What are Respectability Politics?
Respectability is a set of social guidelines dictating acceptable behavior, from clothing to the way someone interacts with those around them. “Respectability politics” refers to the way that people attempting to make social change present their demands in a way that are acceptable to the dominant standards in their society.
Black Respectability Politics
Due largely in part to centuries of being devalued, dismissed and disenfranchised daily by structural and systemic Anti-Black Racism, Black Respectability Politics is a coping mechanism that many in the Black Community have adopted in order to assimilate into American society, thereby hoping to be seen as valued.
Lived experiences and research has revealed, Black Respectability Politics do not work. "It places the responsibility and blame on the victim instead of the systems that uphold it." Damon Young states, Moreover, “Instead of requiring the people and the institutions committing and propagating racist acts to change, it asks the people harmed by the racism to change to stop being harmed by the racism.” - Damon Young
The daily racial traumas and stressors of regularly enduring Anti-Black racism is a burden in itself. Adding the baggage of Black respectability politics to this burden is dehumanizing and degrading. History has repeatedly shown us that having money, ivy league degrees, illustrious job titles, or being a successful overachiever does not protect Black people from experiencing racism.
W.E.B Du Bois eloquently states, "It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One feels his two-ness, — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife, — this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost.
He does not wish to Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa; he does not wish to bleach his Negro blood in a flood of white Americanism, for he believes—foolishly, perhaps, but fervently—that Negro blood has yet a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without losing the opportunity of self-development." - W.E.B. Du Bois
The Impacts of Respectability Politics on Black Women
For Black women, racism and sexism are inextricably intertwined, from the racial wealth gap, Black tokenism to misogynoir, historically, Black women are routinely doubly discredited.
Subsequently, since 1928, Black History Month has always had a theme. This year’s Black History Month theme is Black Resistance. As this matter pertains to Woman's History Month and Black women, the Feminist Book Club lays out the dangers of How Respectability Politics Undermine Black Resistance. It goes without saying, the daily internalized racism that Black women endure in government, work, schools, business, community and society is dehumanizing.
The NIH.gov reveals, “Evidence reveals that Black American women are more likely to be more exposed to stressful events than other groups (Aneshensel et al. 1991; Hatch and Dohrenwend 2007; Pearlin 1999; Turner et al. 1995), and this process may be especially pronounced among women experiencing high levels of racial and gender discrimination.”
Data from the U.S. Department of Education found that Black girls are over five times more likely than White girls to be suspended at least once from school, seven times more likely to receive multiple out-of-school suspensions than White girls and three times more likely to receive referrals to law enforcement. - New York Times
In conclusion, Black Respectability Politics do not work. In over 450 years, Black Respectability Politics has not uprooted racist systems and structures in:
The Racial Wealth Gap
Racist Disciplinary Practices in Education
Overidentification of Black students for Special Needs
Law Enforcement Brutality and Racism
Sexism and Misogyny
Racist Policies and Procedures