not only the dominant group (White folks), but we CAN & SHOULD question folks within our own ranks. usually the response to questions and gripes include getting defensive, brushing off, and subsequently degrading the person and inquiry."

When we see our true selves, the need for respectability dies, it dies because we are no longer seeing life through white gaze and simply focused on educating ourselves. It dies because we will refuse to
play by rules intended to subjugate our Black bodies for crumbs.That piece of a pie from the system built on the sweat and blood of our ancestors through colonization, enslavement, and financial oppression will look molded and decayed. That clamor for respect, equality and acknowledgment from the mainstream will cease along with previously sought approval from the dominant group. No longer will we avoid calling White folks out on their privilege at the risk of no longer being invited to the party or their table. Yes, calling out White privilege is cute, but know that it is more important to make sure Black folk know and understand that our Black lives matter.