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Respectability Politics and Discrimination

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Respectability Politics and Discrimination

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Me: Tell me about Respectability Politics.
Young Statesman (14): It’s basically making excuses for cultural prejudices. “If they were more respectable then this bad thing wouldn’t be happening.”
discriminationMe: Who can Respectability Politics be used against?
YS: Minorities.
Me: Just race?
YS: No. The poor. Muslims. Anyone different from you.
Me: The assumption in Respectability Politics is that the group that is being discriminated against….
YS: …is doing it to themselves. It’s never the discriminating group’s problem. They bring the discrimination upon themselves. If they were more respectable then this wouldn’t be happening. If they changed what they did then they wouldn’t be discriminated against.
Me: Have you ever heard the expression “victim blaming”?
YS: No, I haven’t.
Me: What does it sound like to you?
YS: Something has been done to someone by someone else and you’re blaming the person it was done to. “You wouldn’t have been shot if you were more respectable.” “You wouldn’t be bullied if you were a nicer kid.” You’re saying, “it’s your fault.”
Me: Was it a lack of respectability on the part of blacks in America that caused racism?
YS: No. Whites thought they were better.
Me: Do you think they sincerely thought themselves better?
YS: Yes.
Me: I don’t agree with you.
YS: Why?
Me: I think it was a lie they told themselves.
YS: So they could feel innocent of wrongdoing?
Me: Yes. You know Irish people came over as chattel slaves, too. A lot of white people came to America as slaves.
YS: I didn’t know that. I thought that was just indentured servitude.
Me: White slavery was not as common as black slavery but it certainly wasn’t uncommon. So, was it a lack of respectability that caused the racism?
YS: No. I think it was slavery.
Me: You understand that slavery included the molestation of children, rape, torture, murder, the destruction of families. The children of slave women were born into slavery. Even the children of the slave owners born to slave women were born into slavery.
YS: That’s sick stuff.
Me: It is. It’s hard to do sick stuff and still feel good about yourself.
YS: They had to come up with a story. They had to put the victim in a bad light. They had to make it their fault because otherwise they would feel bad. They made up a story. They gave themselves reasons to justify their behavior.
Me: But we don’t do that any more, right? We don’t justify bad behavior with stories, do we?
YS: [Laughs.] We justify all kinds of things. Killing people. Wars. Theft.
Me: We do like to tell ourselves stories don’t we?
YS: We call them reasons.