Thursday, May 26, 2016

Randall Kennedy — A progressive defense of respectability politics

The politics of respectability is a tactic of public relations that is, per se, neither necessarily good nor necessarily bad. A sound assessment of its deployment in a given instance depends on its goals, the manner in which it is practiced, and the context within which a given struggle is being waged.

(Harper’s Magazine) 

My  parents inculcated in me and my two siblings a particular sense of racial kinship: in our dealings with the white world, we were encouraged to think of ourselves as ambassadors of blackness. Our achievements would advance the race, and our failures would hinder it. The fulfillment of our racial obligations required that we speak well, dress suitably, and mind our manners. In our household we felt tremendous pride in the attainments of blacks, and we took personally their disgrace. My father and mother loved to regale us with stories about the accomplishments of Jackie Robinson and Wilma Rudolph, Thurgood Marshall and Charles Drew, Paul Robeson and Mary McLeod Bethune. At the same time, when scandal ensnared a prominent black person, we all felt ashamed, diminished. We were also embarrassed when blacks with poor diction and sloppy comportment appeared on television. We were taught to look down on such people as “bad Negroes” whose antics further burdened “good Negroes” like us, and we suspected that whites in the news and entertainment industries preferred to publicize the former and ignore the latter.

My parents sternly ordered their children to be dignified in the presence of white people so that there would be no opportunity to put us in racist, stereotypical categories. “Don’t act like a coon,” they told us bluntly. “Don’t act like a nigger.” They also told us that racism made us more vulnerable than our white counterparts to certain risks, and that we would be judged by less forgiving standards. In competition for advancement, I would have to clearly outdistance my white peers. “Tie-tie, you lose,” my father said repeatedly — meaning that as a black person I would always be deprived of the benefit of the doubt. Throughout my years at a predominantly white private high school, my parents warned me against attending boisterous parties; if something happened that called for the intervention of police, the blacks in attendance would be the ones singled out for punishment.

Read the full article HERE.