What are the politics of respectability?

Electronic copy available at: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2963600





Harold A. McDougall*


INTRODUCTION ………………………………………………………………………….45



NARRATIVE ………………………………………………………………………..49


IV. THE POLITICS OF DISRESPECT ……………………………………………….56

V. THE POLITICS OF SELF-RESPECT ……………………………………………60

A. The Black Nationalist Project …………………………………….61 B. Stories of Self-Respect ………………………………………………..64



A. Black Lives Matter ……………………………………………………69

B. The National Association of the Southern Poor …………….75

CONCLUSION ……………………………………………………………………………..80


In 2014, nationwide protests over police harassment and

brutality towards African-Americans surprised many, not only with

their passion and broad base, but also by their general disconnection

from the civil rights establishment. Similar to the student sit-ins of the

1960s, bright and passionate young people surged forward without the

sanction—or even the knowledge—of established leaders. Much as

their predecessors fifty years before,1 the establishment in 2014 sought

  • Professor of Law, Howard University. BA magna cum laude, Harvard, 1967; J.D. Yale, 1971. I presented

an outline of this paper at the Duke Law School conference on the Present and Future of Civil Rights Movements in November 2015, and received welcome research supported from my Dean, Danielle Holley-

Walker. Special thanks to Profs. Anthony Alfieri, John Brittain, Kevin Johnson, Gerald Lopez, and Shauna

Marshall for helpful comments, and to my research assistants Monique Peterkin, Tabias Wilson, Ebony Johnson, and Brooke Oki, who did most of the heavy lifting.

1 See Harold McDougall, I Have A Dream: Bring Back SNCC, HUFFINGTON POST (Aug. 28, 2013, 2:12 PM), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/harold-a-mcdougall/sncc-civil-rights-movement_b_3828787.html.


Electronic copy available at: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2963600


to get out in front of these young protesters, channel them into approved

and controlled activities, minimize any damage to the establishment

donor/patronage base, and exploit their energy to advance the

establishment agenda.2

However, there has been pushback. These young people see

their constituency as the poor and working class of the African-

American community, the ghetto dwellers who occupy ground zero in

conflicts with police, rather than the more affluent classes from which

so many of them come.3 Moreover, a significantly larger number of

today’s protesters and protest organizers are from the affected

communities themselves.4 These latter participants are often suspicious

of established civil rights leadership as well.5

This paper will explore class tensions that have bedeviled the

civil rights movement since its very beginning, yielding conflicting

narratives and patterns of activity, and ultimately resulting in the

disorder we see today. This paper will also address how we might

identify the best these narratives and patterns of activity have to offer,

marshalling, and synthesizing them into a more productive approach.

I believe the key is to develop “civic infrastructure” in the

African-American community, so the raw energy of today’s protests

does not ebb and disappear, leaving behind no fundamental

improvement. The National Association of the Southern Poor (NASP),

discussed in the final section of the paper, provides an example of the

kind of civic infrastructure I have in mind.


Human beings of various species have been on the planet for

approximately 2.5 million years. Our own species, Homo sapiens, has

been here for only 200,000 years. All previous species, and our own

until just 12,000 years ago, lived as hunter-gatherers. Our biological

2 See Harold McDougall, ‘American Spring’? HUFFINGTON POST (Dec. 10, 2014, 9:57 PM),

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/harold-a-mcdougall/american-spring_b_6292942.html. 3 My research assistant Tabias Wilson provides an example. Tabias was one of the founders of Occupy

Boston, and went on to help start various antiracist offshoots, such as Occupy the Hood. See Stacey Patton,

Black Youth Respond to the Occupy Movement, BLACK YOUTH PROJECT, (Nov. 25, 2011), http://research.blackyouthproject.com/byp-presents/black-youth-respond-to-occupy-movement/. 4 See, e.g., Kellan Howell, Baltimore Riots Sparked not by Race but by Class Tensions Between Police,

Poor, WASH. TIMES (Apr. 29, 2015), http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/apr/29/baltimore-riots- sparked-not-by-race-but-by-class-t/?page=all. 5 Describing his work in Boston, Tabias Wilson experienced the “establishment, full-integrationist” civil

rights leaders as overly concerned that the youth not “squander the moment” by their lack of “respect” and

“respectability” vis-à-vis the white majority establishment.


Electronic copy available at: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2963600


makeup, our DNA, evolved in congruence with this lifestyle6—few

possessions, high levels of mobility, a spare diet, and living in small

bands of about two dozen, bound together by empathic connection.7

This means our DNA programs us to trust people whom we

know personally.8 The emergence of fictive language, of “narrative,”

about 70,000 years ago (the “Cognitive Revolution”) made it possible

for us to work together on slightly less intimate terms, knitted together

by gossip into bands of about 150 people.9 This diminished our

empathic connections somewhat,10 but our small-group DNA remained

relatively undisturbed.

Twelve thousand years ago, an even more radical change

occurred in human society, the “Agricultural Revolution.”11 Humans

domesticated animals and plants12 and narratives emerged rationalizing

human dominance over nature.13 Interestingly, these narratives also

rationalized the dominance of some human beings over others,

dwindling empathic connection even more.14

These new narratives enabled us to work together in groups of

thousands, and eventually millions. They also assigned specific roles to

their adherents, dividing them by gender and work function. Typically,

these assigned roles formed a hierarchy, pyramidal in character, with a

large number of people at the bottom doing the “grunt” work and the

small elite at the top doing the planning, thinking, and relaxing.15 First

6 PAUL SHEPARD, COMING HOME TO THE PLEISTOCENE (2004), http://www.amazon.com/Coming-Home- Pleistocene-Paul-Shepard/dp/1559635908 (“[O]ur essential human nature is a product of our genetic

heritage, formed through thousands of years of evolution during the Pleistocene epoch, and . . . the current subversion of that Pleistocene heritage lies at the heart of today’s ecological and social ills . . . .”). 7 Jeremy Rifkin, The Empathic Civilization: Rethinking Human Nature in the Biosphere Era, HUFFINGTON

POST (Mar. 18, 2010), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeremy-rifkin/the-empathic- civilization_b_416589.html. 8 Id. 9 YUVAL NOAH HARARI, SAPIENS: A BRIEF HISTORY OF HUMANKIND 133 (2015) (Sapiens are distinguished by our ability to believe in fictions. The cognitive revolutions starts with the first set of hypothetical stories

we allow ourselves to believe in whether they are true or not . . . Our fictions allow us to cooperate. They

give us the imaginary order that is necessary for societies to act together. Amazon Customer Reviews: By Gary on Feb. 25, 2015). 10 HARARI, supra note 9, at 105 (“All these cooperation networks . . . were ‘imagined orders.’ The social

norms that sustained them were neither based in ingrained instincts nor on personal acquaintances, but rather on belief in shared myths.”). 11 HARARI, supra note 9, at 48. 12 See JARED DIAMOND, GUNS, GERMS AND STEEL (1997), http://www.jareddiamond.org/Jared_Diamond/Guns,_Germs,_and_Steel.html. 13 HARARI, supra note 9, at 92-93 (describing means of subordinating and controlling animals, eerily

reminiscent of later techniques for controlling slaves: “In order to turn bulls, horses, donkeys and camels into obedient draught animals, their natural instincts and social ties had to be broken, their aggression and

sexuality contained, and their freedom of movement curtailed.”). 14 HARARI, supra note 9, at 102. 15 See HARARI, supra note 9, at 81 (asserting that sedentary living begets cruelty and empathy issues).



came the theocracies,16 monarchies and patriarchy of early agricultural

society.17 As time went on, feudalism, capitalism,18 nationalism,

slavery, colonialism, racism,19 imperialism, and many others emerged.

Whatever the prevailing narrative, our physiologically based

empathic impulses20 must be suppressed by education, training or a

force to support it.21 We are not allowed to feel empathy for those lower

on the ladder in our own social narrative, or for adherents to a social

narrative that rivals our own. This compromises our ability to find our

way through personal association, or even gossip, so more and more, we

take the word of our leaders in the social narrative—priests, kings, and

eventually politicians—instead of relying on empathic connection. This

makes us even easier to manipulate, as suppressed empathy creates

social and human space for violence and mistrust.22

These narratives objectify us—by race, gender, class, sexual

orientation, national origin, religion, and so forth.23 This objectification

prompts us to ask our fellow human beings what they are rather than

who they are, marking the objectification of us all.

There is more. Not only must we ask “what meta-narrative

describes you,” but also “where do you fit in the hierarchy it

establishes?” Are you manly enough, womanly enough, black enough,

white enough, rich enough, devout enough to stand at the top of the

heap? If not, what lesser position do you occupy?24 What is your role in

driving the social, political, and economic machinery—beliefs, customs

and practices, institutions, organizations, laws—the narrative coheres?25

16 Id. at 218-19. 17 Id. at 172. 18 Id. at 352-53. 19

Id. at 134. 20 See, e.g., Harold McDougall, Empathy Depletion: An Environmental Hazard, HUFFINGTON POST (June 17, 2014, 2:53 PM), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/harold-a-mcdougall/empathy-depletion-an-


CONSCIOUSNESS IN A WORLD IN CRISIS (2009)). 21 HARARI, supra note 9, at 111 (violence needed to maintain the existing order). 22 Indeed, our biologically based empathic impulses can atrophy without real ties to others; their suppression

by “imagined” narratives that privilege elites can lead to violence. See, e.g., Empathy Depletion, supra note 20. 23 Note the grounding of narrative classification in the first written languages, developed to count and

classify in sedentary agricultural societies, about 12,000 years ago. 24 With real human connection, at the genetically appropriate scale—a dozen or two—we can still ask

questions, but they are relevant to real life. What are your likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses?

How can your particular talents be of help to me and to the ones I love? Can I trust you? (Note that 80% of human communication is still nonverbal, seriously handicapping us in age of increasing electronic

communication. See Sherry Turkle, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, THE

DIANE REHM SHOW (Oct. 19, 2015, 11:00 AM), http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2015-10-19/sherry- turkle-reclaiming-conversation-the-power-of-talk-in-a-digital-age). 25 See Harold McDougall, For Critical Race Practitioners: Race, Racism and American Law (4th ed.) by

Derrick A. Bell, Jr., 46 HOW. L.J. 1 (2002) (citing Paul Costello, Racism and Black Oppression in the United States: A Beginning Analysis, 24 THEORETICAL REV. 11 (1981)).



Such is the nature of the narrative about race, particularly in the

United States, with its foundations in the slave south.26 Despite the

narrative’s southern origins, the institution of slavery and the narrative

that rationalized it was so central to the political economy and social life

of all Thirteen Colonies27 that they broke away from England rather than

risk the abolitionism that was on the rise in the mother country.28



Race, class and gender narratives emerging in the ante-bellum

slave south operated not only to support the institution of slavery itself,

but also to rationalize the race, class, and gender hierarchies incidental

to it.29 Characters in these narratives included the white southern

gentleman and the white southern belle, the subservient and

emasculated “Uncle Tom,” the “black mammy,” the “bad Negro,” the

“black Jezebel,”30 and “white trash.”31

These characters and narratives assumed an importance beyond

the Southern region. The South contributed a gendered and classed

ideology of whiteness to the nation after slavery ended,32 becoming

“ideologically dominant in shaping the narrative of national selfhood,”33

providing a Rosetta Stone for American racism nationwide. The Great

Migration spurred the nationalization of the black characters and the

narratives they occupy, bringing large numbers of blacks to Northern,

Midwestern, and eventually Far Western cities as well.34 The

26 Cf. HARARI, supra note 9, at 140-43 (race divisions in the Americas). 27 Email from Professor Gerald Horne, John and Rebecca Moores Professor of History, Univ. of Houston,

Texas to Professor Harold (Sept. 15, 2015) (on file with author). (“The US was a step forward from the religious axis of society that had bedeviled Europe but this was replaced with a different axis, ‘white’ vs.

‘non-white’—but more than this, perpetual punishment of the descendants of mainland enslaved

Africans.”). 28 See Interview with Gerald Horne, “Counter-Revolution of 1776”: Was U.S. Independence War a

Conservative Revolt in Favor of Slavery? Democracy Now, June 17, 2014,

http://www.democracynow.org/2014/6/27/counter_revolution_of_1776_was_us (discussing Gerald Horne, The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America, (2014);

see also Somerset v. Stewart, 98 ER 499 (1772)). 29 See generally RICHÉ RICHARDSON, BLACK MASCULINITY AND THE U.S. SOUTH: FROM UNCLE TOM TO GANGSTA 232 (2007) (Kindle version). 30 See RICHARDSON, supra note 29, at 59-60, 71; see also Taylor Gordon, Black Women in the Media:

Mammy, Jezebel, or Angry, ATLANTA BLACK STAR (Mar. 4, 2013), http://atlantablackstar.com/2013/03/04/black-women-in-the-media-mammy-jezebel-or-angry/. 31 No matter how low on the social scale they might be, they were still superior to every black person in the

Southern narrative, now nationalized to the entire U.S. See RICHARDSON, supra note 29, at 125. 32 RICHARDSON, supra note 29, at 10, 67, 75. 33 RICHARDSON, supra note 29, at 56; see also id. at 232-33. 34 See generally Isabel Wilkerson, THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS: THE EPIC STORY OF AMERICA’S GREAT MIGRATION (2010); cf. RICHARDSON, supra note 29, at 220.




nationalization of the white characters and their supporting narratives is

more complex; in this paper, we will touch on that phenomenon only

lightly.35 In short, Whiteness became a prized club to which only people

of European descent could belong (if they played by the rules).36


Some years after emancipation, middle-class black males began

striving to create a “gentleman” persona,37 a counter-narrative to the

prevailing slave stereotypes. Black women could not be “belles,” but

they tried to be “ladies.” Elite black men and women thus sought to

adhere to the rules of the “whiteness” club38 as closely as possible (or

rather, as closely as they were permitted). Herein, the politics of

respectability was born.39

Prof. Frederick C. Harris, Director of the Center on African-

American Politics and Society at Columbia University, describes the

politics of respectability as a philosophy first promulgated by “black

elites to ‘uplift the race’ by correcting the ‘bad’ traits of the black

poor.”40 Indeed, as early as the beginnings of the Great Migration,

middle-class black organizations, such as the National Urban League,

distributed pamphlets to poor and new arrivals instructing them on

“respectable” behavior. They were not to use profanity or talk loudly in

public, for example.41 “Respectability” role-players invented a model

black citizen/class, but they required no concessions from the white

ruling class. Indeed, they often played their roles in the shadow of white

intemperance and violence.42

For black males, attempting to conform to the white narrative,

despite this imbalance, meant “manliness” often had to take a back seat,

35 See. e.g., RICHARDSON, supra note 29, at 9-10 (Birth of a Nation); see also id. at 74-75 (Southern “manly”

military tradition incorporated into US Army). 36 RICHARDSON, supra note 29, at 69. Cf. Karen Grigsby Bates, The Whiteness Project: Facing Race In A

Changing America, NAT’L PUB. RADIO (Dec. 21, 2014), http://www.npr.org/2014/12/21/371679777/the-

whiteness-project-facing-race-in-a-changing-america. 37 RICHARDSON, supra note 29, at 75 (“[t]he class and cultural ambitions of some elite black men” were

shaped by the ideology of white maleness, “even if it was premised on their very exclusion.”). 38 RICHARDSON, supra note 29, at 69. 39 RICHARDSON, supra note 29, at 28. 40 Frederick C. Harris, Rise of Respectability Politics, DISSENT, (Winter 2014), at 2,

https://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/the-rise-of-respectability-politics. 41 See RICHARDSON, supra note 29, at 77; see also id. at 144 (citing Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man to similar

affect.). Such approaches continued at least until the 1960s. See John McWhorter, It’s About Time Obama

Stuck up for His ‘Respectability Politics’, WASH. POST (May 14, 2015), https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/05/14/its-about-time-obama-stuck-up-for-his-

respectability-politics/. 42 Leland Ware and Theodore Davis, Ordinary People in an Extraordinary Time: The Black Middle Class in the Age of Obama, 55 HOW. L.J. 533, 535 (2012).



suggesting a certain level of weakness.43 The politics of respectability

thus brought male practitioners dangerously close to the “Uncle Tom”

stereotype,44 a stereotype many black men take pains to avoid.45 Black

militants of the 1960s often perceived middle-class, “respectable” male

civil rights leaders as “Uncle Toms” for precisely this reason.46

Today, practitioners of the politics of respectability seek

advancement through communion with prevailing majority group

structures of political, economic, and social power.47 They seek upper-

middle class status within those structures by approximating white

dialect, dress, profession and physical space.48 “Respectability”

practitioners who succeed in these endeavors gain access to mainstream

“sociopolitical capital”—the ability to infiltrate “institutions,

government and other organizations.”49

Though respectability practitioners today have muted their

overtly submissive response to white dominance, they continue to

preach assimilation to white culture, apparently their only marker for

true success. Blackness, on the other hand, is associated with laziness,

with financially well-off black folks the exception to the rule.50

Respectability politics seems quite comfortable with the idea that

“problems for [unsuccessful] African-Americans are rooted in absent

black fathers and failures of blacks to do enough to help themselves.”51

Bill Cosby’s diatribes against the black poor provided a

particularly unfortunate example of respectability practitioners seeking

to find “interest convergence” with upper-middle-class whites.52 In his



ANXIETY AND THE PROBLEM OF AFRICAN AMERICAN IDENTITY ix (1996)). 44 Harold McDougall, Guns, Machismo, Martin and Zimmerman, HUFFINGTON POST (July 17, 2013, 12:43 PM), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/harold-a-mcdougall/george-zimmerman-guns

masculinity_b_3600456.html. 45 RICHARDSON, supra note 29, at 6 (citing HARPER, supra note 43, at ix). 46 RICHARDSON, supra note 29, at 49-52. 47 Ware and Davis, supra note 43, at 537-38. 48 Memorandum from Tabias Wilson for Professor Harold McDougall (Aug. 1, 2015) (on file with author); Ware and Davis, supra note 42, at 536-39. 49 Tabias Wilson cites black entrepreneurs, HBCU leadership, and federal political leaders as examples.

Memorandum from Tabias Wilson for Professor Harold McDougall (June 30, 2015) (on file with author). 50 Memorandum from Tabias Wilson reflecting on Chapter 1 of BLACK BALTIMORE for Professor Harold

McDougall, (July 8, 2015) (on file with author). 51 Jessica Washington & Perry Bacon Jr., How ‘Black Lives Matter’ Activists Are Shaping the 2016 Campaign, NBC NEWS (July 31, 2015, 5:00 AM), http://www.nbcnews.com/news/nbcblk/how-black-lives-

matter-activists-are-shaping-2016-campaign-n401146. 52 Cf. Prof. Derrick Bell’s “interest convergence theory,” which “holds that whites will support minority rights only when it’s in their interest as well. For example, [Bell] saw the Supreme Court’s landmark 1954

school-desegregation decision, Brown v. Board of Education, as a part of a Cold War effort to improve

America’s standing among Third World countries.” Will Oremus, Did Obama Hug a Radical?, SLATE (Mar. 9 2012),



May 2004 speech at an NAACP event celebrating the fiftieth

anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, Cosby

characterized poor black males as “knuckleheads [who are] walking

around [not wanting to] learn English.”53 He scorned black vernacular

speech as less than “respectable.”54 Michael Eric Dyson, one of Cosby’s

critics and a person with working-class origins, identified Cosby’s

screed as especially dangerous because it “aggressively ignore[d]

[w]hite society’s responsibility in creating the problems he want[ed] the

poor to fix on their own.”55

An important by-product of the politics of respectability is the

spatial segregation of the black community by class.56 The 1968 Fair

Housing Act allowed Blacks to access white suburban neighborhoods

for the first time.57 “Black flight” ensued, as the black middle-class

moved from the inner cities into suburban neighborhoods that better

reflected their class position.58

Since this transition, the proportion of Blacks in the middle class

has more than doubled.59 However, the number of poor Blacks living in

extremely poor inner-city neighborhoods has also doubled.60 In fact, the

disparity between the top and bottom fifth of the Black population in

terms of income, education, victimization by violence, and job status is

now greater than the disparity between the top and bottom fifth of the

white population.61

A class divide has thus emerged, with poor and working-class

Blacks on one side, and the Black middle-class on the other. William

Julius Wilson, for example, argues that “[t]he economic advancement

of the most privileged members of the black community and the

ongoing subordination of economically disadvantaged blacks means


ical_race_theory_and_is_it_radical_.html. 53 Steven King, Bill Cosby on Civil Rights, WASH. POST (May 23, 2004), www.washingtonpost.com/wp-

dyn/content/audio/2005/05/02/AU2005050201059.html. 54 Ms. Peterkin notes the irony of Cosby’s present crucifixion by the white media, exploiting the stereotype of the hyper-sexualized black male, placing Cosby outside the respectability politics he once preached.

Memorandum from Monique Peterkin for Professor Harold McDougall (July 16, 2015) (on file with author). 55 Michael Eric Dyson, Is Bill Cosby Right? Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?, HARV. EDUC. REV., http://hepg.org/her-home/issues/harvard-educational-review-volume-76-issue-2/herbooknote/is-bill-

cosby-right-_11. 56 Ware and Davis, supra note 42, at 562-67. 57 Karyn Lacy, Race, Privilege and the Growing Class Divide, 38 ETHNIC & RACIAL STUD. REV. 1246,

1247 (2015). 58 Id. at 1248. 59 See generally Zoltan L. Hajnal, Black Class Exceptionalism: Insights from Direct Democracy on the Race

Versus Class Debate, 71 PUB. OPINION Q. 560 (2007); see Ware and Davis, supra note 42, at 533-35. 60 Hajnal, supra note 59, at 560. 61 Id. at 561.



that it no longer makes sense to think of blacks as one homogenous


Low income and working class Blacks often have conflicting

objectives with middle and upper class Black Americans, despite

middle-class, “respectable” black organizations’ claims to speak for all.

Many middle-class Blacks are “[h]omeowners, concentrated in suburbia

and financially stable, allowing them to provide their children with

luxuries such as their own car when they turn sixteen and a prestigious

private school education.”63 Middle-class Blacks who never resided in

poor neighborhoods may not appreciate the experiences of poor and

working-class Blacks.64 Poor and working-class Blacks face issues such

as lack of educational resources, employment opportunities, and

neighborhood violence, for example.

Black flight from segregated, inner-city neighborhoods may

have been a “necessary survival act for middle and upper class

blacks.”65 At the same time, the Black elite’s increasing stake in

American capitalism has prompted its “most vocal leaders to [take] up

the role of policing the majority of Blacks left behind,”66 causing one

author to postulate a “Black silent majority.”67 Another author calls

those left behind “the Abandoned,” referring to them as “a large and

growing underclass concentrated in the inner cities and depressed

pockets of the rural South . . . [in danger of] permanent pathology and

underclass status . . . .”68

In the wake of the “American Spring” protests around police

violence toward members of the black community, “respectable” groups

responded with myriad conferences, attended almost exclusively by

establishment types.69 Their primary approach is to appeal to the moral

62 Lacy, supra note 57, at 1248. 63 Lacy, supra note 57, at 1249. 64 Susan Welch & Lorn Foster, Class and Conservatism in the Black Community, 15 AM. POL. Q. 445 (1987)

(suggesting middle-class Blacks are more conservative in their views compared with poor-working class

Blacks). 65 Wilson, supra note 50. 66 Petersen-Smith, infra note 72. 67 Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Punitive Aspirations, N.Y. TIMES SUNDAY BOOK REVIEW (Sept. 27, 2015), http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/27/books/review/black-silent-majority-by-michael-javen-fortner.html


POLITICS OF PUNISHMENT (2015) (stating “Choosing ‘class-based values’ over racial solidarity [in the War on Drugs, the middle-class Black Silent Majority] cast their lot with cops and white suburbanites.”). 68 Raymond Arsenault, The Great Unraveling, N.Y. TIMES SUNDAY BOOK REVIEW (Dec. 29, 2010)

(reviewing Eugene Robinson, DISINTEGRATION: THE SPLINTERING OF BLACK AMERICA (2011)), http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/02/books/review/Arsenault-t.html?_r=0. 69 See CBCF ALC Town Hall 2014, YOUTUBE (Sept. 25, 2014),

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5TDjhdsHPIs&feature=youtu.be&t=1h13m54s; see also Washington and Bacon, supra note 51.



character of society’s power brokers70 and to stress voter participation

and policy-making reforms.71 Many Black leaders “are more interested

in folding any energy toward racial justice into electoral support for the

Democratic Party, and shaming Blacks for failing to succeed . . . a

perverse politics that blames most Blacks for their own condition.”72

African American youth are finding it increasingly difficult to

conform to respectability politics, because of its basic premise that a

black person is not permitted to behave spontaneously or authentically,

but must always take time to consider what white people will think.73

As my research assistant, Monique Peterkin, put it, “We must constantly

monitor ourselves, our dialect, and our behavior to . . . quell whites’ fear

of [black rebellion],” and so whites can live their lives as if we black

people weren’t there.74 One middle-class, “respectable” black man

described the code of conduct he has prescribed for his “elite children,”

for example:

• Never run while in the view of a police officer or security person unless it is apparent that you are

jogging for exercise, because a cynical observer

might think you are fleeing a crime or about to

assault someone.

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