Respectability Politics: What It Is and Why It Matters?
🕒 29-May-2023

Respectability Politics: What It Is and Why It Matters?


Respectability politics is a term that describes the idea of conforming to mainstream social norms. And values to gain acceptance or respect from those in power. It is often use in discussion of race and ethnicity, particularly in the context of marginalize community. In this article, we will explore the history and meaning of politics. Its impact on marginalized communities, and how it can perpetuate inequality.

What is Respectability Politics?

Politics is a concept that has around for over a century. but it gaine renew attention in the 2008 U.S. presidential election when then-candidate Barack Obama accuse of not being “black enough” by some African Americans.

The concept of politic is root in the idea that marginalize group. must conform to mainstream social norm and value to gain acceptance and respect from those in power. This mean that individual from marginalize groups must present themselves in a certain way. Often by dressing a certain way, speaking a certain way, or adhering to certain moral standards.

The history of politics can trace back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries when African American leaders Intellectuals promoted the idea of “uplifting the race” through education, hard work, and moral purity. This ideology was know as the “politics of respectability” and was see as a way to combat negative stereotypes of African Americans that were prevalent at the time.

However, politics has also used as a tool of oppression. For example, during the civil rights movement, some African American leaders urged protesters to dress in their Sunday best and avoid confrontational tactics to appear more respectable to the white majority.

This approach was criticize by more radical activist who believe that politics undermine. The movement’s goals by prioritizing the feelings of white people over the rights of Black people.

Respectability Politics

Impact of Politics

Politics can have a significant impact on marginalized communities. On the one hand, conforming to mainstream social norms. And values can lead to greater acceptance and respect from those in power. However, it can also perpetuate inequality by reinforcing that there is only one “right” way to behave or present oneself. This can lead to the marginalization of individuals. Who do not conform to these norms, such as those who are LGBTQ+ or have disabilities?

Moreover, politics can use to blame the marginalized individual for their oppression. For example, the idea that poor people are poor because they lack moral character or a work ethic is a form of politics. That ignores systemic factors such as poverty and discrimination. This can lead to victim-blaming and a lack of support for policies that would address the root causes of inequality.

Ways to Combat Politics

One way to combat politics is to recognize that there is no one “right” way to behave or present oneself. This means acknowledging and celebrating the diversity of experiences and identities within marginalized communities. It mean rejecting the idea that marginalized individual must conform to the mainstream social norm to be accepted or respected.

What It Is and How It Impacts Marginalized Communities?

As members of society, we often hear people talk about “politics,” but what does it mean? politics refers to the idea that marginalized communities should conform to the norms, And values of the dominant group to gain acceptance and respect. In this article, we’ll explore. What politics is, how it has use historically, and its impact on marginalized communities today.

What is Politics

Politics is a strategy that marginalized communities use to gain acceptance and respect from the dominant group. It involves conforming to the dominant group’s values, norms, and expectations to be seen as “respectable.” This strategy is often employed by marginalized communities. Such as Black people, LGBTQ+ individuals, and women, to counter negative stereotypes and gain legitimacy in the eyes of the dominant group.

Politics is often characterized by an emphasis on presenting oneself in a way.That conforms to mainstream standards of behavior and appearance. This can include dressing conservatively, speaking in a certain way.And avoiding certain behaviors or activities that may be seen as deviant or controversial. The goal is to present oneself as a “model citizen” who is deserving of respect and equal treatment.

How Has Respectability Politics Been Used Historically?

Politics has been used by marginalized communities throughout history as a means of survival and advancement. For example, during the Civil Rights Movement, Black leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks were careful to present themselves in a dignified and respectable way to gain the wider public’s support. They knew that their appearance and behavior would be scrutinized by the media.And used as evidence to either support or discredit their cause.

Similarly, LGBTQ+ activists in the 1980s and 1990s often emphasized.The “normalcy” of their lives and relationships to gain acceptance and legitimacy. This involved presenting themselves as monogamous, middle-class, and committed to traditional family values. Which were seen as more acceptable to the wider public.

However, politics has also been criticized for perpetuating harmful stereotypes and reinforcing systemic oppression. For example, Black people who conform to politics may be seen as “model minorities” who have “made it” in an inherently unequal society. This reinforces the idea that if other. Black people fail, it is because they are not trying hard enough or are inherently flawed.

Similarly, LGBTQ+ individual who presents themselves as “normal” and “respectable” may be seen as reinforcing heteronormative values and stigmatizing those who do not conform to these norms. This can result in a lack of support for more marginalized members of the LGBTQ+ community, such as trans individuals and people of color.

Respectability Politics

Politics: A Closer Look

Politics refers to the set of beliefs and behaviors that some people. particularly those from marginalized communities.Adopt to gain respect and legitimacy in the eyes of the dominant culture. These belief and behavior are often as a way to avoid negative stereotypes and discrimination. But they can also have negative consequences for those who adopt them.

In this article, we will explore the concept of politics in more detail. Discussing its history, its impact, and its relationship to social justice movements. We will also address some of the most common questions and misconceptions surrounding this complex and often controversial topic.

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History of Politics

The origin of politics can be trac back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries when African Americans in the United States were facing intense discrimination and violence. To combat negative stereotypes and gain social and political power, some African American leaders advocated for the adoption of “respectable” behaviors and attitudes.

This behavior and attitudes included dressing modestly, speaking proper English, and avoiding behavior seen as “uncivilized” or “immoral.” The idea was that by presenting themselves as “respectable,” African Americans could gain the respect of white Americans and overcome racism and discrimination.

Similar movements emerged in other marginalized communities, such as the LGBTQ+ community and the women’s rights movement. These movements encouraged members to adopt behaviors and attitudes that would make them more acceptable to mainstream society.

Impact of Respectability Politics

While politics may have helpe some individual gain acceptance in the dominant culture, it has also been criticized for perpetuating harmful stereotype and reinforcing systemic oppression.

One of the main criticisms of politics is that it places the burden of ending discrimination on marginalized communities themselves, rather than on the systems and structures that perpetuate discrimination. By focusing on individual behaviors rather than systemic change, politics can distract from efforts to address the root causes of inequality.

Additionally, politics can create a “respectable vs. non-respectable” dichotomy within marginalized communities, with those who are seen as “respectable” often looking down on those who do not conform to these standards. This can create division and infighting within social justice movements and detract from collective efforts to achieve equality and justice.

Politics and Social Justice Movements

While politics has criticizefor its negative impact, it is important to note that the desire for respect and acceptance is a natural and understandable human need, particularly for those who have been historically marginalized and oppressed.

Moreover, some argue that politics can be a valuable tool in certain context, particular when marginalize individual seek access to space or opportunity that have historically been closed off. By presenting themselves as “respectable,” these individuals may be able to gain access to these spaces and opportunities and work towards creating change from within.

However, it is important to recognize the limitations of politics and to work toward systemic change that addresses the root causes of inequality and oppression.

Respectability Politics


Q. What is Respectability Politics?

A. Politics refer to the belief that marginalized groups must present themselves in a “respectable” manner to gain acceptance from dominant groups. This involve conform to mainstream norms and value and distance oneself from behavior or attribute that are stigmatize by society.

Q. What are the Drawbacks of Politics?

A. Politics can reinforce harmful stereotypes and perpetuate discrimination against marginalized groups. It can also place a burden on individuals to constantly monitor and police their behavior to conform to dominant societal norms, which can be exhausting and limiting.

Q. Where does the term “Respectability Politics” come from?

A. The term “politics” was first coined by Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham in her book “Righteous Discontent. The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920.” The concept has sinc applied to various social justice movements and marginalized communities.

Q. How does Politics Intersect with other forms of Oppression?

A. Politics can intersect with other forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, homophobia, and ableism. For example, individuals from marginalized groups. Those who do not conform to dominant societal norms may face discrimination and stigmatization on multiple fronts.

Q. What is the Alternative to Politics?

A. The alternative to politics is the idea of embracing and celebrating one’s identity and differences. Rather than conforming to dominant societal norms. This involves challenging and dismantling oppressive systems and advocating for equality and justice for all individuals. Regardless of their backgrounds or identities.


In conclusion, respectability politics is a complex issue that affects marginalized groups in various ways. While the desire to gain acceptance and respect from dominant groups is understandable. Conforming to dominant societal norms can reinforce harmful stereotypes and perpetuate discrimination.

We can move toward a more inclusive and equitable society by challenging and dismantling oppressive systems. And advocating for equality and justice for all individuals. And celebrating differences rather than conforming to dominant societal norms.

It is important to recognize the impact of politics and work towards creating a world. Where individuals can fully express their identities without fear of discrimination or stigma.