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The Politics of Respectability is a Myth

By Featured Blogger Curtina Simmons

There has been much discussion lately about the “Politics of Respectability”. It is a concept as old as dirt that has been defined and redefined since the 1800’s. From what I’ve read and heard, its primary focus has been the behavior, appearance and the criminality of Black people. While exploring this concept, I decided not to frame this discourse in academic rhetoric but offer a common sense analysis on the mindset of elitist, educated Black people who launched this construct of self-hatred and inferiority upon Blacks of “lesser means”.

My question is: “Why do some of us hate our cultural heritage?” Yes, we are African descendants, ,but our culture is that of an African-American which is quite different. Our cultural heritage was born out of slavery and the will to survive. Out of all the cultures and ethnicities in America, why is our intelligence, our appearance and our behavior always cited as being inferior and unacceptable?

What is it about us that is so repulsive that we seek to replicate the appearance, behavior and attitudes of our white counterparts? Other cultures generally cling to those attributes that reflect who they are. It seems that we tend to run from ours. There is nothing wrong with enculturation because Americans are sharing their culture with each other more than ever today. However, there are many elements of our cultural heritage that need to be and can be preserved.

Indicators of “respectability” change over time with each generation. In comparing and contrasting patterns of respectability the 40’s and 50’s come to mind. Women wore hats & gloves. They always wore stockings and young girls wore socks even in the summer months. Outside of work, men wore hats, ties and suits for most occasions. Women didn’t wear pants to church, work or most places. It wasn’t until the early 60’s that girls wore pants to sporting events. There was no such thing as a pant suit unless you were Greta Garbo, a well-known 30’s actress and Hollywood icon who wore custom designed men’s suits on occasion. It was interesting the way she wore those suits with hats, heels and furs. Garbo had a very distinctive feminine aura and mystique about her.

Men opened doors for and tipped their hats to women as a greeting. Most women didn’t smoke or drink in public unless it was a private club, a supper club or a “juke joint” in the south. It wasn’t proper for a woman to attend a social affair i.e. dance, formal banquet, etc. without a male escort. During that time period, women were referred as “ladies” and men as “gentlemen”. In Black households husbands and wives, in the presence of others, would reference each other as Mr. or Mrs.

The desire to be acceptable was so strong among African-American men and women, that they worked tirelessly at altering their physical appearance. There was not a Black woman who did not own a “straightening comb and a curling iron” . An invention that made Madam C. J. Walker the wealthiest Black woman in America at that time. Madam Walker’s company trained beauticians and licensed them as shop operators. Some Black men had their hair “processed” using a lye mixture to straighten it out which often resulted in severe burns to the scalp. Let’s not leave out the skin bleaching creams that left many Black people with pigmentation problems.

You’ve heard all the references and coded language that refers to Black people with a negative inference such as “thugs in the hood”. Which brings up the issue of criminality as a way of life for Black people. In my opinion, it is a false premise because criminality knows no borders it’s found in every culture and ethnicity.

Many Whites see criminality as a major obstacle to success in our culture because of the disproportionate number of Blacks that are incarcerated. Some believe that criminality is genetically inherent in Black people. Not taking into consideration judicial prejudice, the lack of a competent defense, legal advisement and encouraged plea dealing. The reality is if you don’t have the money to hire a competent lawyer you will likely spend time in prison whether innocent or guilty.

As far as I’m concerned, the politics part of this issue is nothing more than nuance. For most African-Americans, all of the “bells and whistles”that are supposed to create the pathway to success boil down to a non-starter. How do you change generational taught racism and practice? How do you deal with poor self-esteem and self-hatred? These are my questions. In my opinion…it has to die and this concept of “respectability politics” needs to die with it. We need to redefine what “decency” is and what it means to us.

For those of us who’ve had access and opportunity let us not forget our humble beginnings. While we sit on our elite perches of relative success let us not forget our brothers and sisters who, for whatever reason, have not been as fortunate. For the educated Black elites, who think that others haven’t tried hard enough…”get over yourself”. You too are not considered the cat’s meow in a white man’s world. Our Black people don’t need to be told how inept they are because their lifestyle is different from yours. They need encouragement not disdain or to be degraded by what you think you know. We all are still in reality learning mode.

One of the things that has puzzled me for some time has been the attitude of some Black people about the food choices we’ve made over the years. It’s a given that many of these choices were unhealthy. However that isn’t the issue for me. The issue is what is the difference between eating snails and fried frog legs and the innards of a pig? Can you eat a fried chicken wing or leg with a fork? Or better yet what is the difference in eating watermelon off the rind rather than in a bowl? Why are these choices so degrading and considered shameful?

White America, your behavior, appearance and criminal instinct is no different than that of other cultures and ethnicities. It is no less or any better. Other cultures don’t need instruction on how to improve themselves. For starters ,the terms Black and African-American are used interchangeably among us. Neither reference infers socio-economic or educational status. Black people don’t need your approval to live as they choose. If you are white and this “shoe” doesn’t fit then these comments are not applicable to you. Social media has revealed how misinformed and under-educated many white Americans are. It must be noted here that no one culture or ethnicity owns “superior intelligence”.

I still have hope for a more productive future for those yet unborn. Why? Because our young Black men and women of today have taken on the struggle for equality. What is refreshing about their resolve is their mantra of “no excuses”. There is no passivity in their effort to bring about change. They are comfortable in their Black skin and confident in their ability to make a difference. They are intelligent and educated. For me that’s half of the answer. The other half is for them to define.

All Cultures and ethnicities want mutual respect and equality as humans in lieu of being judged as unacceptable because of skin color, language and lifestyle. America is not a homogeneous society even though some of us still think it is. If we are to survive as a nation every culture and ethnicity must be able to maintain their heritage, exercise the same rights and privileges as others, and participate in the democratic process.

The End!

Curtina is a Retired university administrator and professor. She is a blogger, political junkie and urban youth consultant. Contact Curtina at moaninmary.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter @moaninmary

(c) 2014 Curtina Simmons

Time Changes Everything!

By Featured Blogger Curtina Simmons

Let there be no doubt about the role of technology in today’s world. We have cell phones, mobile apps, lap tops, Iphones, Ipads and televisions on standby that probably watch us more than we watch them. All of which help us communicate to and from any location in the world. We are communicating with each other and so are these hi-tech devices. Most of our services are managed by computers that talk to each other. Thus, reducing the need for human involvement other than to code and program them. The excitement expressed each time a new gadget or device is introduced is reminiscent of days gone by. I’m beginning to wonder what or how I got anything done before now.

I chuckle to myself when I hear young adults talk about “privacy rights”. In the 40’s we  had rotary land line phones. We had two and three party lines in my neighborhood. You were assigned a number of rings as notification that the call was for someone in your family. Most families had only one phone in the home, Nosy old women would listen to calls others were receiving. What was supposed to be a private conversation  became the neighborhood’s business. Private lines were available for businesses and wealthy people.The 50’s opened the door to extension phones and the affordability of private lines. Touch tone phones emerged soon there after.

I am reminded of the first time I heard about a vending machine and used one. It was the era of automation. You could get a lot of things like sodas, cigarettes, gum, candy etc. out of a vending machine. We were just as excited then as others are today about computerization.  If you were born after 1962 you may not have heard of  “automats”. The most popular one I remember was a complete coin operated restaurant called Horn & Hardart located in  mid-town Manhattan. My friends and I went there for lunch occasionally. It was one of  the forerunners to the “fast food” craze that emerged in the late 60’s.

Without any forewarning I arrived at work one fall morning and a personal computer (PC) was sitting on my desk. I looked at it and thought to myself “Oh Lord ” I just lost my administrative assistant. In addition to my other responsibilities of “things to do” I knew that I would have to learn how to use this PC . Sure enough, in black and white, there was a workshop notice attached to the screen informing me that workshops on computer utilization would begin on Friday. My first act of the day was to inform my husband that the weekend trip to the beach was cancelled. It was 1988 and access was limited to word processing for desk top publishing. Internet access became available in early 90’s at work. Work demands skyrocketed so I purchased a PC so I could work at home.

After some struggle..it wasn’t all that bad if you could resist the urge to stay on the internet all day. Like many other adults over 60 yrs, I’m wondering if technology is a “friend or foe” for older adults?   Unlike younger adults, this requires a different set of skills. It has been a real effort for us to get use to automated telephone inquires. Our nimble fingers can’t seem to keep up with our brain when we try to text. The greater issue for some of us is this on-line banking thing. Automated deposits and withdrawals to pay our bills has been a mind blower. Many of us still do it the old fashion way…personal checks. But we really like the convenience of ATM machines and debit cards.However, the familiarity of paper still haunts us…we want a paper statement from the bank at the end of the month.

According to a Pew Research Study conducted by the Princeton Survey Research Association: for adults 65+ 41% do not use the internet, 53 % do not have broadband access and 23% do not have cell phones. Only 27% use social networking and 18% use smart phones. This study suggests that some of the factors impacting the use of hi-tech capabilities can be attributed to physical challenges, skeptical attitudes and a decline in cognitive skills. However, once they are on-line computer utilization becomes an integral part of their daily lives.  71% go on-line almost everyday and 94% say that the internet makes information more available to them. It’s a mixed bag for those over 75. There is empirical evidence that some skill sets diminish with age i.e. eye-hand coordination and others unnamed.

Whew!! Having said all of that I think computerization plays an important role in maximizing the quality of life. An example might be the progress that has been made in healthcare. The ability to diagnose and treat an illness in its early stages can be attributed to technology. Another  thing that comes to mind that is important for seniors to consider is  “social isolation”. Many of us live alone. It should be a comfort to interact with others through social media if nothing else. Some of us resent not having telephone conversations or  face to face contact with people on a regular basis. Some retirees say they had enough of computers when they were working and are not interested anymore.

It can be said that we’ve been through three stages of growth; mechanization, automation and now the digital age. Each stage bearing its own set of barriers, challenges and successes. There was value in the old and there is value in the new. I believe in progress, however, let us not throw away the good. I have issues with grade school children that are so dependent on computers many of them can’t  spell or don’t have enough cursive writing skills to sign a legal document. It is a combination of the past and the present that create the future. In an effort to remain current I tried windows 8. Hated it because it moved too fast and had too many icons. If Apple becomes the computer of choice…forget it. And  I will forget the computer  in “toto” if and when windows 7 becomes obsolete.

Brook Benton, a well-known recording artist and favorite of mine wrote a song called “It’s Just a Matter of Time”. An excerpt from the lyrics suggest and I quote; “nothing stays the same, everything must change”. And it has.

Got to go now, because one thing that hasn’t changed for me is an occasional “swig” of Hadacol…good for the soul and relaxes the mind.

Curtina is a Retired university administrator and professor. She is a blogger, political junkie and urban youth consultant. Contact Curtina at .wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter @moaninmary

(c) 2014 Curtina Simmons

Are You a Low Information Voter?

Are you a low-information voter? Who is a low-information voter? Why would you want to be one and if you were would you know?

We are bombarded with information from social media, internet news sources, television and radio and print. By our family and friends. And more often than not it is family and friends who accuse us of the low-information conundrum.

If you read and listen and care, you are not low-information. Be you Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green or whatever party, if you give a damn about the world around you, if you take action, you are not low-information.

Look at what we found on the internet: “Low information voters, also known as LIVs or misinformation voters, are people who may vote, but who are generally poorly informed about politics.”

LIVs. Is there an antidote for that?

Do LIVs usurp the democratic process by casting a vote because they can?

Quite honestly we have heard the term used more often by non-Democrats. Why.

In North Carolina, as you are well aware, we have a Republican controlled government. Did we awake one cold miserable day and say “OMG. We have a Republican controlled state government”? No. The Old North State has had other miserable days. But the shock to our system is acute.

But is this actually a chronic condition? People are people, be they blogger or Governor. The only way to be a low-information voter is to be a no voter. Take the time to understand the issues. Research candidates. Vote. And vote for the people you believe will help you to understand the information. Vote for the people who respect you for you. Vote for the people who treat you, the voter, like people.

Some links to assist you:

NCGA – North Carolina General Assembly –

http://www.ncleg.net/

BallotPedia –

http://ballotpedia.org/North_Carolina_House_of_Representatives_elections,_2014

North Carolina Board of Elections –

http://www.ncsbe.gov/ncsbe/

 

(c) 2014 Jeff Egerton/Carolina Observer

Will Mr. Jones go to Raleigh?

I had a chance to sit down with North Carolina House candidate Scott Jones and discuss his vision for North Carolina and what he hopes to accomplish as a Representative in the State House for District 59.  Scott is running as a Democrat against Republican incumbent Jon Hardister and Libertarian candidate Paul Meinhart.

Scott Jones is a life-long Guilford County resident. He graduated from Southeast Guilford High School and was a small business owner. He is a cancer survivor who decided to enter the political arena as an “average Joe”, working for North Carolina and its people. He ran in 2010 for County Sheriff and in 2012 as a candidate for Governor but has not held elective office.  He eschews the party label and believes politicians have made a career of re-election. Scott believes all political office should have term limits. If elected, he would limit himself to no more than three terms in the House.

“North Carolina is rich from the coast to the mountains”, Scott said as he outlined his hope to introduce agricultural legislation that would assist small farmers with low-interest loans to develop their businesses. He has a vision of North Carolina’s farmers developing a system of cooperative stores, especially in “food desert” areas of the state.  A portion of the crops the farms produce would be shared with schools and food banks serving North Carolinians. He hopes the cooperative stores that are part of this plan would assist the economy by creating retail and ancillary jobs.

Scott believes that the North Carolina General Assembly needs to focus on North Carolina. He believes the state is a “land of opportunity” with businesses that could use the incentives that are handed out to other businesses to move and operate in the state. “We have people here”, he said, “businesses and farmers, which want to grow. We should help them first.”

When asked about the school voucher program, Scott said “I can relate, but this is the wrong time for vouchers”. He indicated that North Carolina needs to invest in basic public education and that monies should be used to develop more “technical schools that will help students” enter the work-force. He added that “we need to invest in teachers” and offered a suggestion of certifying unemployed workers who wish to assist teachers and students but may not currently be working in education.

With the issue of healthcare in North Carolina, Scott believes the NCGOP has “dropped the ball” by not expanding Medicaid or assisting people to gain insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Scott said the “ACA has given me insurance” when the insurance company he had been with for years would no longer cover him. “How many people”, he asked “have been hurt by” not expanding Medicaid?

On voting rights and passage of the voter bill, Scott said he believes the elimination of the “straight party” choice is a good thing as it will force voters to be more informed, but “the rest of the bill is not a good thing”. He believes the state should have non-partisan education available to voters to help them understand the new law and to assist with registration and candidate information. “Moral Mondays”, he said, “have been a ‘positive’ as they have” helped North Carolinians to become “motivated” for positive change. “If it is not for the people”, he said, “then we don’t need to discuss it. Moral Mondays bring the discussion to all the people of North Carolina”.

The election road to November may be a rough one for Scott as he is not an established political figure, but he believes that is to his benefit. He sees himself as the average working man, family man, who understands the daily struggles of life in his district. As we finished our conversation, he shook my hand and said “I don’t care who gets the credit (for ideas he implements) as long as it benefits” his district and all of North Carolina.

 

I have included links to information about Scott Jones, including his Facebook page and also a link to the ‘Candidate Filing List’ so you can investigate candidates in your district:

http://democracy.com/scottjones4house/post-detail.aspx?postID=43201

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Scott-Jones-for-NC-House-District-59/135755676529480?ref=stream&hc_location=stream

http://www.ncsbe.gov/ncsbe/Portals/0/FilesP/CandidateFilingList.pdf

 

(c) 2014 Jeff Egerton/Carolina Observer