No more respectability politics

Kristina Agbebiyi

Conversations focusing on respectability politics are very popular in social justice circles, however, they aren’t usually the topic of discussion in every day life. Instead of just giving the basic definition of respectability politics, I’ll give an example. You see a young Latino male walking down the sidewalk with sagging pants. Your father comments that maybe if they pulled their pants up, there would be less racism. A Gay man walks into a store wearing high heels. Your mother says that homophobia would be a thing of the past if they weren’t dressed so flamboyantly. You might have even practiced this way of thinking yourself. You might have attributed disproportionate incarcerations in the Black community, to the raunchy lyrics in hip-hop.

The main problem with respectability politics is that it justifies the oppression of specific communities, and writes off the people actually responsible for the oppression. So racism is okay because sometimes people sag their pants? Homophobia is totally cool because sometimes people are dressed flamboyantly? It’s illogical to use any reason to justify the oppression of a group, especially stupid reasons like music or fashion choices. At the end of the day, hateful people will always be hateful people. A person is going to be racist whether or not I pull my pants up, speak “correctly,” or stop listening to rap music.

I shouldn’t be expected to change my behavior just so I fall out of racist stereotypes. I shouldn’t be blamed for someone’s ignorance and hate towards me. Respectability politics are so ingrained in our society, that members of oppressed groups practice them as well. I’ve heard multiple Black people use illogical reasons to put down other Black people, or blame them for their oppression . Guess what guys? Racism has been around for a very long time. Before hip-hop, before sagging pants, before “ghetto” culture. What was the justification for hatred then? There’s always going to be a made-up reason for the oppression of groups. Instead of focusing on these illogical reasons, let’s take a moment to realize that there’s no one to blame for your illogical hatred of people, other than yourself.