Helpfully, in the New Republic, Julia Ioffe warns that African Americans in Ferguson, Missouri have been excessively self critical.
This self-criticismâ€”or self-flagellationâ€”is nothing new. Itâ€™s the return of a phenomenon that is referred to by African-American historians as the “politics of respectability.” â€œDuring times of unrest, black writers going back to the early 20th century have argued that the reason blacks are facing discrimination or police brutality is because they have not been acting properly in publicâ€”particularly young, poor people,â€ says Michael Dawson, a political scientist and director of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture at the University of Chicago. â€œIn the last 20 years, it’s been a criticism of baggy pants, rap music, hair styles. Back in my generation, it was Afros. I remember my grandparents telling me, â€˜you should cut your hair.â€™â€
Respectability, in essence, is about policing the behavior in your community to make sure people are behaving â€œproperly,â€ so as to not attract unwelcome attention from whitesâ€”â€œwith â€˜properlyâ€™ being a normatively white middle class presentation,â€ says Dawson. In feminist discourse, a similar phenomenon among women is described as internalizing the patriarchal gaze.