Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Politics of Respectability, and other things

Gabby Douglas and her hair.  When this incredible athlete won her first gold medal, the twitterverse was filled with critical comments ... about her hair! We wondered about that for the longest time until discovering there are minimum standards for respectability

Depending on our class, ethnicity, and culture, there are various rules; e.g.,
  • don't go out looking like that ...
  • polish your shoes, do your nails, fix your hair ...
  • clean up a bit before you go to the store where folks will see you ...
  • at least wear a shirt with a collar ...
  • it's Sunday, so you have to look nice ...
  • I'll be ready in a minute; I've got to do my makeup before we go out in public ...
  • we need a nicer house and a better neighborhood if we're going to be anything.
"A … core intuition of the politics of respectability is that, for a stigmatized racial minority, successful efforts to move upward in society must be accompanied at every step by a keen attentiveness to the morality of means, the reputation of the group, and the need to be extra-careful in order to avoid the derogatory charges lying in wait in a hostile environment." ~Randall Kennedy; Race, Crime, and the Law
The persistence of such rules impacts minorities rather dramatically.  They extend inclusively beyond race and class to everyone else, of course, and most play by the rules without a thought.  Culture is rife with such content, not necessarily to its benefit.

Historically, there are times where new rules get added to the existing list.  Following the turmoil, cultures adjust and adapt.  Rule-changing content emerges and circles the globe in ensuing years. Some recent additions:
  • The Politics of Respectability - 1880-1920 up to today, ... still seeking to overcome the legacies of the nation’s original sins, continuing as minorities attempt to fit in
  • The Green Revolution - 1940's through the 60's and continuing today as environmental science
  • The Hippie counterculture movement - 1960's - the drug culture and casual relationships
  • The Jesus revolution - 1960's into the 80's and beyond with radical changes for the church

The fact that such figures exist is troubling, along with the fact that
after a decade, the issue has yet to reach the public forum.
The various effects of each continue visibly today, having seeped into every facet of our lives; many conflict and are incompatible.  Some are troublesome, especially when we, like lemmings, just go along with the common thought.

Do we need to think differently about some things, perhaps radically different?  Is it important enough to be worth the fight?  Will we waste years of life if we get it wrong?