Respectability Politics

I felt like I had to tone myself down when it came to my hair, body, and clothing. Even my voice. Was I too loud or angry when it came to expressing my true feelings? Now I remembered why I was toning myself down: respectability politics. 

For those who don’t know what respectability politics is, I will tell you what it is. It was first coined as “politics of respectability” by Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham to explain changes in society and politics. The term’s definition is “rules for marginalized people to follow in order to earn respect in mainstream culture.” This issue was used to describe black women’s efforts in distancing themselves from stereotypes. 

The history behind this word started back in the 19th century. A group of women broke away from the Baptist convention to form the Women's Convention and created rules for working class blacks to follow. For women, these regulations included conservative clothing, not being sexual, and speaking “correctly” in order to not embarrass the black community. Back then, these rules were used to survive. However, the repercussions of this self-policing behavior negatively affect us today. 

We can lose the control of ourselves. From the beginning, the women in our families tell us to cover up. Being hypersexual leads to us being degraded and severely backlashed. Telling us to be on our best behavior is another way of telling us how to “be accepted”. In the media, the angry black woman stereotype is looped as a toxic narrative. 

We can’t embrace ourselves as a person without being shamed or restricted. By we, I am meaning black women. People would treat us as less and devalue us. For example, “keep your legs closed” is one idea of not getting respect if we don’t abide by that rule. I do not believe in putting myself in a box. I am not here to be accepted by anybody. For my black women, we are here to slay in any type of way.