Sunday, October 30, 2016

Now Do You Like Me?

While drifting around online looking at news and commentary, I came across a story of another Black supporter of Donald Trump being ejected from a rally, on orders of the candidate, because he'd been mistaken for a protester and a paid "thug." Earlier today, I decided that I'd track down the story again. A quick Google search started turning up stories before I'd even finished entering search terms, and one thing I noticed is that almost all of them were from left-leaning commentary sites - but there was also one on Russia Today, "Trump mistakes black supporter for 'thug' and removes from rally."

One of the interesting things about the Russia Today article was that it included some tweets from the person in question, an ex-marine named CJ Cary. This bit, in particular, stood out for me: "It's not his fault he did not know who I was at that moment. He has been so traumatized by Black hate.." Part of it is politics as usual - we tend to have high standards for political candidates (or pretend to, anyway), and rather than admit that we support someone despite the fact that they fell short on a particular occasion, we tend to move the goalposts. So far so good. But the concept that Mr. Trump was unable to view Mr. Cary as an individual, simply because of the color of his skin, due to the fact that most Black voters actively oppose him ties into one of the ongoing debates that has roiled the Black community for the past hundred years or so: Respectability politics.

In a nutshell, respectability politics says that the respect of others is something that a person or a group purchases by behaving in a way that the others find respectable. While in many circles, respectability politics is considered a particularly insidious form of victim blaming, there's another way of looking at it: beggars can't be choosers, even when they feel that the have a moral entitlement to choice. Mr. Cary's formulation that its the fault of Black people that Donald Trump appeared to confirm the widespread impression of him as a racist, will likely be said by some to blow clean through respectability politics on its way to Uncle Tom/"slave mentality" territory, but it fits in with the overall message of respectability politics, namely that Black America needs to clean up its act if they expect to be respected by White America.

In the end, respectability politics divides the Black community because it it expects a high degree of unity from it. It's difficult enough to order pizza for five with any degree of unanimity, the idea that you're going to be able to drive an agreement among some 26 million adults on a plan to meet the not-monolithic-either expectations of of White America is little more than a pipe dream. And in that regard, the idea that in order for any of us to be treated as individuals worth the benefit of the doubt, an overwhelming majority of us are going to have to toe an ever-shifting line seems ridiculous.

The irony of Mr. Cary's case is that "Cary says he wanted to deliver a note to Trump urging him to be less offensive and more inclusive to four demographic groups: black people, women, people with disabilities and college students." Which seems a lot to ask of a "traumatized" man.

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