New York Daily News

Reflections on Respectability

New York Daily News

Trigger Warning: Discussions of violence

Whitepeople believed that whatever the manners, under every dark skin was a jungle. Swift unnavigable waters, swinging screaming baboons, sleeping snakes, red gums ready for their sweet white blood. In a way, he thought, they were right. The more coloredpeople spent their strength trying to convince them how gentle they were, how clever and loving, how human, the more they used themselves up to persuade whites of something Negroes believed could not be questioned, the deeper and more tangled the jungle grew inside. But it wasn’t the jungle blacks brought with them to this place from the other (livable) place. It was the jungle whitefolks planted in them. And it grew. It spread. In, through and after life, it spread, until it invaded the whites who had made it. Touched them every one. Changed and altered them. Made them bloody, silly, worse than even they wanted to be, so scared were they of the jungle they had made. The screaming baboon lived under their own white skin; the red gums were their own.

Toni Morrison, Beloved

 

We hold these truths to be self evident,

That Black and Brown people in America,

No matter our country of origin,

Are under surveillance by the police state,

Under attack by white supremacy, homophobia, and misogynoir,

And suffer under the threat of annihilation everyday.

Respectability hasn’t saved us.

 

You can get killed holding a sandwich,

Walking home from the corner store, for

Playing your music “too loud,” or even while

Looking for help after crashing your car.

You can see your children swept away in the storm,

You can be gunned down in aisle of a big box store.

Respectability can’t save us.

 

You can be assaulted at a traffic stop,

Be attacked while walking home with your friends,

Get shot 41 times for reaching for your wallet,

Or be left to an ignoble death after second-rate health care.

It doesn’t matter if you are heading to college

Or headed to the corner to slang rock

Our pursuit of Life, Liberty, and Happiness is a pipe Dream.

Respectability won’t save us.

 

Don’t think just showing your ID,

Speaking the King’s English,

Letting go of saggy pants and gold fronts,

Is enough to stem the tide of all our spilled blood,

Is enough to prove that our lives matter.

Respectability was never meant to save us.

 

Only we can stem the tide

By showing up for one another,

Showing out for another,

Loving on ourselves and each other,

Marching, agitating, organizing, and supporting each other.

We’ve always been here and

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

10 thoughts on “Reflections on Respectability

  1. i LOVE You and this. happy BIRTHday to me, and all those who have come before me and left before me.

    (respect due upon all, and artist/poet. could i have permission to read this at my next show up of open mic, credit do always?}

  2. And if you show up at the emergency room with a fever and they send you home.
    And if you are wearing what is supposed to protect you at work and you still get the fever.

    And these are the folks who die or become ill at emergency rooms that we know about…

  3. Wow. Just wow. This was so incredibly powerful. It gave me goosebumps from the nape of my neck down to my toes. As an Iranian-American, born into a household of privilege, your words had a profound effect on me.

    Favorite part (one of them):
    “Don’t think just showing your ID,
    Speaking the King’s English,
    Letting go of saggy pants and gold fronts,
    Is enough to stem the tide of all our spilled blood,
    Is enough to prove that our lives matter.
    Respectability was never meant to save us.”

    Thank you for sharing.

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