Length: 6:35; 4:43
Access: YouTube (clip 1; clip 2)
Summary: In the wake of the Trayvon Martin case, media debates about crime and problems in African American communities were especially prominent. In the first clip, CNN anchor Don Lemon responds to these discussions with his own ideas about how young Black men can improve their communities and raise their social standing. He suggestions include: “pull up your pants,” stop using the “N word,” “respect where you live” by not littering, “finish school,” and “just because you can have a baby, it doesn’t mean you should.” In the second clip, blogger Jay Smooth responds to Don Lemon’s comments, breaking them down as part of a “politics of respectability.” According to Smooth, Lemon’s comments serve to implicitly blame young Black men for their problems, helping more privileged members of the Black community ameliorate the shame they feel as a result of internalized racism. These clips are useful for class discussions about race, internalized racism, and how racism persists in the context of colorblindness. They are particularly useful for introducing the concept of respectability politics. In the words of Tamara Winfrey Harris, “respectability politics work to counter negative views of blackness by aggressively adopting the manners and morality that the dominant culture deems ‘respectable.’ The approach emerged in reaction to white racism that labeled blackness as ‘other’—degenerate and substandard—with roots in an assimilationist narrative that prevailed in the late-19th-century United States.” Questions for classroom discussion might include: What are other examples of respectability politics that students have observed in communities of color? How does respectability politics function in other minority groups such as immigrant communities, the LGBT community, and people with physical or mental disabilities? What are the consequences of respectability politics (social, political, institutional etc...)?
Submitted By: Anya M. Galli