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Respectability Politics vs. Live & Let Live

Respectability Politics vs. Live & Let Live
Cardi B

By Erma BreAnn

Now the dust has settled on the Cardi B and Nicki Minaj encounter, let us discuss their behavior around “the white folks.” I’m kidding – let’s not. Their behavior was wrong, we know that, but it doesn’t matter where they were or who they were around; wrong is wrong everywhere. After hearing many conversations the first thing I hear is the disappointment in their actions around, in Nicki Minaj’s own words, “upper echelon” also known as “white folks.” These statements make me cringe. Everyday I see evidence in brainwashing and post-traumatic stress disorder when we say and do things that help validate the oppressor and racist actions. When we use this language we are saying to others and ourselves we believe we are inherently inferior, which is not at all the case. Yet we still feel we shouldn’t be seen or take up space in a manner not approved of by white folks.

We police our own members on social values set by the white community on what is respectable. Respectability politics isn’t new. We were doing this when we told black women to straighten their hair to fit the mold of acceptable in the eyes of white folks. Still to this day we are fighting to dismantle this belief. Black and brown bodied individuals are over policed not only by the government and the policing of our communities, but by our own black and brown peers. The underlying tone of these words suggest police brutality and white folks discriminatory actions toward black and brown communities are valid due to the actions of our people is baffling. We have all been handed a book on surviving in a white world and we abide by it and we make certain those who look like us do the same.

We’ve heard this around the conversations of Cardi B and Tiffany Haddish, the media and social sites are weighted in language about their boisterousness and use of ebonics as if it is wrong of them to express themselves the way they see fit. The assimilated black folks are ready for them to “calm down.” As you can see Cardi B is being her unapologetic self and the girls hate it. Marginalized communities are the only folks who are representations of the whole group or race wherever we go. White people do not see their behavior as a reflection of their race; must be why they are so removed from slavery yet black people mourn the deaths of every black person murdered by the hands of the police. We see ourselves in each other. I’m not saying we should stop seeing ourselves in each other. In fact, continue to do just that but we should see our reflection in every black and brown body and advocate for them to live their best life the way they see fit.

Now I understand why we use respectability politics to stay aligned with the society in which we live. It’s not about approval it’s about survival of our black and brown bodies. We are policing our peers because we need not only them to survive but all of us to survive. Perhaps what hurts the most is we believe if we act within white societal norms we will survive. Yet, black and brown people are victims no matter where they fall in the rankings of social status. So answer me this, when are we going to finally take the weight off our backs and put it in the hands of whom it belongs? The problem lies with the oppressors to fix themselves. It is not our job to make sure we stay alive, it is their job not to kill us or oppress us based on the color of our skin. Make white people do the work to remove their inherent prejudices.

Our actions do not control others but I understand it helps them justify their actions. We need to stop them from doing this by first stopping the use of respectability language within our own communities. Protect each other’s freedom of the pursuit of happiness but ensuring we have the option to be free in our expression of self. I’m not blind to the fact that Cardi B was attempting to cause harm to Nicki Minaj which is a whole debate as to why but the conversation shouldn’t start with where they were or who was around. Their actions are not a reflection of black folks as a whole and if you believe it is then it looks like you have some work to do to remove your prejudices and biases as well.

Do you consider all black people’s actions as a reflection on you?
Respectability Politics vs. Live & Let Live
Erma BreAnn is a queer writer and poet based in Chicago. She is the creator of the blog Basic, Bad, & Bitchie at, focusing on her journey through life. Follow her on Instagram:

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