Our movement, however, needs nothing of respectability politics. Accepting — conceding, surrendering, submitting to — that will only erode our movement until it crumbles entirely. Respectability politics is what’s gotten us into reliance on foundations and nonprofits, and elected officials and bureaucrats, and policies and programs that only benefit the most privileged and resourced members of our communities at the direct expense of the most marginalized. Radical, militant anger — and radical, militant hope, and radical, wild dreams, and radical, active love — that’s what’ll get us past the death machines of ableism and capitalism and white supremacy and laws and institutions working overtime to kill us.
Specifically, the idea that civility is more important than justice. The demand that we allow the powerful to eat in comfort, to never be disturbed, is nothing short of respectability politics. It’s a moving goalpost, historically used to shame, frame, and exhaust people who, despite being brutalized and terrorized, wanted not revenge, but equity. I have no patience for it.
Whiteness and power call for civility while hanging black bodies from trees.
Whiteness and power call for civility while locking children in camps.
Whiteness moves the goalposts FOR BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS while demanding that the powerful and the power-hungry, not be the least bit disturbed or discomforted.
White Americans, especially land-owning white men, have been allowed to use literally every available option to secure their freedom, including asymmetrical warfare, which is just a fancy term for terrorism.
Every available tool employed by white Americans has been deemed noble, patriotic, morally just, and necessary.
Everyone who wasn’t white? Well our actions had to meet the muster of the moral code whiteness (ostensibly) aspired to but consistently and staggeringly failed to meet. The self-evident rights to life, liberty, equality, and pursuing happiness were considered more like suggestions for the rest of us. It is the difference between sitting down at the table for a wonderful meal, and sitting down with a hungry, crying toddler, your own belly growling, and making a vision board with pictures of food. The difference a plate of food and picture of food. You are allowed to view, but you are not allowed to taste or touch. In the American context white freedom and all “other” freedom do not exist in the same moral universe.
Nice people made the best Nazis.
Or so I have been told. My mother was born in Munich in 1934, and spent her childhood in Nazi Germany surrounded by nice people who refused to make waves. When things got ugly, the people my mother lived alongside chose not to focus on “politics,” instead busying themselves with happier things. They were lovely, kind people who turned their heads as their neighbors were dragged away.