Respectability Politics, amirite?

Had a discussion earlier, and I came to a very different conclusion than others about the following two tweets:

Others viewed the first as far-too vitriolic, thus, proving-the-point. I saw the second as a provocation of such casual ease that only one firmly ensconced in the safety of the majoritarian bubble could possibly make it, which is then later followed by, my ear, false concern and admonishments for prayer.

Something I’ve been vacillating on the past few weeks/months/years is the role of rhetoric among low-status/oppressed/put-upon when addressing high-status/oppressors. How gracious are they required to be to be allowed by the cultural/social gatekeepers into the conversation? How much of this is playing into the legitimacy of whatever, possible, injustice happening?

Obviously, some/many/most of my four readers will not really agree with me on this particular issue, but, as an example, would MLK have been as effective without a Malcolm X as a ballast(or vice versa) in the wider civil rights movement?

(By the by, I understand nothing I’m saying hasn’t been beaten into the ground forever and forever now by others much smarter than I, but it’s something I can’t really square with myself)

ETA: About fifteen minutes after posting.

11 thoughts on “Respectability Politics, amirite?

  1. David Duke

    I don’t know that the role of rhetoric in specific has been beaten into the ground. Argumentation is often done solely within the informational realm, i.e., the merits of the case, as if everything were being tried in the court of public opinion, whereas rhetoric reaches outside, at least a little bit.

    If anything, we can beat it into the ground here.

    To recapitulate: the model we adopt for argumentation is a courtroom model: trial by jury. That’s not always how life works.

    If ever.

    Let it begin.

    1. boatfloating

      Well, the notion of respectability politics has been debated, at length, by many. In the face of iniquity, how do we respond? Some view respectability politics as the most efficacious, others are more militant. Is there a push-pull between the two? Does either work better in a vacuum? Do they require each other’s presence to effect the most change? yaddayaddayadda

  2. On the question of rhetoric, I do encourage people to “aim high”. If your interlocutor is acting the ass, everyone can already see that. Unless you have the wit of Winston Churchill, allowing yourself to poke fun at your interlocutors without getting muddy yourself, I always recommend “not going there”. I don’t always succeed in my own rhetoric, but that’s my advice.

    As for the Tweets at hand though, I didn’t take offense to the rhetoric but rather to reality the words described – that whores sleep with (other women’s) husbands. This is simply true. And when they admit it in public, it’s supporting evidence to the position that prostitution is harmful to the institution of marriage.

    Really, the rhetoric in this case seemed less interesting than the facts.

  3. Actually, I expect the reason that Maggie “went there” is because it was a way of expressing her superiority (in one field, at least) over the other woman. It was saying “Your husband would rather pay money to have sex with me than have sex with you for free.” She was asserting high sexual-desirability status. And in doing so she let slipped an unpleasant fact.

    1. boatfloating

      1-My reading was the same as Adam’s above.

      2-Well, the discussion about sex worker’s effects on society are neither nor there, I don’t think(at least regarding this post). My questions deal with what’s considered proper behavior among those who are, or, at least, view themselves as, oppressed.

      Re: MLK v Malcolm X. Ex ante, those who’d benefited or enjoyed the status quo disliked the entire thing, and regardless of the tactics used, would rationalize their arguments by whatever means necessary. So, some who poo-poo’ed harsher rhetoric or actions did so with bad faith appeals to respectability, or whatever. It becomes an easy cudgel to wield when faced with any rhetoric/actions that are less than absolute restraint.

      I don’t think if it’s possible to isolate the actions of MLK from the wider civil rights movement, which obviously included Malcolm X, though, some try their damnedest.

      1. To some extent this is simple confirmation bias. You find the “worst” example from a movement you disagree with to write off the whole movement. It’s just that when you’re in the majority, you can comfortably do this, whereas when you’re in a minority, you pretty much can’t afford to. You’ve got to understand the other side and know how to engage it effectively because the status quo is you being ignored or you being in a situation you don’t like.

      2. boatfloating

        Adam, how much of the current conventional wisdom, that MLK was obviously the most effective, is actually true, though? And, how effective is the MLK approach without the Malcolm X approach as, either, a counterbalance or, even, a necessary element of a movement?

  4. @boatfloating I actually wasn’t trying to argue that MLK was more effective, though I tend to think he (and not just him alone but the whole student protest movement that he worked alongside of) was, based primarily on the stuff I’ve seen on the media tactics that they used, and also on the lasting impact he appears to have had on the moral compass of the country.

    I was more trying to talk about ideological insurgents who are more likely to understand the mainstream point of view than the mainstream is to understand them. This is the old argument that conservatives are more likely to understand liberals than vice versa, because the former is exposed via the news, movies, music, and just about all of the arts, and the latter is safe in those areas. There are definitely plenty of people who just go into the nice warm cocoon of epistemic closure. But there are still asymmetries in exposure to points of view you disagree with that result in asymmetries in how many people from X camp understand the point of view of people in Y camp.

  5. It’s possible that, ex post, elites who write history prefer to glorify the MLK’s that fit more easily into their polite society norms. All is well if after every revolution we return to the idea that the way to get ahead is to play the game elites have set the rules for.

    Knowing what’s comfortable for educated elites to celebrate in its formal institutions, political holidays, and textbooks, is only one measure of influence and diffusion of ideas.

    It may be the case that inglorious bastards do the hard work on the front lines of a movement, and that polite society moderates mop up the rewards once the issue has been made less controversial through momentum and spread.

    1. To be fair to MLK, no one considered him particularly polite at the time, in terms of his actions taken. It’s more that his _ideology_ is polite, I think; but your point still stands.

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