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On Being Respectable: the Violent Nature of Acceptance

Darrin Manning and his mother.

“It is sites like Grindr that are the reason people don’t take us seriously.” The words slide off his tongue smooth like whiskey and he doesn’t give a second thought. This gay boy just sits in all his outrage waiting for everyone to agree.

“If these young, black boys would start pulling their pants up and acting like men, maybe they wouldn’t have to worry about getting shot walking home from the liquor store.” It’s Don Lemon calling or Bill Cosby or your mailman. They’ve all been walking your streets and they know what your problems are.

“People wouldn’t be calling you a slut if you would stop walking around looking like you want it.” And this time it’s your mama.

When Darrin Manning was sexually assaulted during a stop and frisk last month we insisted that it shouldn’t have happened because he was a nice kid who never did anything wrong, a straight-A student. When we said he never had any disciplinary issues in school, we were attempting to defend his innocence. But in the process of highlighting his respectability, we also suggested that had he been anything to the contrary his assault would have been deserved.

This year I am making a conscious effort to  be less respectable and you should too. In most of the spaces I inhabit, there are people like myself who are looking to get free. We are being treated badly and we are scared and we are looking for answers. We are scared that they are going to tie us to a fence and beat us till we bleed out if we walk with our wrists hung limp. We are scared that they will think our wallet is a gun before we have time to put money in the meter. We are scared that we won’t make it to the blue light fast enough if we wear those heels out tonight. We are scared all the time. And now we are scared of our mirrors too, but we are looking for answers all the same, and wondering when we are going to get free.

The correct answer is never- as long as we keep conflating freedom with acceptance.

People in the margins are constantly told two important things by people in power. The first is that it is our own fault when bad things happen to us. We get told that we weren’t working hard enough or that we weren’t wearing the right thing, or that we weren’t standing in the right place. The other thing we get told is that we are never going to be accepted unless we do all of the above. And at some point we began believing both of these things: That it is our fault and we are never going to be accepted unless…

This system, which has made us believe we are not worthy of loving unless we are like the majority is clever and ruthless. It is a system that reinforces itself by consistently delivering the same two answers no matter what the scenario. It tells you first to be like them and if you get hurt in the process, it tells you that you should have tried harder. This is a system that polices us using our own bodies and minds. We have come to the point where a man doesn’t have to justify your assault by saying that you were asking for it because your sister already did that for him. We have come to the point where white people don’t have to excuse your poverty by telling you that you’re lazy because your President already did that for them. We are at the point where straight people don’t have to defend their decision to fire you because your best friend told you that you shouldn’t have been so loud about it. This system is violent and it is successful because it is invisible.

What we can’t see is that they will kill us and it doesn’t matter if we’re wearing a hoodie or a tux. We have to push back against the system that asks us to control each other in the process of getting free. Darrin Manning should never have been attacked because he is a person, not because he is a straight-A student. The truth is we are never going to be free unless we demand it. And not because we did something respectable, but because we did nothing except breathe.

2 Responses to “On Being Respectable: the Violent Nature of Acceptance”

  1. bestlittlelion92

    I totally am feeling you on this post! I get tired of the blame the victim game and I’m totally with you on this call for action. One of the sentences that really spoke to me was , “What we can’t see is that they will kill us and it doesn’t matter if we’re wearing a hoodie or a tux.” This is so true and I thank you for bringing this issue to light.



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