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Stop Limiting Your Black Love: It’s Time To Leave Respectability Politics Behind

“Consciousness, and specifically, Black Consciousness, demands nothing less than an all-encompassing, unconditional, radical Black Love – love of self, and love of other black people, ‘even’ or especially when we/they are hard to love.” – Nozizwe Vundla (Towards a Black Radical Love; 2016)

Very seldom will you ever encounter something more breathtaking than the love, compassion, and apprehension between individuals of the Black community. It is a sight that is truly worthy of acclaim, and a display of affection that can never be emulated anywhere else.

Hashtags such as #blackboyjoy and #blackgirlmagic strike me as revolutionary movements that can be looked upon as one of the many forefronts of this new wave of black love. These hashtags have been used as a way for men and women to shatter the stereotypes that have been assigned to them, and to express a sense of liberation unprecedented in the community. This has been refreshing to see, as so many Black men and women who once did not fit America’s ideal perception of “worthy” have shattered these expectations by not only embracing themselves but by being embraced by their brothers and sisters as well.

A great amount of love and respect has been allocated to those that defy societal norms, as it should. It takes not only tremendous courage to oppose society’s norm but it also takes a great deal of personal endearment for one’s self that boasts the power to change and heal the world. And as this love and praise spread throughout the community for our brothers and sisters that break these stereotypes, I believe that it is essential that we do not negate our brothers and sisters who are very much unaware or are even comfortable, with upholding society’s “stereotypes.”

With that being said,

For the black girl and boy who detest their blackness due to the internalized systematic oppression that has programmed you to hate yourself, you are loved.

For the black girl and boy who have been brainwashed by the White supremacist heteropatriarchal society that has conditioned you to become homophobic, you are loved.

For the black girl and boy who are wasting their potential because they believe that the world has nothing to offer them, you are loved.

For all of my black women and men incarcerated, separated from their families, and deemed by the media and even their own fellow brothers and sisters as “criminals” who have “chosen this path”, you are absolutely loved.

“Black people who are perfect or black people who are flawed, you are loved.”

But as I recite these powerful words, I have observed that this kind of love is not exactly prominent within the community.

For quite some time, I have felt like our community has limited the love it chooses to extend among its own people. Not everybody is a recipient of this radical love that we pertain and it is because we have made this love exclusive to certain Black people and not ALL Black people. And no matter how much we reiterate that we are finally done with this anti-black ideology, the root of this exclusiveness is due to respectability politics.

Since the Jim Crow era, respectability politics has been an approach deemed sensible by black reformers. As Michelle Alexander analyzes in her book The New Jim Crow, many African-Americans believed there was no other option to end bigotry than acting as a dignified Black person with respectable manners. Blacks believed this approach would eventually show White people that their racism had been misplaced and they had Black people all wrong.

For some, this strategy worked tremendously well in their favor, particularly those who have access to education and relative privilege but for those who were extremely poor and could not “conform” to the public behavior and economic activity expected by bourgeoisie America, they were chastised and viewed as the “bad apples” of the bunch. This mentality not only continues to operate in our community but has caused a division among wealthy, middle-class Blacks and Blacks who are poverty stricken. Yet somehow, the same people who have disassociated themselves with the black urban poor, continue to find themselves as representatives for this very same demographic.

“Not everybody is a recipient of this radical love that we pertain and it is because we have made this love exclusive to certain Black people and not ALL Black people.”

We see this constantly through politicians and celebrity figures such as Bill Cosby, Don Lemon, and most recently Tamera Mowry who are constantly using politics of respectability as a way to “uplift” Black people from being poor, offering tips on how to ‘save’ the Black community (one tip suggested Black man to stop sagging their pants, because surely the way we wear our pants dictates whether police kill us or not), or even suggesting that women must act a certain way in hopes of landing a male companion.

We even saw Respectability politics take place regarding Jordan Edwards, who was unjustifiably murdered at the hands of yet another racist police officer. In wake of yet another incident showcasing how unfit cops are of policing Black communities, people were continuously bringing up Edwards’ outstanding GPA, his impeccable attendance at school, and how he never got in trouble. From these facts, it is ludicrous to deny that Edwards was a “good kid.” But the danger in overstating that Edwards was a “good kid” (as the media and many personal accounts on Twitter have done) is that it implies that because Edwards was a good kid, he did not deserve to get shot in the head. Whether he was a straight A student or failing all of his classes, he did not deserve to be killed. Many refuse to acknowledge this and therefore are negating to recognize the toxic ideology behind respectability politics.

There is a misguided narrative that had Jordan Edwards not been a “good boy“, his murder would have been somewhat justifiable. We see the media attempt to justify black men and women being killed by the police constantly by bringing up past issues that these individuals have had with the law (i.e. Michael Brown, Terence Crutcher, Korryn Gaines). So when we mention the “good kid” story, it appears like we are saying “the other killings were bad, but this one is especially worse.”

This is nowhere near acceptable. Yet, this mindset continues to prevail in our community because of the lack of empathy and understanding from economically stable Blacks.

Well off Black people who do not have the struggles of people socially and economically lower than them, expect these individuals to “pick-up” the slack, and assimilate into the Black middle class of living, without actually going back into these communities and lending a hand.

“Black excellence comes in all forms. Being Black and alive in a country who wants to see you fold at the hands of their oppression is excellence enough. And it should get treated as such.”

They then create these social standards such as Black excellence, which at times, is soaked in respectability politics. As much as I am proud of my Black grads, who have their whole futures ahead of them, I am as equally proud of the guy from Southeast D.C., who did not finish High School and is working two jobs at fast-food restaurants, making ends meet for him and his family. I am proud of the young black man who at age 14 is graduating from Texas Christian University, but I am also proud of the 14-year old young woman who barely made it past her ninth grade year. We have to recognize that Black excellence is not only enclosed to people thriving in higher education, appearing on talk shows, or being a multi-millionaire. Black excellence comes in all forms. Being Black and alive in a country who wants to see you fold at the hands of their oppression is excellence enough. And it should get treated as such.

Some of our brothers and sisters do not have the access to education to understand the rationale behind the things that they do. They do not have the resources to put things in a historical context and to analyze how the environment that they inhabit was not only created to limit them but to destroy them as well. Rather than criticizing them and their way of living, it is time to develop a sense of empathy for the experiences of individuals whose lives differ from ours.

In Patricia Hill Collins essay Towards a New Vision, Collins marks that if we truly care about one’s lifewe should want to know not only the details of one’s personal biography but attain a sense of how race, class, and gender serve as categories of analysis for the symbolic backdrop of one’s personal biography. It’s time for the Black community to care about all Black people. The hashtags and the self-love moments mean nothing if we are not trying to get all people involved and allow them to feel the magnitude of black love.

“Rather than criticizing them and their way of living, it is time to develop a sense of empathy for the experiences of individuals whose lives differ from ours.”

Black love is simply revolutionary. But we diminish its essence when we negate to love all the faces of black folk. I want us to love Black people, not only in a hashtag and on social media, but show love in the streets, and in person. There is nothing like casting away the anti-blackness created by White supremacy by loving the people society has told everyone to hate. So let us love and love hard.

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