Respectability Politics

Oh, Black boy, I see you

Oh, Black boy, I see you trying to polish yourself, your posture, your dress

Oh, Black boy, I see you folding under what they make of you

what they make of us

Oh, Black boy, I see you call for an end to “ignorance”

That we – as we are now – are dregs

Somehow something inside us is broken

Some cog in a shadowy sector of our Machine is rusted over

Never to turn again without your oiling

I see you and I weep

Oh, Black boy, I see you think it will crack some ivory boundary

You think it will somehow strike a beam of enlightenment;

that, at once, they will see their error

How wrong they were to fashion their thoughts into daggers

with which to flay our pride into ribbons

Oh, Black boy, I see you think it will prove them wrong

But – oh, Black boy – I see that you don’t understand

That they will hate us just the same




This poem was written shortly after a conversation Scott had with a fellow about respectability politics in the black community. Scott believes that respectability politics posits that the Black community is holding itself back with regressive culture and that by avoiding those things, we will be better off. He feels that the concept is poorly informed, demeaning, classist, and is used by Whites to undermine the legitimate existential threats to the Black community.