The Age of Cardi B and Tiffany Haddish: Why it’s time to let go of ‘Respectability Politics’
If you only think "certain" types of Black women deserve respect, your activism is hella flawed.
“Cardi B is cool and I’m not hating on her success – but why do people keep clapping for this hoodrat? Why can’t a classy, sophisticated woman win instead? She’s making the rest of us look bad.”
“Tiffany Haddish is funny but they’re laughing at her, not with her. This is a distraction from intelligent Black women who know how to speak in public.”
If I had a dollar for every time someone – especially other Black women – shared these sentiments as if they were making some riveting social commentary… I’d be rich, but still annoyed.
What these people don’t realize is that their knee jerk response to chastise Cardi B, Tiffany Haddish and other women who represent the “hood” contingent speaks more to their own internal dialogue than the people they’re rolling their eyes at.
I say this with the utmost respect but – ya’ll really need to stop being a slave to respectability politics or you’re gonna get left behind.
For those who don’t know, according to good old Dictionary.com:
“Respectability politics or the politics of respectability is t“
In plain English it amounts to, “Don’t embarrass us in front of white people by acting like something too Black, urban, or uncivilized in public. We still need their approval.”
It’s a mentality passed down from slavery that a LOT of you hold onto not realizing that your haughtiness and disdain for all things ghetto, lowkey has you sounding like a house negro.
For many of you hearing this, it will be a bitter pill to swallow because in your minds you worked hard, learned the King’s English, got a decent job and even figured out how to make yourself presentable for the white gaze.
It’s understandable that you experience a bit of cognitive dissonance when women like Cardi B and Tiffany Haddish get to completely ignore that song and dance, but still win.
And perhaps win even more than you have – to boot.
I get it, from that standpoint, I might be salty too and find myself subconsciously holding someone to an archaic caste system.
But if no one else has told you – let me be the first one to point it out – if you only think “certain” types of women and “certain” types of Black folks (or other minorities groups) deserve respect, free agency, or a right to express themselves as whole humans – your activism is hella flawed.
Sometimes when I hear some of ya’ll talk, I sincerely find myself wondering if you REALLY want us all to be free or if you want the rules to change *just enough* to let you have your turn at being the oppressor.
Because true freedom means giving everyone the right to be an individual – even those you personally think are ghetto.
Free your mind
There are plenty uncivilized, loud, “acting a fool” white folks winning in this world and yet the white community (systemically) gets to keep trucking without a stain on its reputation. Why? Because they are free and therefore allowed to be seen as singular beings whose actions are no reflection of the whole.
Un-free minorities on the other hand, are not afforded that same luxury.
When you hold a person of color to rigid respectability standards and act like there’s only one specific way they can act in order to be validated – you ironically end up sounding like the same ‘Massa your ancestors ran from; an overseer who dismissively separated Black people into groups of “Good negroes” vs “The rest of you n****s.
And the gag is: when you fall victim to that mindset, you end up missing out on the beauty of some pretty amazing black people just because they don’t come wrapped in the package white society told you was acceptable.
Which brings us back to the two ladies we’re focusing on today.
After escaping an abusive relationship, Cardi B built an online brand for herself, and gained legions of followers mostly because people were surprised that a stripper from the Bronx was so funny, engaging and socially intelligent.
That fanbase ultimately led to Love & Hip Hop executive producer Mona Scott Young asking her to be on the VH1 franchise, to which Cardi only agreed to do two seasons so she could make her mark – then go back to working on her craft.
She spent years in the studio studying people’s techniques and learning the ins and outs of how the industry worked.
In the midst of all that, she still kept feeding her online brand, strategically had her team market her both domestically and internationally, forged partnerships with popular platforms like Fashion Nova, and then (seemingly out of nowhere – but really not) proceeded to shatter sales records we haven’t seen since the golden era of Lauryn Hill.
And she did this all before her 25th birthday.
I assure you, that is NOT the story of a lucky hoodrat who just happened to go viral for “God knows what reason.”
You don’t even have to like her music to admit that.
And, then there’s Tiff…
Similarly, after being yanked from her family due to her mother’s mental health issues, Tiffany Haddish climbed her way out of L.A.’s seedy foster care system, spent over a decade in comedy clubs perfecting her craft (while warding off the advances of creepy men), slept in her car while hustling to auditions with the focus of a Jedi, and then networked her butt off, just so she could be in the right room – at the right time – to land the role that changed her life.
Again, that is NOT the story of a lucky hoodrat who just happened to end up in the biggest female comedy of the last decade.
Despite what some of ya’ll may like to tell yourselves to feel better about your own plots in life, luck and “coonery” are not the magic combination to the level of success that either of these ladies are now experiencing.
Their work ethic is other-worldly and personally, I’m tired just thinking about what they had to do to get here. Unfortunately, a lot of you missed ALL that just cause you don’t like the way they talk.
While simultaneously yelling, “Yaaasss! Black Girl Magic!” at every bougie sister you see simply having a good hair day.
For your information
Please remember that for generations Black folks were banned from good schools, while having our own institutions given subpar educational resources. The deck has been heavy-handedly stacked against us.
Yet, in the face of all those inequitable adversities, in 2018 Black women are still the most educated group in the country.
So when I see products of our failed system like Cardi B and Tiffany Haddish; who were clearly not raised to “code-switch”, breaking down barriers and making an amazing life for themselves, in spite of the odds, I don’t see a ghetto hoodrat whose achievements and popularity need to be dismissed or discounted by her own community.
I see the living embodiment of a miracle.
I hope some day you get free enough to see the same.
Follow writer Blue Telusma on Instagram at @bluecentric