The politics of respectability against black women

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Respectability politics or the politics of respectability refers to attempts by marginalized groups to police their own members and show their social values as being continuous and compatible with mainstream values rather than challenging the mainstream for its failure to accept difference. However, having self-respect has been misconstrued and twisted to mean, according to the internet, how I feel you should behave as a woman.

Moral panics have occurred for centuries and usually are linked to fears that women are getting too much freedom and thus will not be able to handle it. There was a moral panic with books because women’s mind would not be able to differentiate reality from fiction. There was a moral panic with bicycles because the vibration would lead women to lesbianism, among other interesting and bizarre theories at the time. The moral panic that plagues today seems to be social media and decreasing morals, specifically women’s.

Kim Kardashian, Nicki Minaj, Blac Chyna and Amber Rose are the most successful but overly criticized women in the entertainment industry. Kim is the rock that built the Kardashian empire that is reportedly worth $101 million off of the theft of her infamous sex tape. Nicki Minaj started off as the female rapper that was repeatedly accused of having sex with Lil Wayne in order to sign with Young Money Entertainment and has ballooned into a megastar with numerous business ventures including her own Barbie, perfume and clothing line with K-Mart. Blac Chyna was a stripper at the notorious King of Diamonds and now owns a clothing line, beauty bar and has her own brand of adhesive eyelashes and recently purchased an Audi R8 for herself. Amber Rose is a vocal voice against slut shaming and is even hosting her own Slut Walk in Los Angeles. Rose has also been involved with many ventures including acting, music, endorsements and even has penned her first book “How to be a Bad Bitch” that makes the point of defining a “bad bitch” as “a self-respecting, strong female who has everything together. This consists of body, mind, finances, and attitude; a woman who gets her way by any means necessary.”

Yet, their success is diminished because of their lack of “self-respect.” They portray themselves too lewd, curse too much and/or have one too many relationships so obviously they do not love respect themselves is usually the thought process. This ideology is flawed because models are praised for their bold decisions to walk in whatever a designer tells them to regardless of how ridiculous or revealing it may be or posing for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue but somehow “Anaconda” put a bigger dent in society’s morals than Victoria Secret’s Fashion Show. Playing a sport and getting millions for it is more commendable than being an urban model because somehow one has a larger skill set. Either women are seen as lacking self-respect for being too sexy or lack self-respect for not being sexy enough as shown by the unwarranted criticism towards Serena Williams’ body and the WNBA proposing that players get smaller shorts and tighter shorts.

These proclamations that society has withered because of these poor role models and that our young women are falling from grace completely ignores that high school graduation rates are at an all-time high, women lead in enrollment in degree-granting institutions and that African American women lead in degree enrollment and attainment and represent the fastest growing segment of women-owned businesses. This outrage over music and attacks aimed at women who morphed their situations into global ventures focuses too much energy on personal decisions. If Amber Rose wants to twerk on Instagram and get paid for hosting club events, more power to her. It’s no different than Don Benjamin, albeit no twerking though he raps now. Amber Rose’s decisions does not diminish Janice Bryant Howroyd or Vanessa Simmons achievements. The concern should be aimed at the fact that even after all these achievements amongst women, specifically African American, they still get the short end of the stick with higher unemployment rates, less acceptance to business loans and investors being more likely to give funding to men. Personal decisions should not override national gains made.

A key part of self respect is self. We all have our ideas, morals and values. I find family and friends to be extremely important and I strive to provide for both in anyway I can. Yet, I know that there are people who would not pass on a date to watch a Love and Hip Hop marathon or who would not stay up all night to console a friend because they have work at seven in the morning. I do not view them as selfish for their decision and hope I am not viewed at stupid or weak for mine. Criticizing others for not living their lives how you feel they should is counterproductive and, most importantly, has nothing to do with you. If they are harmlessly enjoying their lives, let them live. Help those who want to be help instead of trying to force those who didn’t ask and don’t want your help to take your aid. Let’s make 2016 the year when the word self-respect is not used as an insult or a tool to manipulate others.