The Contradictions of Respectability Politics: Being Black in 2017

Being black in 2017 has been an unfortunate struggle that never seems to end. The constant police killings of black people never ends. The engraved negative perceptions placed upon black people never ends. Grieving mothers, wives and families expressing their pain to the world never ends. The cycle of disrespect, mistreatment, and injustice will never end until black people receives the respect of being treated as actual human beings. Black people are human beings just like any other race but we are the ones who require respect from society in order to be treated as such.

What is Respectability Politics?

Respectability politics are rules for marginalized people to follow in order to respected by society. So in other words, black people are supposed to act a certain way to avoid being disrespected, targeted, beaten, neglected, judged and even killed. The main reason most of us are being treated as much is solely because of our blackness. What society fails to realize is that even on our best behavior, a bullet still gets pierced in our backs now where is the respect in that?

In order to define American culture the “correct” way, black people have to act in a “respectable” manner. By respect, I mean not playing your music too loud, dressing in a “presentable” manner, speaking calmly and not raising your voice, showing no signs of aggression, etc. In order to be viewed as respectable, black people has to be something other than their true authentic selves since black authenticity is a so called “threat”.

Why does “Respectability Politics” even exist?

The notion of respectability politics was established in the late nineteenth century when black women didn’t want to identify with the stereotypes of the community. During the height of civil activism, African Americans wanted to prove to the American society that they are just like White Americans. In order to be respected, black people had to “behave better” despite of the harsh treatments they continuously faced during the times of racial tensions. Why does a marginalized group have to portray themselves as people who deserve respect when they subconsciously know that will never get it? Society doesn’t care nothing about black people or any people of color for that matter and that is the unfortunate reality we face everyday.

Black people are not respected, period.

Since Trayvon Martin was killed and the entire world witnessed the verdict of his killer, a critical pattern of killing black men and women has increased significantly. So if he acted on respectability politics, he wouldn’t have worn a hoodie but a button up shirt and tie to be more “presentable” right? Michael Brown on the other hand, wouldn’t have been at the wrong place at the wrong time, which was his neighborhood. Alton Sterling would have had to dress in a suit and tie while selling CDs to help his family instead of his collar shirt and jean shorts to avoid getting shot in his chest. If Sandra Bland avoided having a broken taillight, voicing her rightful opinion and freely smoking her cigarette, she would have still been alive today if respectability politics actually mattered.

These are some unfortunate examples of black men and women who did absolutely nothing wrong and still was killed. This is the contradiction when it comes to respectability politics because even if they did change their demeanor, tone of voice or attire they still would’ve have been killed because of their blackness. Why does black people have to prove to this unjust society that regardless of how much respect we have for ourselves that it doesn’t matter? Society doesn’t have respect for us and this is the problem.

What being black in 2017 means

Being black in 2017 is exhausting. Being black in 2017 creates anxiety and fear because we are constantly shown that our lives don’t matter to society compared to any other race. We are constantly reminded that we are at the bottom of the totem pole. Black men and women. Brown people and all people of color. Being black is tiresome because of the constant energy we have to use to prove that our lives matter too.

#BlackLivesMatters is a international activist movement that formed 4 years ago after the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin. There shouldn’t have to be a hashtag reminding society that black lives matter because they always did. There shouldn’t still be protests and marches for black people that were killed due to ill perceptions fueled by racism. There shouldn’t be injustice. There shouldn’t be separation among races but equality among races.

There shouldn’t be a lot of things that happen in this world but this is the unfortunate reality that people have to face in order for there to be change.

James Baldwin quoted: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced”

Until society faces that black people are human beings that deserves respect like any other race, there will never be change but change will soon come.

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