With Bill Cosby currently the item of the week in social media, a lot of his rantings and ravings have been resurfacing just as the allegations against him. His admonishment of black America’s youth, the “pull up your pants” doctrine and associated “then they will respect you” myth caused me to distance myself from him years ago. His current predicament begs the question, “how’s that working out for you, Mr. Cosby?”
I can tell you how it’s working out for black America. It’s not. Just this week, Florida State University shooter Myron May was killed after attacking students in the school’s library. Mr. May’s Facebook page shows a Bible quoting, bow tie adorned “clean cut” man. He had apparently pulled his pants up, gone to college and even graduated law school. Unfortunately, these things didn’t stop him from suffering, hurting others and being killed.
I bring up that one example only to shine light on the fact that not all criminals are “thugs” or dress a certain way. When Michael Brown was shot over the summer, many wanted to find any shred of evidence to make him out to be a thug, to make him less respectable, less human, less worthy of our sympathy. Many in the black community, possibly Mr. Cosby himself, are embarrassed when they go to bat for someone and then it turns out they aren’t perfect. Many are still looking for the perfect victim to get behind. Sadly, this attitude strips away the humanity of a people who should not be more afraid of the police than the drug dealer down the street. At least the drug dealer lives by some type of code, right?
Respectability politics says if you act right, you have nothing to worry about. If you pull up your pants, go to school, get out of the hood, speak proper English, wear your hair a certain way and associate with good people, you won’t be shot in the street. You won’t be pulled over and harassed by police officers. You won’t have housing denied to you. You will be able to live the American Dream if you just act white, I’m sorry, right.
The problem is this simply isn’t true. Not only is it not true, it takes the onus off of racist people to stop being racist. It’s a form of victim blaming that tells marginalized people they can magically stop being marginalized. It says to us institutional racism no longer exists, we live in a post racial America now. Get over it already! This is akin to telling a rape victim she shouldn’t have worn that tight skirt. As has been said before, when are we going to start teaching rapists not to rape as fervently as we tell women not to dress provocatively? When are we going to tell racists not to harm as fervently as we tell black men to pull their pants up?