Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Respectability Politics

Every time a new Black show comes out there is a discussion about respectability politics. It is endorsed whenever someone states, "This reality show will not present a positive image of Black people. There needs to be more positive images instead of these negative stereotypes". It was happening when people were wary of President Obama associating with Beyonce and (c)rapper Jay-Z. It happened with the show Scandal because people did not like that Olivia Pope was having an affair with a married man. I happened when Halle Berry starred in the Oscar Winning film Monster's Ball where she appeared nude in a graphic love scene. It also happened with the movies Precious, the Help, big Momma's House, and Norbit. It's the reason behind my disdain for (c)rap music (among other complaints). You are endorsing respectability politics whenever you worry that other Black people will present an image to the public that is not "respectable" and believe it will make the world think Black people are not respectable in general.

I obviously believe in respectability politics. It's basically positive marketing, spin, and impression management (e.g., My Example Post). I think these things are very important if you are from a group facing many negative stereotypes, many social ills, and a history of oppression. I think that Black people still need to engage in respectability politics. Other groups like the Irish, Jewish people, and Asian people have become "respectable" because they disproved stereotypes, embraced mainstream life and goals, and took advantage of any privileges they achieved while still having Irish, Jewish, and Asian identities. Black people have not been able to do this enough, or else I would have no reason to even be writing about this. The Irish, Jewish people, and Asians can be thought of as "model minorities" but Black people have not achieved that positive designation. One would think this would have happened already but it has not in many places. Civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks believed in respectability politics. They dressed in suits and respectable clothing so that they would look dignified and peaceful compared to the barbaric actions of their attackers. They wanted to appear more civilized and respectable than their oppressors and I respect their approach.

If there are negative rumors and stereotypes going around then I would rather disprove those stereotypes with my behaviour instead of just being angry and hostile about it. I would rather behave in a respectable manner than purposefully be difficult and confirm every stereotype. It just makes sense to me, if you want to be respected then be respectable! If you want people to think you are feminine then be feminine. If you want people to think you are nice then be nice. If you want people to think you are smart then don't do dumb things. I don't understand people who choose to act the opposite of how they want to be perceived and act shocked, disappointed, or outraged when people perceive them negatively! Some people would rather complain that the standards are too high for them to achieve instead of making any effort whatsoever to improve. Instead of telling people to "try your best" they would rather tell them "you are already the best so don't bother trying to do anything".

I don't expect people to see past my overt behaviour, demeanor, and appearance and somehow see something else. Maybe with time they will see something else, but that will only happen with close relationships. It may not happen with your boss, coworkers, teachers, police officers, store clerks, loan officers etc. who you do not want to perceive you negatively. I think that if you want people to think of you in a certain way then you must make the choice and effort to exemplify that idealized person. What's wrong with being respectable anyway? I thought being respected was a good thing!

Well, according to this article called "No Disrespect", her problem is that someone decides what "respectable" is and this hurts the feelings of people who do not meet the respectable standard. These people are looked down upon for not being the ideal. Well...this may seem cold but really, I'm not concerned about that whatsoever. This is that whole, "let's give everyone a medal so that no one feels bad" sort of thinking. But I'm sorry, in life some people are more intelligent, beautiful, successful, creative, funny, talented, hard working, impressive etc., than others. People who have been blessed with these qualities often benefit from them in life so others strive to achieve the same standards. In many instances life demands the best and mediocre or low performance is undesirable. There are no awards for mediocrity!

Yes, it's a shame that people feel bad when they are not viewed as positively as others, but this is what's necessary to motivate people to be excellent. If everyone gets a medal and does not compete to be the best then people don't try their best. For Black people especially, given how negatively society still views us, it would be crazy to not try our best, encourage competition, and loudly applaud those who exemplify excellence. This will motivate others to do better and show the world how great we are! When Black people grow up with no successful or positive role models then they think excellence and a better life will never happen for them. This is a serious problem because then people give up trying and settle for low standards. This is not the path to success! If we face reality, instead of getting wrapped up in fairy tale land, then one can realize that society rewards the best and arguing against respectability politics is never going to achieve anything useful for Black people. It will just keep us at the bottom by making every behaviour, no matter how lazy, unintelligent, dangerous, useless, unwise, and low achieving...respectable. Lowering standards will not improve our lives or our status in the world, it will just keep people at the bottom.

Related Articles:
No disrespect: (I hate the title of this magazine!!!)"Respectability politics work to counter negative views of blackness by aggressively adopting the manners and morality that the dominant culture deems “respectable.” The approach emerged in reaction to white racism that labeled blackness as “other”—degenerate and substandard—with roots in an assimilationist narrative that prevailed in the late-19th-century United States. Black activists and allies believed that acceptance and respect for African-Americans would come by showing the majority culture “we are just like you.”

Black women in particular had their own set of stereotypes to battle, as they had long been labeled by white society as lascivious Jezebels, animalistic beasts of burden, and disreputable antiwomen. According to Dr. Sarah Jackson, a race and media studies scholar at Boston’s Northeastern University, to counter these stereotypes newly freed African-American women were forced to adhere to the sexist strictures of the Cult of True Womanhood, which positioned white women as inherently chaste, pious, childlike, submissive, and (as Sojourner Truth famously said in her “Ain’t I a Woman” speech) in need of being “helped over mud puddles.” In other words: respectable."

Respectability politics: Michelle Obama vs. Nikki Minaj
Beyonce, Obama and the politics of respectability
The onus of Black respectability
Are you choosing your circumstances or are you a victim of them?

No comments:

Post a Comment