Respectability Politics

Why don’t we have our own version of Code Switch on the BBC or another major platform? For the views of PoC we have the Voice and other publications, and to be fair there is the BBC Black stream of programming, but there is something about Code Switch’s exploration of issues from a slightly nerdy political science/social studies perspective that I really wish we could apply in the UK.

I found myself thinking this again while reading a fascinating discussion on Respectability Politics , which I had heard of, and the origin and evolution of the concept, which I had not – all in the context of #BlackLivesMatter

As NPR put it, respectability politics [is] the notion that problems in the black community spume from within, and that by adopting a certain lifestyle, black people can inoculate themselves from discrimination.

But the origins of the term are much more nuanced.

As For Harriet explains: The rejection of respectability is central to the organizing of the Black Lives Matter movement. References to “respectability politics” are often used as short hand to signify standing in solidarity with those most marginalized in Black communities. But rarely is context provided for the phrase, and its origins are almost never mentioned.

Historian Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham theorized the concept of “the politics of respectability” in her 1993 work, Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920. Therein she articulates a politic in which Black church women with few resources are empowered by embracing a moral authority that is rooted in self-determination rather than shame or blame.

It’s fascinating to read about how the term has changed in meaning – and what respectability politics means in the era of Black Lives Matter.

What a time to be alive.

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