Once upon a time (somewhat) long ago, I had a hankering for Popeyes Chicken during lunch hour at work. It was one of our extra-busy days, so I needed to do a grab-and-go.
As the promising waft of Louisiana lust soothed my nose, I was hit with a wave of heaviness: “Wait, do I really want these white people to see me chomping down on some fried chicken at the Man’s corporate establishment?” I talked it over with a friend of mine at the time, who promptly dropped the mic with: “Fuck that, white people love fried chicken, too. Who doesn’t?!”
Immediately, I realized that I had been bitten by the respectability-politics bug.
Cue Tiffany Haddish. Following her Girls Trip breakout stardom, Haddish has been winning. Honey has a shiny new Netflix deal, realized her dreams and met Oprah, took a much coveted selfie with Beyoncé (and lived to tell about it) and will become the first black woman to host the MTV Movie & TV Awards.
As anyone would be in her position, Haddish is hype! As she Nae Naes into her best life, however, not everyone is exactly here for her exuberance. At least, not her style of such.
Amid the “yasss”-ing surrounding Haddish, I noticed a much more critical eye creeping on my Twitter timeline, and I believe it all started with—funny enough—a Facebook screenshot.
“I want Tiffany Haddish to win as much as the next person of color. But I don’t want her to do it in a way that embarrasses our race,” Jakoury McQueen noted.
McQueen went on to cite several examples, including when Haddish mispronounced names during the 90th Academy Awards nominations telecast, expressed her affinity for the Nae Nae, took off her shoes during the Academy Awards ceremony and happily jumped over the velvet rope to meet Meryl Streep.
And thus began a back-and-forth about Haddish’s lack of “decorum” as she gallivants around Hollywood, representing the newest lustrous star. The respectability-politics bug had struck again.
And ... I call shenanigans to the Talented Tenth power.
Similar to the rise of Cardi B, the way Haddish presents herself is simply too loud, too black and too woman. A potpourri of all three. Or how Mo’Nique “had a point,” but the way she said it wasn’t sitting right with some folks. Haddish is the latest black woman accused of “cooning,” “skinnin’ and grinnin’” and “shuckin’ and jivin’.” So, I have to ask, if Haddish is doing the Nae Nae for the white gaze, who is your respectability politics boogie for?
At a time when it is trendy to be “unapologetically black,” there’s something about the way certain “blackness” is excluded that doesn’t quite curl all the way over. You can’t be unapologetic with an asterisk. Blackness encompasses an immeasurable index of idiosyncrasies, and its fluidity is what makes it worthy of endearment. Haddish’s presentation of blackness is just as dope and valid as Angela Rye’s.
Plus, let’s face it, Haddish is a comedian. Of course “antics” will be a part of her stardom tour. That is literally her job. To lob the burden of “decorum” onto her doesn’t make sense. Kevin Hart has constructed a multimillion-dollar industry by being a marketable combination of loud and diminutive. Not to mention that similar “antics” done by someone like, say, Jennifer Lawrence are lovingly referred to as “quirky” or “relatable.” J.Law, she’s just like us! Maybe that’s the problem—that Haddish is just like us? Heaven forbid the man behind the curtain is revealed to be ... a loud black woman.
What actor wouldn’t be excited to meet one of the most acclaimed thespians in history, Meryl Streep?! Who hasn’t loved an outfit so much, you wanted to wear it over and over again? Since when are heels not a painful, temporary beauty sacrifice prefacing the moment you get home and slip into some comfy house shoes?
What I love most about Haddish is that—above all—she is authentically herself. Her natural charisma undoubtedly has a lot to do with her current star power. She didn’t stand out in Girls Trip and win the hearts of audiences and industry insiders alike because she had a perfectly packaged persona.
So, for those who believe that Haddish should tone it down—if there’s anyone who is “doing too much,” it’s you. Haddish is just doing her.