Respectability politics is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
New video footage regarding the Mike Brown case has emerged, which you can watch here. In the video, which was allegedly recorded 12 hours before his murder, Brown can be seen placing something on the counter of the convenience store that police would later try to say he robbed. In the video, you can see clerks behind the counter smell what he has placed on the counter top, and then Brown is given what appears to be a soda and cigarillos in a grocery bag. The person who realeased the video, documentary filmmaker Jason Pollock, suggest, based on talking to people in the community, that Mike Brown was exchanging marijuana for goods in the store. This has led to a fire storm on social media, where some are claiming that Mike Brown was just coming back to the store to take what was his because he realized that what the clerks gave him as compensation for the marijuana wasn’t equal to its actual value. This has also sparked the question: if this were indeed the case and Mike Brown was actually the one jipped, were the clerks in the store complicit in the killing of Mike Brown? Both are a valid presumption and question that may lead to some very valid anger. Based on my social media feed, I’ve also see responses to this footage that play into the idea that this footage is perfect evidence of why Mike Brown should not have been killed, as in: he was only coming back to the store to get what he was owed, and he didn’t rob it.
I do not need any more proof that Mike Brown should not have been killed by Darren Wilson.
But it doesn’t matter.
It does not matter if Mike Brown was indeed exchanging marijuana for goods in the convenience store, just like it does not matter if he just robbed that store out right before he was killed.
I get it. If this video is indeed true and was ignored by the police department (which is a totally viable presumption, at this point), we have every right to be angry and to call for them to take responsibility. What we can’t do in the wake of this video is start to believe that this solidifies or further proves the fact that he should not have been killed by police.
Him being unarmed and walking away from a police officer already solidified the fact that he should not have died when he did. The officer having no concrete or logical reasoning for firing at him already proved (not legally, of course, thank you American justice system) that he should not have died when he did. I do not need any more proof that Mike Brown should not have been killed by Darren Wilson. We already had all the proof we needed, and if people still needed this video to believe that or to become more vocal about his death, they are dabbling in a mild (yet still harmful) form of respectability politics.
I have a whole video on respectability politics, which can be found here, but a quick overview is this: respectability politics is when those of a marginalized group try to police the behavior of other members of their group because they believe that good behavior (which is determined by the oppressor) is the way to gain respect from the oppressive group. More specifically, black people who asked why Mike Brown was robbing a store and implied that him robbing a store was responsible for his death were engaging in respectability politics. The implication here is that if Mike Brown had not robbed the store and had been behaving in a manner that is in accordance with what white Americans believe is appropriate behavior, he would still be alive today, as if robbing a store means you are deserving of death. This implication also takes the onus off of his killer, who is the actual person responsible for his death.
It’s a tragic and sad situation, yes. I’m right there with anyone who feels even more angered, but we have to remain clear-headed about this. Using this new found footage as a way to try and justify Mike Brown’s innocence is not woke. It is not helping the movement. It is perpetuating respectability politics, and, in the long run, respectability politics help perpetuate white supremacy.
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