Don’t Need to Be Respectable to be Respected

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Too many humans have this odd tendency to fault themselves when they’ve been wronged and I find that… interesting but most of all troubling. They think that if they had done something differently, that would’ve prevented them from being violated in whatever way they experienced said violation. Example: “Maybe I shouldn’t have done this. Maybe if I had done X, Y wouldn’t have happened.”

But what’s even more troubling is that, not only do people fault themselves, they fault other people when something hurtful happens to them. People think there’s preventative measures for every situation and they don’t ever take the time out to fault the actual perpetrator–the actual cause of said situation. Isn’t that something?

One demographic that is guilty of harboring this mindset is Black Americans. As Black Americans, we are hard on ourselves and that can be explained by this white-washed world being hard on us. We internalize the hatred thrown at us and project onto ourselves and each other.  We are on the exact opposite side of the spectrum which leads to us being juxtaposed against whiteness constantly. Because of that, we are the most vulnerable to marginalization at varying levels considering each privileges we still aren’t relieved of as Black Americans.

Whenever state violence plagues our community, a good number of Black Americans, especially older Black Americans, rush to come up with things we can do to stop our suffering at the hands of agents of white supremacy (police). One of those things includes presenting ourselves in a “respectable” manner meaning we should dress modestly and sharply (within the Eurocentric standard) and obtain a college education.

Black Americans feel that if we present ourselves in a “respectable” way, there’s no way white people won’t respect us and if white people still don’t respect us, it’s our fault for not “giving them something to respect.”

For example, I’m sure you’ve seen memes like this:

respectable meme

Let me tell you the fault in this logic.

See the magical thing about racism is that no logic can be found in it. It’s fueled by unreasonable hatred that comes from wanting to feel superior over others because of your differences. It does not matter how you present yourself. Someone filled with that much hatred will still see you as less simply because you are different. A suit and a college degree does not hide the color of your skin nor does it make racists suddenly unaware of the color of your skin. That’s not how racism ever worked.

Whiteness demonized blackness long before young black men decided to sag their pants. State violence was happening way before gang violence even erupted in inner city neighborhoods. Racism has been here no matter how we presented ourselves.

Did we forget that college-educated Martin Luther King Jr. was shot dead by a white man in a suit? Did we forget that Black Americans during the Civil Rights Movement were hung, hosed down, and attacked by cop dogs in their Sunday finest?

But I have an even better thought for this: Why must I dilute or modify who I am within my blackness in order for white people to respect me? Why must I change the way I speak, the way I act, and the way I dress in order to receive human decency? Why can you not respect me as a fellow human despite our differences? Why is respect never the default for people?

A young black man can have his pants all the way down to his knees and that would still not change the fact that he is a human being who is deserving of respect. It is not his fault when a white cop decides to criminalize him and execute him on the streets because of how he is dressed.

The same applies to women–especially black women. A woman does not have to be modestly dressed in order for you to respect her. A woman does not have to adhere to tired patriarchal standards of “being a lady” in order to be deserving of respect. Just like the young black man doesn’t deserve to be shot because of his sagging pants, the young black woman doesn’t deserve to be sexually violated because of her booty shorts.

The logic of respectability politics is seeped in shallowness. You can’t see someone as a person deserving of respect and decency because of how they dress? Because of how they act and talk? Not because of how they treat others but because of their outward appearance and characteristics?

I believe that respectability politics are almost, in a way, people’s way of coping. In a sense, it’s a defense mechanism. People think that if they adhere to these archaic standards, they’re shielding themselves from harm. They like to think that violence can be preventative in every sense–that if they just do X and Y, Z won’t happen to them. This type of mentality is dangerous because it leads to victim blaming which fuels harmful environments such as rape culture.

I think that people victim blame because it’s comforting for them to think, “Ok, the reason why this happened to you is because you didn’t do X,Y, and Z.” They do this thinking that they’re being reasonable when in reality, they’re contributing to a culture where victims are made out to be responsible for the violence inflicted on them. People neglect to acknowledge that the said violence wouldn’t have happened to the person if there had not been a perpetrator of violence in close proximity to them in the first place. The only one who should be faulted when it comes to violence is the aggressor. Period.

As Black Americans, we have to stop faulting ourselves for white people not seeing us as humans instead of targets for shooting practice. We deserve respect in every sense. We should not have to reduce who we are because it doesn’t fit into the white idea of what is acceptable. White people’s lack of respect for us is not dependent on how we act nor is it dependent on how we act towards each other. It is dependent on hatred.

I’m tired of seeing Black Americans comment “This is why white people hate us” when black people are behaving in a way that is not “respectable.” Black kids fighting each other on World Star is not why “white people hate us.” Slavery was here before World Star.

Stop finding fault in us and instead look at the hand that is pressing down on us and from there, let’s work together to lift the said oppressive hand from our community.

You don’t need to be “respectable” to be respected.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. kelley says:

    Great post! We should be focused on SELF-repsect, foremost. This age of the selfie has to many people worried about strangers’ opinions! It’s sad and ridiculous.

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