Respectability politics or the politics of respectability refers to attempts by marginalized groups to police their own members and show their social values as being continuous and compatible with mainstream values rather than challenging the mainstream for its failure to accept difference. The concept was first articulated by Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham in her book Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880–1920. In the context of black American history, respectability politics was practiced as a way of attempting to consciously set aside and undermine cultural and moral practices thought to be disrespected by wider society, especially in the context of the family and good manners. The development of African-American politics of responsibility has been traced to writers and activists including W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington, and has been used as a way of understanding the election and political trajectory of Barack Obama. President Obama has also been criticized for his use of respectability politics during his presidency, as when he brought up issues of black criminality during his speech following the November 24 grand jury decision regarding the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.One of the most open proponents of respectability politics is former-NBA player Charles Barkley.
In the wake of Michael Brown, many black Americas still secretly believed and clung to the idea that respectability politics, or the idea that if we ‘act right’ we will be just fine, were actually a viable way to stay alive. In the past few years, we have been reminded that being respectable will not save our lives.
This summer, I was assigned to report the Sandra Bland funeral taking place about an hour outside of Chicago. At the time, her family had grown angry at the press and asked us not to come in the church. Bland’s story had created a media frenzy of everyone asking: what happened to the black women arrested and found dead days later in a Texas jail cell?
But, of course, barely any of us obeyed.
At the end of the funeral, I reached into my bag to grab my press credentials when an older deacon stopped me. “Young man”, he said and I turned to meet his gaze.
“Remember … you have a target on your back. Don’t you ever forget that”, he continued and patted me on the shoulder.
When his words hit me I didn’t know what to do. So, I smiled. I nodded. And I pushed my way outside as mourners rushed past to their cars and a wall of photographers clicked away. As I walked through the parking lot, placing my credentials back around my neck, what he was saying really hit me and I stopped walking.
He was reminding me that, no matter what my profession is, I am still a black man in America, press credentials or not, and that is still very dangerous. Whether I want to admit it or not.
When ex-tennis player James Blake was aggressively tackled to the ground by the NYPD while standing outside the Hyatt hotel in New York City, we were reminded. When Rekia Boyd was shot for just standing in an alley by an off-duty cop who fired bullets over his shoulder into a crowd in Chicago and still has his job, we were reminded.
And when Sandra Bland was hired for a new job and then was suddenly found dead after her arrest, we were definitely reminded.
We must find another way to freedom. Because being respectable doesn’t work when we can no longer count the hashtags of dead black people, keep schools open in places like Chicago that recently shut down 50 predominately black ones, or keep food on the tables of the black family in poverty whose rates maintain steady as everyone else’s declines.
And in the end, all respectability does is make you ignore that target placed on your back until the day they pull the trigger and shoot.
Christopher Emanuel is a 25-year-old Black South Carolinian. Syracuse law professor, Kevin Noble Maillard, crafted a brilliant report on the gauntlet of legal obstacles Emanuel overcame to be recognized as the father and sole custodian of his daughter, Skylar. Emanuel was deliberately excluded from his child’s birth, falsely branded a shiftless sperm-donor disinterested in and ill-equipped for fatherhood, and nearly stripped of his paternal rights.
This Black dad’s nemesis wasn’t his state’s recently banished Confederate flag. It was his daughter’s white mother and white grandmother, who ultimately lost their parental rights while a South Carolina judge condemned their campaign of treachery and racism to steal a Black child.
This is not our conventional notion of white supremacy. The enemy of Black people is habitually reduced to “the man.”
However, there would be no racist white man, without a racist white woman.
From Jim Crow legislation, to Black castration, editor and journalist, Chloe Angyal, correctly acknowledged that blubbering white women have prompted untold incidents of white terror. But her assessment is incomplete. White women are equally proficient as weeping victims of alleged “negro” mischief or aggressive, violent ambassadors of white power. Contrary to the rubric of white patriarchy, white women are equal co-conspirators in the devaluation of Black life.
The crescendo of rage in response to police abuse of Black citizens has consistently highlighted transgressions of white male officers. Although slim in numbers, white women help hold the blue line. In July of 2014, Seattle police officer Cynthia Whitlatch arrested a 70-year-old Black military veteran for supposedly swinging a golf club at her. The dashcam provided no evidence to support her claim and the department ultimately dismissed the charges and apologized for the arrest.
Following Whitlatch’s alleged racial profiling of an elderly Black veteran, she employed social media to broadcast her disgust with Black people who “think white people are out to get them.” The Stranger’s Ansel Herz reports that Whitlatch is accused of habitually classifying the Black citizens she was hired to protect and serve as “n-ggers”— she’s been on paid leave since January of this year. Like the white male killers of Tamir Rice, Michael Brown Jr. and Eric Garner, Whitlatch has not been fired.
Few white women brandish police shields, but all white females and males are expected to enforce white supremacy, monitor and abuse Black people.
Decades of feminism have not extinguished white women’s antagonism towards Black females. White females routinely malign entertainment mogul Shonda Rhimes and FLOTUS Michelle Obama as “angry Black women.” So imagine what white female teachers think of Black girls?
If white women are underrepresented in the field of law enforcement, they compensate with overrepresentation in the early stages of the school-to-prison pipeline. It’s estimated that white women comprise 63 percent of K-12 teachers in the United States. So when the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles documents that “African-American students are three times more likely to be suspended than whites,” that’s not “the man.”
The accusatory white woman who incited lynch mobs and genital mutilation is not extinct. She now flings allegations and suspensions in the classroom. Sabotaging the academic genius of Black students is an act of genocide. Educational psychologist Dr. Jamilia Blake documents teachers’ debilitating perception of Black girls and boys as threatening, unsophisticated and defiant. In Unsettling Whiteness, Dr. Lucy Michael writes that white women are central to the criminalization of Black students because they are “not blind to their own cultural practices, but deeply committed to them.”
“Deeply committed” white women of McKinney, Texas instigated the racial melee that introduced the nation to CNN’s “Best Place to Live.” Officer Eric Casebolt, who has since resigned, assaulted and violated a 15-year-old Black girl in a bikini. But a white female duo was the root of the conflict.
Eyewitnesses confirmed a pair of white women “made racist comments” and violently double-teamed a black female child prior to Casebolt’s appearance. These women weren’t arrested or charged, nor did they require white manhood to launch a terrorist attack. Days later, Andrew Guilford and his Black male comrades were bamboozled by an equally devastating claims by a woman. Guilford and other three black men were tossed to the ground and shackled by McKinney’s finest. No arrests were made, no weapons were found, but officers justified their detainment because a white “woman called claiming one of the [Black] men was going to shoot her and police.”
As for rallying white goons eager to pounce on and terminate Black lives, unquestionably, #WhiteGirlsDoItBetter. But women like Lake County, Fla.’s Lisa Elberson illustrate that white women are not confined to the pedestal of fragile, sanctified femininity. They’re equally proficient as aggressive, violent ambassadors of white power. Elberson was arrested and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, battery and child abuse after she was recorded terrorizing a group of black children—threatening them with a baseball bat while calling them “n-ggers.” Elberson publicly rebuked the notion of racial lynchings as white men’s work. She told the children, “I’ll hang your family from my tree.”
Cliché assessments of white women’s purported inclination towards frailty and vulnerability impair our understanding of and defense against the maliciousness of Elberson, and other racist white women.
Former Florida State Seminole quarterback De’Andre Johnson’s collegiate playing career was sacked by an altercation with a 21-year-old white woman. Johnson consoled his distraught Black mother, Pamela Jones, as he apologized for striking the woman and acknowledged that he should have walked away. He’s facing misdemeanor battery charges. Yet even Sean Hannity of FOX News was compelled to remind prosecuting attorney William Meggs that the footage reveals the White woman struck first. Additionally, she’s accused of spewing racial insults and striking Johnson in the groin before his retaliatory response. Her record and reputation remain, unblemished and white.
Tears or talons, they’re lethally proficient.
North Carolina’s unresolved deaths of Jonathan Ferrell and Lenon Lacy have the fingerprints of a racist woman. Lacy, 17, was found hanging from a swing set in the summer of 2014. His death was ruled a suicide, but Nick Fagge reported that Lacy’s 31-year-old “white girlfriend… says she believes their relationship led to his murder.” She had been warned not to date Black males in “Crackertown.”
Ferrell crashed his vehicle on a late summer evening in the summer of 2013. Unfortunately, he asked a white woman for help. She reported a prowler, and one of the responding officers, Randall Kerrick, needed a dozens bullets to suppress Ferrell. Kerrick’s manslaughter trial begins July 20.
Here, here! The IR propaganda is getting so bad that they are pairing black gays and lesbians (don’t support homosexuality) with white gays and lesbians. God Damn Amerikkka!
I want a white lover
so we can mix our blood
and destroy my people
like Noah’s flood.
I want a white lover.
I don’t care about me
or the fact that our children
won’t know their history.
I want a white lover
in my bed tonight.
I’m hungry for his love
and it feels so right.
I want a white lover;
a Black man won’t do.
I need a white man
to prove my worth; my value.
Shelby I. Courtland
©2016 Shelby I. Courtland
Now, I believe that my readers are smart enough to read between the lines and to know the true meaning of this poem. This poem was written because as I stated earlier in another poem of mine, I have been sitting back quietly watching the shit hit the fan. I noticed how all hell broke loose when Beyoncé Knowles put on a Super…
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February 4, 2016
Non-black pocs just out here to remind us that it ain’t only white people who hate us and are anti-black. They hate us too. All that POC solidarity is bullshit.
Anytime something for black folks comes round, non-black pocs the first to come outta nowhere and complain. “Where is ours, what about us?”
NB POCS ain’t said shit about heritage months till it’s black history month. NB POCS complaining about lack of representation that ain’t even there. Ain’t black people’s fault y’all hoes ain’t out here reppin yourselves and don’t even know when your own heritage months are lmao. How black people know when YOUR heritage months are but you don’t? What kinda shit is that? LMFAO.
NB POCS out here actin like black history month was some cute gift white people happily gave us. Failing to realize that black people started and fought 30 years for this shit. That black people rallied and demanded we have this shit. That we didn’t take no for an answer. That we demanded it be taught in school. That black people seem to do better and getting out shit together and making shit happen. And we still got thrown the bare minimum from white people
It is not our fault that your people ain’t doing the same for you. Ain’t shit stopping you from demanding the same representation we did, you just have to care enough and get off you lazy ass to do it. Not sit around waiting for black people to fight your fight for you.
Like shut the fuck up. If you wasn’t complaining about it in January, the fuck you complaining about it now for? I’ve deadass seen more pocs complaining about BHM than white people. BLACK PEOPLE ARE NOT YOUR FRONTMEN. DO YOUR OWN WORK. FIGHT YOUR OWN BATTLES. RALLY YOUR OWN GOTDAHM PEOPLE. The fuck black people need to assume that responsibility for? Like we ain’t got our own shit to worry about and like we haven’t ALWAYS shown up and support the fuck outta all y’all bitches when the time comes.
All y’all ashy bitter non-black pocs can suck on my black ass clit for black history month.
PSA: Black people are not the reason why other people of color don’t get noticed.-Eshusplayground, Tumblr
“What? Black people doing something nice for themselves? I gotta put an end to this shit!”-non-black folks everywhere (via eshusplayground, Tumblr)