Respectability politics are everywhere in the society that we live in today. Most of this comes from lazy people in power who are too lazy or too ignorant to the things going on, but we also get a few people of color who want nothing more than to silence to voice of their community. Recently, Bill O’Reilly covered the Black Lives Matter Movement, only to blame the black community for their struggle and then to boast about his frequency of covering the Movement. Respectability politics can come in many forms, and can come from many different types of people. As part of the politically aware, you need to be cautious of those “allies” who try to tell you to calm down.
Respectability politics are an undefined yet understood set of ideas about how Black people should live positively and how we should define Black American culture (Maurice Dolberry). While Wikipedia says that it comes from only the Black community, it comes from others as well. It’s may be more subtle or just as blatant, but regardless, it is still something that shouldn’t slide past without being addressed.
Respectability politics often comes up in the midst of the death of unarmed black people by cops, and in the midst of protests following. Someone may say to you, “If they had simply done this, or behaved, or acted right…” Or “We need to respect ourselves before we can expect respect from others.” Have you ever noticed how none of these people ever seem to have an adequate solutions to any of the problems beside placing the blame on us? Yeah, as you can see these people are much more comfortable placing the blame on the victims rather than letting the victims have a voice.
I feel so bad hearing it from people I love, and from allies who I thought I could count on. But they need to be set straight, and they need to understand that it’s bigger than simply doing one thing better or differently. Let’s take Sandra Bland and Sam Dubose for example. Even if they had listened to the cop and done “what they were supposed to,” it wouldn’t have solved the problem still, because even if they had not died at the hand of these cops, they would have still faced police brutality due to the color of their skin. Hispanic people face the same problems often, getting stopped and frisked, and sometimes being penalized for not having legal documents on them. That is utterly ridiculous to expect them to hold their legal documents with them at all times because you expect them to be undocumented. And even when they have these papers, it is still unacceptable. They are being targeted unfairly by the police, and it should not be accepted by those who don’t face this issue.
Oftentimes, these people practicing respectability politics are those who are in some higher level than those fighting. It is very supremacist, because these people inherently assumed that they will not face the same treatment were they in the same situation. This needs to be called out. Police brutality, as we have been seeing lately, while it does happen disproportionately to black and brown people, it happens to people of all color. And just because these acts of police brutality may come in different forms, like the “suicides” of women in prison, or arresting people for resisting arrest of nothing, doesn’t mean they aren’t as legitimate, and doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be fought for.
So many people are justifying the death of Sam Dubose, saying that he was driving away. So the cop is allowed to shoot him if he drives away? That makes no sense. The officer had already had Dubose’s license plate in his computer, and his car was not that far. He could have gotten back in the car, chased after him, called for backup if he needed it. Because that is the protocol for someone who drives away to resist being caught. Driving away from a cop does not warrant being shot in the head. Because that would imply that we live in a country where we are guilty until innocent, but we clearly don’t with all these people raising money to bail out the officer who clearly shot Dubose.
Respectability politics are a microinvalidation, a form of a microaggression. It is telling you that your struggles as a people aren’t a valid reason to be fighting. As hard as it may be, you need to stop letting microaggressions slide past, because they do much more harm than good, as I have said in my earlier blogs.