Respectability Politics Actually Indicts Dominant White Society.
The main idea behind Respectability Politics is simply this: If only Black people can act in certain ways, they can navigate, even avoid, the direct and indirect violence of the dominant white society. For instance, if a Black man can stop wearing a hoodie every time he steps out on the stoop he could avoid being shot by the white cop. If a Black woman can cutoff her locks then she might avoid the wanton economic deprivation—in employment—by the dominant white society.
The idea in Respectability Politics runs parallel to that of a group of people who suddenly find themselves in a jungle. Obviously, what survival mechanisms that a group of people adopt in a jungle is dictated by the kinds of wild animals that live in it.
The central dogma of Respectability Politics hence presupposes that Black parents have learned certain things about the dominant, wild, white world through some violent experiences, and that they ought to impact the knowledge to their children that the white world is essentially a jungle. Therefore, the Black people who find themselves living in this jungle must take certain precautions—or as they say adopt certain Respectability Politics—in order to navigate, or even avoid, the direct violence of the wild white world (WWW or W3).
Two implications arise: (1) The world that is dominated by white people is actually wild, a jungle, and (2) The white people and their institutions that live in this jungle are the wild animals. The first implication is itself corroborated by numerous narratives by white scholars. White apologetic scholars have justified the Trans-Atlantic Human Trafficking by European nations from West Africa to the Americas, for instance, as a means to an end.
Simply that the violence against African bodies was actually the direct result of the need for Europeans to survive in the Americas. Although, this line of reasoning cuts contrary to the idea of “Survival of the fittest,” which is to question why Europeans would artificially fake being the fittest to survive the Americas by abusing Black bodies in the process? Put another way, if without the violence against Africans to aid European survival in the Americas, how can one claim that Europeans are naturally the fittest?
The problem is that, the straightforward implications of the Theory of Respectability Politics, create a Paradox for the white scholars who espouse them. It creates a unique identity crisis for European civilization.
Recall that the entire justification of the European powers in committing genocides against Africans and Native tribes in the Americas has been of a papal type: to kill the African/Native and save the man. In other words, violence against Africa and against Africans in the Americas has been long rationalized as a result of European Enlightenment. That is, European nations are more advanced, whites are more civilized and they wish to only bring Africa this sort of enlightenment to save Africans from their “savagery.”
Which savagery now flies in the face of the theory behind Respectability Politics. You cannot claim that Black people should adopt certain mechanisms in order to survive in the Wild White World and still insist that the White World is civilized. Else there would be no need to adopt survival mechanisms in a “civilized white world” in the first place. More, you cannot claim that Black people should code-switch to avoid the violence of white supremacism and insist that white people are not the wild animals. Specifically, you cannot claim that you wish to help Black people by teaching them how to avoid the wild animals in the jungle when you are indeed the said wild animal looking to prey on the very same Black people.
If Respectability Politics is anything, it indicts the white world. It calls it what it should—a jungle, a barbaric society full of wild beasts. Its implications are clear: (1) Either white people are human beings, or they are wild animals, and (2) It is either the dominant white society is civilized, or it is barbaric. You can’t have it both ways!