Watch WHY you say: How Oppressive Respectability Can CREEP Into our Language

“Immigrants should be allowed to come to America because you never know- they could become a doctor or the next President.”

“Black women are QUEENS and should be respected.”

When people say these things, even if they are trying to be well intentioned, they are enforcing the oppressive idea that respectability politics– the idea that marginalized people who are rich, polite and adhere to privileged norms of behavior and courtesy- have the ability to escape oppression.

And when people say this- they are totally missing the point.

(1) Immigrants should be allowed to come to this country and become American citizens because they are humans who deserve to choose where they want to live. Immigrants should not have to be “useful ” or “make money”  for Americans in order to be considered valid. This characterization is also really problematic because the under current of the above sentence is how important it is for immigrants to work harder to prove that they’re good enough to be Americans, and that’s a standard if work ethic that we, Americans, don’t even hold for each other!

(2) Black women should be valued, Queen or not, regal or not, because we are humans who deserve respect from others. No one should have to aestheticize a race or gender in order to respect them. Also, calling black women “queens” has always seemed odd to me. No other race of women is characterized like that, and though it seems to be a compliment, it feels like another way to other black women from other women, AND it is reminiscent of the one dimensional “magical negro/negress” and “strong, black woman” archetype in the media. Black women have value even when we’re not strong, magical or regal.

So, my advice to the privileged is to watch WHY you say. Question the assumptions you’re bringing to the table, and genuinely be critical of rhetoric that forces marginalized people to adhere to respectability for respect.

Also, marginalized folks- we are taught to police ourselves a LOT, so check your language and the language of your community. Share this article and challenge others to think critically about what theyre really saying…

Because YOU, as a human being, no matter what you do or don’t contribute, DESERVE RESPECT- no strings of respectability (aka adhering to privileged standards of courtesy, and behavior) attached.


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