Why Telling Black Women To Follow Suit To Respectability Politics Is A Lazy Attempt To Combat Misogynoir

Even with "good" behaviour, racism and sexism will thrive.

Petiri Ira
ZORA
Published in
4 min readAug 2, 2023

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Photo by nappy

Malcolm X told us that Black people ought to be proud of their heritage and cultural identity. He said, that Black people should not have to apologize or assimilate to gain respect from others. Too often, Black women are told that if they present themselves, well and neatly, they will be given the respect they deserve. Although, why should respect be earned in a society that will continue to discriminate against Black life even when we do conform?

To the onlooker, respectability politics may not seem dangerous, when in fact conforming to behaviour and cultural practices that are labelled as worthy, sets us back even further. Respectability politics involves distancing oneself from aspects of their own culture that may be seen as controversial or deviant in the eyes of the dominant group in search of protection from discrimination.

But it would be unwise to equate correct behaviour to systemic issues. It would also be a mistake to equate social standing solely to the behaviour of Black women, when in fact the idea of our behaviour has already been decided.

Respectability politics is a dangerous and ineffective coping mechanism from years of abuse and ostracization. It creates schisms between BIPOC and the larger society while also creating toxic situations within the respective community that allow marginalization to continue. Although it may seem advantageous to just assimilate, there’s little proof that shows people will no longer be persecuted for doing so. (Via VeryWellMind)

Black women are often criticised for the way they present themselves. For example, we face scrutiny for our hair being "undone" when it is in its natural state, we face scrutiny for being "too loud" and "distracting." This leads me to think how about the constant pressure from society we have on ourselves to be palatable for others, for their comfort. It is an unrealistic expectation for society to have one group, that being Black women, follow suit to a specific set of rules. Because respectability politics does not allow for error, it requires Black people to be in line 24/7…

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Petiri Ira
ZORA
Writer for

Bylines in Screenshot Media, gal-dem, Malalafund, Momentum, ZORA. Contact: petiriira@gmail.com