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  • Writer's pictureRosa Cabrera

Respectability Politics: A Chokehold on Survivors

RooT doesn’t subscribe to respectability politics. Why? Respectability politics, the notion that if you pull your pants up, speak the king’s English, hold a respectable job, or in other ways live a conventional lifestyle, then you are guarded from institutional isolation and harm. Respectability politics is a component of rape culture. It gives false permission for individuals and institutions to blame survivors for harm done to them because they didn’t “act right,” or in some way invited abusers to abuse them. It makes survivors seem unbelievable or lacking credibility. When their perpetrators are in alignment with the politics of respectability, the codes of power, as most perpetrators of social and political clout are, community members turn to shunning survivors and protecting those codes of power that the perpetrator upholds. It protects institutions by blaming a whole heap of folks for their plight, for poverty, for sexual assault, by holding up a few “made it” types or “firsts” welcomed by these institutions, (what we call exceptionalism) so folks within them don’t have to think about the ways in which poverty, racism, transmisogyny, and abuse occur systematically – yes, on fuckin’ purpose.

RooT upholds a politics of identity that is inclusive of folks who have been beaten by life, folks with expressions that are affirming but have been thrown to the margins of society. If you’re a single mom on welfare, you deserve protection. If you’re undocumented, you deserve protection. If you’re transgender, you deserve protection. If you’re homeless, you deserve protection. If you’re disabled, you deserve protection. If you’re a student who is struggling through classes, on academic probation, or dealing with depression, you deserve protection. If you don’t own a degree or aren’t interested in ever owning one, you deserve protection. If you’re a survivor who won’t stop talking about your abuse, despite your family’s or community’s coercive tactics to hush you in order to protect your abuser, you deserve protection. If you’re a sex worker, you deserve protection. If you’re dealing with addiction, you deserve protection. If you’ve been formerly incarcerated, you deserve protection.

Fuck that. You don’t need to dress a certain way, live a certain life, speak a certain way, or know certain people to be protected from sexual, emotional, physical, or domestic abuse. You deserve to feel safe.

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