Black respectability is a pretty well-established concept — its toxicity is not.
Black respectability is the notion that blacks have to project a certain — albeit subjective — mastery in areas such as higher education, dress, deportment, speech and general achievement among other things to deserve rights, privileges otherwise extended to whites without question. It’s a kind of commodity that is used in order to secure the respect necessary to survive and the collateral required to advance one professionally, economically, socially and politically.
A good example is the notion that black males inherently pose a threat but especially if they are in a hoodie. As if to say, a black man in a button-down dress shirt is less likely to be a criminal and more deserving of the right to be innocent until proven guilty in a court of law — and not shot dead in a city streets because of the presumption of guilt in the impluse of a cop who feels threatened because of it.
Blacks have long clung to this notion that they can be exempt from the damaging effects of racism if they demonstrate its stereotypes do not belong to them. But respectability is not a cape that protects blacks from experiencing racism — class helps a little or a lot depending on how much money one has. The poorer the person, the more damning the effects.
Now, what has become painfully apparent is that respectability does not save us from the bitterness of racism’s sting — just look at Gabby Douglass’ treatment as an example. Not only was she criticized in a way in which Lochte has yet to be, many black folk who have internalized racism and view hair as a measure of respectability, helped to heap upon one of the world’s greatest athletes, the most unfair and undue string of criticisms in recent times.
Even so, the same respectability keeps many black folk from acknowledging that Obama’s agenda has not specifically address issues that concern the black community most — because they don’t want to hurt his image because, of the pride they feel at his being the nation’s first black president.
In both instances, there is a level of toxicity involved as well as a cognitive dissonance. Respectability then, becomes our preoccupation instead of justice. That’s where we have to do the work because that’s not helpful and it is toxic.
I’m still working through the concept too by the way, so I like the dialogue. Thanks for reading, commenting + search out truths.