Most people are all too familiar with the effects of respectability politics. Some may not know the exact word for it, but everyone has experienced it in some form or fashion. A lot of people don’t even notice how it dictates almost everything we do in life. It’s so deeply ingrained in society. If one is black, especially a black woman, this is probably something they’re very familiar with.
The very basic definition of respectability politics is when marginalized groups are forced to adhere to unreasonable expectations in return for basic, human respect. This was first coined by Evelyn Higginbotham in her book, Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Church. When seeing this in action, respectability politics is a very dangerous concept.
It tricks oppressed people into blaming themselves when they are judged, abused or under attack. It forces people to constantly jump through flaming hoops just to survive. In terms of the effect, it’s very similar to gaslighting by forcing one to constantly question their feelings and sanity: “Am I overreacting? Did I bring that upon myself?”
The latest example I’ve seen through social media is the backlash against Lira Galore. She’s best known as Rick Ross’s former fiancée. Due to her past as a stripper and video vixen, she has already stepped outside the respectability box.
Galore recently appeared on Iyanla: Fix My Life and discussed why the engagement was ended. She stated that their relationship started off great, but Ross suddenly “changed” and began to do “sneaky things” behind her back. There were no specific examples given, but this seems to be a case of infidelity on Ross’s part and Galore simply being naive and wanting to believe her significant other wasn’t betraying her.
Despite insinuating that Ross was a cheater, Iyanla managed to connect the root of the problem to Galore being a former stripper. At any moment, I was expecting Iyanla to quote the day-old sexist line of, “Why would a man respect a woman who doesn’t respect herself?” Because being a stripper means that you don’t respect yourself and deserve to be disrespected by men, correct? It’s not like strippers are actual humans with emotions and feelings, right?
“I’m angry because I want our black men to value us, and they don’t.” Later on in the episode, she went on to talk about her relationship with her father. “My father taught me that men are cold. Men will leave you with no explanation and they don’t think about how their actions affect anybody else.”
Let’s take a moment to pause and note that this was in no way, shape or form an attack on all black men. Granted, this is a harsh criticism, but also a request to simply be loved and respected. Instead of understanding that this is coming from a place of hurt, she was instead bombarded with insensitive comments about her cosmetic surgery, her looks and her past as a former pole dancer. There was a lot “Hoe vs Queen” dichotomy where men tried their hardest to place women in either one category or the other. There were quite a lot of passive aggressive comments about her dating men with money. A simple Twitter search of her name will show the above comments verbatim. Unfortunately, the hostile responses don’t exactly prove her wrong.
So, what’s the lesson learned here? Respectability politics and sexism allow men to skate by with infidelity, while the woman walks away either being called “bitter” or a “hoe?” When asking for more respect from men, the answer will be an attack on your character? When asking to be valued, people will say you don’t deserve it depending on your history or occupation? It’s very interesting to watch. A black woman feels she’s not being valued/respected and the response is insulting her, calling her everything but her name then, say she must respect herself. The irony.