Dear Respectability Police: You Won't End Racism

Generic image (Thinkstock)
Generic image (Thinkstock)

In a powerful piece at Ebony, Jamilah Lemieux issues a stern rebuke to those who think that black people can police themselves into becoming respected or validated by white people. She asks, "How are white folks gonna confront their biases when at every turn there's a black person willing to hop up and tell them that we are really the worst and we don't deserve equality anyway?"

“Who taught you to hate yourself?”

Malcolm X’s famous query has been on my mind lately. It was there when President and First Lady Obama took brand new HBCU alumni and their families to task on Morehouse and Bowie State’s graduation days. It was there when Don Lemon posed Boy Scout-esque steps that we — we — could take to end racism. I thought of those words when our beloved POTUS came for us again in his comments during the celebration of the anniversary on the March on Washington. And when Sheryl Underwood sat beneath a shiny wig and before a largely White audience and mocked nappy Black hair. And again yesterday, as the image of a crying Black girl circulated the net after her Black-led school punished her for having Black girl hair.

I don’t think that any of these people would tell you that they hate Black people or themselves or things that are associated with blackness. But the uncomfortable thread running all through these narratives is the suggestion that we have to be good to be good enough. To be respected, to be human, to be validated in the eyes of White folk.

Because, you know, this is what really matters. In fact, I often feel like some of us are walking around wearing invisible W.W.W.F.D. bracelets around their wrists in hopes of somehow policing themselves into validity.

What would White folks do? And what can we do to get them to tell us we’re okay? Who do we have to be to gain their respect? If we play nice, will you finally treat us that way?


Read Jamilah Lemieux's entire piece at Ebony.

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