4 Reasons Respectability Politics Has No Place in Black Feminism

27 May


Okay so, quick recap:
Since my feminist views have changed so drastically, I had to write a 3-post series.

In Part 1, Bad Girls Are My New Role Models, I argued that black pop stars are good sexual agency role models (for adults) because they teach us to articulate pleasure.

In Part 2, “Turning to the Dark Side,” I renounced respectability politics, a system of beliefs that expect black women to always be noble, chaste, and deny sexuality because of the hypersexual stereotype that weighs on our shoulders.

Now we’re on to Part 3:
4 Reasons Respectability Politics Has No Place in Black Feminism

“Keep your legs closed AT ALL TIMES,” say the folks for respectability politics. Their argument is that if black women do not acknowledge or flaunt their sexuality, we can extinguish the hypersexual stigma. Because of this argument, we are quick to shame sexy black woman entertainers for singing about sex and daring to twerk.

Though I previously was a devout believer in respectability politics, I’m now saying that acting “respectable” doesn’t fix the hypersexual problem, but instead adds onto it. Here’s why this type of thinking, as well-intentioned as it is, simply doesn’t work.

1. Black women do not control the master narrative
What was that Malcom X said about the media having the power to control the minds of the masses? The media fuels the master narrative, the ideas that circulate about black women. And the media is not ran by black women, but by older white men who profit greatly from the hypersexual black woman stereotype. So even if Rihanna and all the other bad girls on TV suddenly became Claire Huxtable, the narrative would not change. Those who have much to gain from the stereotype would simply find a way to sexualize all of the Claires, the same way they sexualized little Sasha Obama (who has no public sexual record) last summer when she went out in 90+ degree weather wearing short shorts.

2. Black women are not a monolith
We don’t need everyone to be Claire Huxtable. That wouldn’t be an accurate representation of black womanhood. We all have our own various ways of expressing ourselves that go far beyond “respectable vs. ratchet.” Some of us are both and/or neither. We need a diverse range of expressions, as that gives more accurate representations of black women: we need Beyoncé and Janelle Monae, Nicki Minaj and Lauryn Hill, bell hooks and Joan Morgan.

3. Respectability politics works to further restrict and shame, rather than liberate
In respectability politics, we create a very small, heteronormative prison cell for black women to function in. All black women must be Claire, otherwise they’re an embarrassment. What about our working class women, our single mothers, and our lgbt friends…are they an embarrassment? Are our friends who got pregnant a little earlier in life unworthy of respect? Should I be ashamed to move my body the way it wants to when music plays?

Black women are so diverse and express themselves in such varied ways, that demanding for a specific way to publicly perform suppresses not only our sexuality, but also our everyday mannerisms and ways of walking in the world.

4. Ultimately, Respectability Politics is a result of internalized racism
In accepting respectability politics, we’ve internalized the sexist views of black women. Instead of speaking out against America’s minority monolith mentality and stereotyping problem, we support it. We pray that if every black woman is on her best behavior, those rich white men who own the Big 6 media corporations will stop making so many damn housewife shows.

With respectability politics, we’re trying to change our stereotype from a hypersexual one to a respectable one. Yet, instead we should be trying to demolish stereotypes altogether. Shackles are still shackles even if they’re made from gold—and stereotypes are still stereotypes even when we try to make them seem nicer.

Sure, a “nicer” stereotype may do us some good: Maybe then black graduates wouldn’t suffer the higher unemployment rates than their fellow graduates, and maybe people wouldn’t believe we’re “talking white” when we enunciate. But we’d still need to combat whatever other “nicer stereotypes” (sorry, I don’t believe in good stereotypes) are thrown at us. And we would still need to combat the stereotypes cast upon other groups in the U.S.

Wanna know the reason why my opinions changed so drastically? Check out what I’ve been reading:
The Best of the Best articles on respectability politics

P.S. This article is part of the Top Posts. Check out the Best of A Womyn’s Worth.

8 Responses to “4 Reasons Respectability Politics Has No Place in Black Feminism”

  1. thewem@gmail.com September 19, 2016 at 9:23 AM #

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  1. How NOT to be an Ankh N*gga | A Womyn's Worth - June 30, 2015

    […] I mentioned in a previous post, respectability politics, the view that only certain Black people who fit a narrow mold are worthy […]


  2. Turning to the Dark Side: Bad Girls are My New Role Models (pt. 2) | A Womyn's Worth - June 6, 2015

    […]  Read Part 3: 4 Reasons Respectability Politics Has No Place in Black Feminism […]


  3. Flyy Girl Friday Feature: Shae Collins | HEY GIRL HEY!!! - April 17, 2015

    […] people to consider. For example, I have a series on the blog dedicated to debunking myths about the usefulness of respectability politics, which many black people still cling to. I like to challenge people’s ideas about Black sexuality […]


  4. Sorority Girls Must Twerk | A Womyn's Worth - January 30, 2015

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  5. Why Kendrick Lamar is Wrong about Ferguson | A Womyn's Worth - January 11, 2015

    […] Respectability politics does not work to our benefit y’all. We need to stop embracing it. […]


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    […] 4 Reasons Respectability Politics Has No Place in Black Feminism […]


  7. 3 Reasons to Stop Bringing Up Slavery When Black Women Assert Their Sexual Autonomy — Everyday Feminism - September 26, 2014

    […] for so long to make white people comfortable. We strive not to reify the negative images that white people created and produced, so we are stuck in this endless, futile cycle of acting “differently” even though […]


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