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If Respectability Won’t Save Us, What Will?

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.

These words sent goosebumps from the nape of my neck down to my toes. As an Iranian-American born into an extremely privileged household, “Reflection on Respectability” had a profound effect on me. The anonymous author of this poem, Crunkadelic, stretched my perspective to understand the adversity individuals of a marginalized demographic will inevitably face every single day in comparison to individuals of the majority. Echoes of the message, “Respectability won’t save us” resonated with my beliefs. The term respectability is defined as:

  1. the state or quality of being proper, correct, and socially acceptable.

“provincial notions of respectability”

  1. the state or quality of being accepted as valid or important within a particular field.

“scientific respectability”

Crunkadelic implies that no matter how much a marginalized population conforms to the majority’s accepted societal way of being, discrimination, stereotyping, racism, murder, microaggression, etcs. still run rampant: “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.”

I will use myself as a point of reference because it is the best one I have. I currently have green hair, gauges and I dress, as what my parents would describe as, “a degenerate.” Curveball: I have maintained above a 3.5 GPA in my all 4 years of higher education and successfully landed a job before even graduating. You would never expect the latter from someone who looks like me, would you? So, what is “respectability,” really? What makes someone “proper”? Is it the way someone dresses? Is it the color of someone’s hair? To my very conservative parents, it is.

Or, is respectability determined by race? Gender? Sexual preference? This poems begs us to acknowledge that to some, it can and is determined by those things.

To me, respectability is what’s inside. In my experience, people do not spend enough time trying to understand what exactly lies beneath someone’s appearance. A pair of sagging pants or an “un-American” accent sparks thousands of assumptions.  Crunkadelic’s impactful words teach us to think deeply about the reality of white supremacy and all its nuances. Supremacy has so many facets, complexities…so much variability from society to society, culture to culture, neighborhood to neighborhood, person to person. Yet, one thing rings true: inequality. So, I ask you…

If respectability won’t save us, what will?

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