Respectability and Racism
I recently came across an article entitled “No One Treats African-Americans Worse Than We Treat Each Other: The troubling self-flagellation in Ferguson's black community” published in the New Republic. When I first read the title, I thought to myself, here it comes, this article is going to tell it like it is. However, after reading the first paragraph, I realized that it was yet another America is still a racist country tripe. The author is Julia Ioffe, a Russian-American journalist and blogger. She traveled to Ferguson, Missouri to interview mostly prominent black figures about the events unfolding in the black community. What surprised me about this article is that I learned some new black Liberal narratives to support the ongoing meme that all of black America’s problems stem from white America.
Although the narratives are a stretch and require great gymnastic skill, they help me to understand how black Liberal intellectuals define the so-called real cause of the problems in poor black communities. One of the people interviewed by the author explained that the black middle class is largely responsible for the problems in poor black neighborhoods because they turned their backs on the community. As an example, he stated that black lawyers and judges are not looking out for the black boys in the prison pipeline by sharing their knowledge. However, he did not explain what knowledge these lawyers and judges are supposed to share or how the black boys ended up in prison in the first place. He overlooked the fact that blacks commit the majority of crimes in America. He also did not place any of the blame on the parents of the boys that are in prison. He made the following claim:
“No one treats African-Americans worse than we treat each other,” he said. “We were outraged when George Zimmerman killed a black boy, but Zimmerman was taught by watching black people kill black people. He learned it from us. We planted the seed.”
While I do agree that black people definitely kill more black people, I do not agree with his premise of why George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin, and neither do the facts of the case. Some of the people interviewed made sound logical assessments about the problems in the black community; however, the author called those statements self-criticism -- or self-flagellation, a phenomenon that is referred to by African-American historians as the "politics of respectability." The author quoted Michael Dawson, a political scientist and director of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture at the University of Chicago:
Respectability, in essence, is about policing the behavior in your community to make sure people are behaving “properly,” so as to not attract unwelcome attention from whites -- “with ‘properly’ being a normatively white middle class presentation,” says Dawson. In feminist discourse, a similar phenomenon among women is described as internalizing the patriarchal gaze. That is, women see themselves as the men in charge want to see them -- feminine, sexy, pliant -- and then behave and dress accordingly. Respectability is the same thing, but with blacks internalizing the white gaze.
According to Dawson and other black writers, respectability does not stem from a conscious decision by a black person to have self-respect, but from a fear of what white America thinks about them. They do not feel that middle-class black Americans have genuinely developed self-respect. In other words, they are acting white to guard against being discriminated against by white America or to prevent being harassed by police. The article accuses middle-class black Americans of not wanting to associate with poor blacks because of that fear:
Preaching respectability reflects a class and generational fear, by black people who feel they have escaped the fate of poor and disenfranchised blacks, and have entered respectable society.
By putting distance between themselves and less affluent blacks, or those wearing baggy pants, there’s a hope that they won’t be treated like them.
All of these theories by black intellectuals are used to reinforce the idea that America has not changed and is still a racist country. Why else would they claim middle-class blacks have to act white in order to appear acceptable? However, Jelani Cobb, who teaches African-American history at the University of Connecticut, says that preaching respectability sidesteps the issue of institutionalized racism. She contends that racism is entrenched, and that we have limited capacity to determine how much of it we are exposed to in our lives. To prove her claim, she reached back to the 2009 incident involving Henry Louis “Skip” Gates. She contends that even he, a respectable and renowned black person, is not shielded from racism. She claimed that he was handcuffed because he is black. According to a police report, he was handcuffed and booked for disorderly conduct after “exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior.” Furthermore, what respectable person would respond to a police officer that asked him to step outside with “I'll speak with your mama outside?” Ms. Cobb left out that important detail in order to boost her claim that even a renowned professor was handcuffed for no other reason except he was black. Just as Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown were shot for, no other reason except they were black.
Nowhere in the article did any of the people interviewed blame President Obama (the first black president) for any of the problems in the black community. Although they were quick to blame black middle-class Americans, they overlooked Obama’s treatment of blacks. The article tries to make successful, moral, law-abiding black Americans feel guilty for building a better life for themselves and their families by claiming blacks are acting a certain way to please whites (acting white). I am sure that neither of the intellectual blacks interviewed lives anywhere near the black communities that they claim other middle class blacks have shunned. I am amazed at how easily Liberals can let lies roll off their keyboards. Bill O’Reilly outlined systematically the problems that are facing black America and he laid the blame right at the foot of President Obama and the so-called black leadership.
Race relations in America are spinning out of control. Claiming that poor blacks are somehow disenfranchised is an example of the lies that are told to incite riots. How are blacks disenfranchised? Disenfranchised means, deprived of the rights of citizenship especially the right to vote. If poor blacks are disenfranchised, who is it that keeps electing Democrats?
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