We need to have a conversation about respectability politics (RP) and the exceptional negro trope (ENT.)
Last week, I mentioned respectability politics, in regards to how Black people wield it as an after-effect of the psychological impact of slavery, survival and systemic racism. But today, is all about how it plays out with white people. I KNOW you didn’t think, they were gonna get a pass, did you? Tuh.
Just so we’re all on the same page, respectability politics and the exceptional negro trope are very similar. Two sides of a different coin, under the same umbrella, however you want to phrase it, they’re alike.
Besides who is engaging in this activity (traditionally RP was used by marginalized groups and the ENT by white folks, but these lines are blurred in modern times) the difference is usually whether the respectable or non-respectable person is being focused on.
What do I mean?
When Trayvon Martin was murdered, many a non-melanated person, placed blame on his hoodie for his death. Insinuating, and oftentimes, flat-out saying that he was dressed as someone up to no good, i.e, not respectable. Therefore deserving it.
This person ISN’T worth caring about because of XYZ. Respectability politics.
Whenever a Black person of some esteem, goes viral for having experienced racial discrimination or harassment, non-melanated people will usually come through on some “THEY didn’t deserve this BECAUSE they’re contributing to society,” “how could it happen to them when they’re (insert respected profession here)” and other nods to how they’ve determined Black people worthy of being treated well.
This person IS worth caring about only because of XYZ. Exceptional negro trope.
The message is clear in both, Black people are only deemed good and worthy of respect, if they look, dress, talk, think or behave in a certain way. A way, that is centered around whiteness and what they decide is okay.
That’s not to say that every white person who subscribes to RP and the ENT is exactly the same. Some are just being big bold in their racism, like with the “She shouldn’t have been associated with THAT crowd of people if she didn’t want to be killed” comments after Breonna Taylor was murdered. Who exactly IS that crowd of people? Don’t worry, it’s a trick question, we already know. If you’re inclined to mention how her ex was supposedly a drug dealer, well, last I checked, knowing someone who has/is engaging in something against the law isn’t grounds for you to die – more specifically, be killed for it. That’s not how that works. Or at least, it shouldn’t.
Even still, the number of people saying that her being associated with a drug dealer justifies her death, pales in comparison to the amount of people who blamed it on her culture. Black culture.
Somehow, the music she listened to, the way that she spoke AAVE (as pulled from social media,) and her appearance all explain away her murder. Cause, of COURSE she deserved to die. I mean, look at her. 🙄
On the other side, there are the “well-intentioned” white people who tell ME that they’re surprised that I’ve had to deal with racism. Because I’m somehow supposed to be immune to it, based on this idea that they have about me. You know, that “but you’re one of the good ones.”
I don’t want anyone who falls in the well-intentioned category to feel some sort of superiority towards the blatant racist folks though. Whether it’s passive or in your face, it’s still fucking racism.
What I need y’all to get over, is this subconscious idea, that Black culture is less than. It ain’t.
I also need y’all to forever stow away the thought, that the closer a Black person aligns to whiteness, the more worthy they are. Whiteness is not the end-all, be-all. I don’t care what your mama told ya.
And maybe, just maybe, y’all can start the process of dismantling the Black person hierarchy chart, that y’all stick to like your lives depends on it. Getting rid of baseless justifications for Black death.
This is all wishful thinking on my part, unlikely to ever come to fruition en masse, but I’m still gon make noise about it.
A reminder that ALL Black lives matter.
The hood ones.
The bougie ones.
The nerdy ones.
The suburban ones.
The poor ones.
The middle-class ones.
The wealthy ones.
The single moms and baby mamas.
The moms with multiple kids.
The married women with children.
The married women without children.
The child-free for life ones.
The ones who live for their children.
Those that are LGBT.
Those that are heterosexual.
Those that are gender non-conforming.
Those that are cis-gendered.
Those that are incarcerated or have been.
Those without a criminal record.
Those that use AAVE.
Those that speak in “proper English.”
Those that listen to rap music.
Those that don’t.
Those that listen to rap music and flip a brick in the car, on the way to their 9-5.
Those that flip a brick, for real.
Those that suffer from addiction.
Those that do not.
Those who have a disability.
Those that are able-bodied.
Those that are traditionally religious.
Those that are spiritual.
Those that are atheists.
We don’t have to be exceptional, for our lives to matter.
The most of average of us, who are just trying to survive and find happiness, are just as important. The fact that we manage to survive at all, given the state of things, is pretty damn exceptional to me.
When JanayB isn’t posting memes, scrolling through “wokebook” posts, ordering food and otherwise being your typical millennial, you can find her here destroying white tears and basking in her unapologetic blackness. Get in touch with her at JanayBsays@gmail.com.