A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from July 29, 2011
Politics of Respectability

The term “politics of respectability” is credited to a chapter title in Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham’s book, Righteous Discontent: The women’s movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920 (1993). “Politics of respectability” had been infrequently cited in print before 1993; the practice of the “politics of responsiblity” had been used in the civil rights movements of the 1960s and earlier.

“Politics of respectability” means that members of a minority group should behave responsibly within societal norms to become accepted. Irresponsible behavior by a single member of the group can be used against the entire group, preventing acceptance. Many people have rejected the “politics of respectability,” arguing that groups should be accepted into society first, without having to conform to others’ ideas of respectability.

Harvard University—Department of African and African American Studies
Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham
Victor S. Thomas Professor of History; Professor of African and African American Studies
Chair of the Department of African and African American Studies
Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham is the Victor S. Thomas Professor of History and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University.  She is currently the chair of the Department of African and African American Studies and has held this position since 2006.  She also served as Acting-Director of Harvard’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute in the Spring 2008.

Google Books
Righteous Discontent:
The women’s movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920

By Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press
Pg. 185:
Chapter 7
The Politics of Respectability
Pg. 186:
The black Baptist women’s opposition to the social structures and symbolic representations of white supremacy may be characterized by the concept of the “politics of respectability.”
Pg. 187:
The politics of respectability emphasized reform of individual behavior and attitudes both as a goal in itself and as a strategy for reform of the entire structural system of American race relations.

OCLC WorldCat record
Dark continent of our bodies : black feminism and the politics of respectability
Author:  E Frances White
Publisher: Philadelphia : Temple University Press, 2001.
Series:  Mapping racisms.
Edition/Format:  Book : English

OCLC WorldCat record
Citizenship, welfare rights and the politics of respectability in rural and urban Mississippi, 1900-1980.
Author:  Amy Kearney Jordan
Publisher:  2003.
Dissertation:  Dissertation (Ph.D.)--University of Michigan.
Edition/Format:  Thesis/dissertation : English

OCLC WorldCat record
Gatekeeping and Remaking: The Politics of Respectability in African American Women’s History and Black Feminism
Author:  Paisley Jane Harris
Edition/Format:  Article : English
Publication:  Journal of Women’s History, v15 n1 (2003): 212-220

Google News Archive
10 August 2006, Sarasota (FL) Herald-Tribune, “Among other blacks, gays work for acceptance,” pg. 3E. cols. 3-4:
Boykin cites what he calls the “politics of respectability”—the belief, common to many minorities, that the “sins” of any individual will be held against the group as a whole.

Nothing new about Something New
Posted by Robyn Citizen • 9 Oct 2006
Her mother Joyce (Alfre Woodard) believes in the “Politics of Respectability”, a civil-rights era concept that emphasized the importance of blacks acting with self-restraint, self denial and strictly within the parameters of “respectable"behavior circumscribed by whites.

The Debate Link
Do We Still Need Civil Rights After Obama?
The focus on Obama’s victory helps to maintain one of the more pernicious elements of the “politics of respectability” model of civil rights reform. During the civil rights struggle, Black leaders were very careful to present only their most cherubic, idealized face. Their most innocent children, their most clearly qualified applicants, their most gifted (and fair-minded) leaders. It would be far more difficult for the wardens of White supremacy to argue that these people should be excluded from the fruits of the American dream.

Google Books
New Blood:
Third-wave feminism and the politics of menstruation

By Chris Bobel
New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press
Pg. 145:
In Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880–1920, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham introduces the term “politics of respectability,” a concept that asks each African American to “assume responsibility for behavioral self-regulation, and self-improvement along moral, educationa; and economic lines.” She uses this term to characterize the Progressive-era activities of the Women’s Convention of the Black Baptist Church. Championed especially by Black Baptist women, the “politics of respectability” dictated a life devoted to temperance, hygienic practices (of both the body and property), frugality, and self-representation that was mannerly and sexually untainted.

Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
Fulfilling King’s Dream
by Zachary Norris on Mar 31, 2011
Theoretically, many people of color are still hung up on a failed “politics of respectability” that King himself abandoned. The principal tenet of the “politics of respectability” is that, freed of racial discrimination, {people of color} can meet the moral standards of white middle-class Americans.”

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • (0) Comments • Friday, July 29, 2011 • Permalink