Respectability Politics

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The impetus for this post was a tweet a saw earlier. The tweet was referencing Betty Jones’ daughter. If you’re not familiar with this case, the long and short of it is that 19 year old Quintonio LeGrier was acting with aggression toward his family members. Mental illness is said to be to blame. Quintonio LeGrier’s father called the police and then he called Bettie Jones to let her know what was going on and to stay in her apartment. 55 year old Bettie Jones lived on the first floor of the home and somehow she found herself in the cross hairs of the altercation and was killed by the police. There are SOO many different factors at play [police brutality, minority mental health treatment, etc] but I’m choosing to focus on the whole idea of respectability.


If you’re un familiar with what im talking about; let me put you on. Respectability politics is basically a way of saying “if you just spoke properly, pulled your pants up and ate your vegetables every night then everything would be alright and others would treat you with respect!!!” Think Don Lemon mixed with Stacey dash. Which hey, no shade they got bills to pay just like the rest of us do, can’t knock the hustle.
However, what them and people LIKE them do is basically say “black people need to be respectable in order to get the most basic of human rights that others are offered just based on the fact that they are alive”!
What’re some different scenarios in which respectability comes into play?
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#1 Names
Black people who had ethnic names are perceived by some as automatically ghetto or uneducated. Girls like Raven Symone openly admit to a certain bias against people with ethnic sounding names. Which, if you’re trying to work with raven symone… girl okay. Anyway, i saw a series of tweets today about people having their names mispronounced on purpose or as a joke to make fun of them.
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#2 Clothing
Let’s face it, in our society women who wear less clothing are seen by some as easy prey or basically “asking for it”. I have several female friends who are curvier and even when they are wearing bulky winter clothing men still seem them as sexually available or open to them. Earlier this week my friend and I were at the gas station and this man tried to slow grind on her right in front of me. Of course I stopped it as soon as i saw it, but what if i hadn’t been there? Honestly, I feel that my friends should be able to go get gas without a man accosting them!
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#3 Grammar/Vocabulary
Many people like to police the grammar/vocabulary of Black Americans. They see anything that they say as worthy of dissection and or argument. That comes in to play with the verb conjugations/tenses and pronunciation. Ie: “She aint know what she doin” instead of “She didn’t know what she was doing”. These simple things are used to keep people who don’t speak standard-english exclusively out of certain academic, professional and social settings. ie: if you don’t speak standard-English then clearly you are not worthy of our time.

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#4 Mental Health issues
Mental health issues in Black American culture are definitely an issue of respectability. It’s like “take your issues to the lord and leave them there, just wait on him and he’ll see you through”. therapy is seen as something for the weak (physically or spiritually). Mental Health issues definitely came into play with this case. The young man was clearly having a mental health episode and his family called the police trying to get some help and we see how that turned out.
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#5 Sexuality
This is definitely a hot button issue in the Black American community. Gender/Sexually-non conforming Black Americans are subject to all types of abuse, mistreatment and harassment. From being called “f*gs” to being physically assaulted or killed. There are tons of stories out there about passable t-girls who were killed when their lovers found out their dirt. Even lesbians being assaulted in something called “corrective rape”. Black American men who wear make-up, dresses, blouses are seen as a shame to the entire race by some.

All this being said, these things are just distractions from the real issue at play: why hasn’t Rihanna put out that new disc??

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