Dear Wale: #BlackLivesMatter More Than Respectability Politics Do


Amidst the cultural phenomenon that is Black Lives Matter, there have been voices using self-love as a weapon of shame against the movement. I can’t tell you how many times knee-jerk reactions like “what about black-on-black crime?” or “Martin Luther King wouldn’t have wanted this” have come up whenever BLM protests in cities like Ferguson, Baltimore, or New York pop off. Detractors feel that the Black community won’t receive the love and respect that we crave if we don’t love each other and fix our own problems, as if they’re perpetuated *solely* by us.

Pharrell coined the term “New Black” in his interview with Oprah last year, while she nodded with approval. Diddy claimed via Instagram that we should practice what we preach. Even hip-hop’s prodigal son Kendrick Lamar had his own variation on “If we don’t love ourselves, who will?” published in Billboard earlier this year. The latest celebrity to throw criticism at the BLM movement is D.C.’s Wale, who during a Revolt TV interview, emphasized that Black people should “love ourselves more” before we can expect anyone else to. He ends his interview by saying “I don’t think we love ourselves as much as we used to.”

Here’s something for all Black celebrities who don’t feel that Black people love their community to consider: Regardless of where you grew up, you’re now in a position where you have money and influence; hundreds of thousands of fans are at your beck and call, ready to give you their hard-earned money just to hear some songs or buy an overpriced t-shirt. You worked equally as hard against all odds to get where you are – and your life can still be snatched away in the blink of an eye because of what you look like. Ascending to the top of the world and then turning around and pointing the finger at *your* people is not only disrespectful, it’s incredibly dangerous. Remember: your money, your status, and your white friends can only do so much to protect you.

That’s always been my problem with respectability politics. Whether you’re a straight edge model citizen who grew up in the suburbs and works in a nice office building, a kid from the hood forced into selling drugs or gang banging just to make ends meet, or any kind of personality in between, Black people live in a society that has been systemically stacked against us for nearly half a millennium; the effects of slavery, Jim Crow, and the introduction of crack cocaine still lingering on opinions and legislature in this country like a smell people have been too polite to ask about – until now. People are tired of being polite. They are going to march. They are going to protest. Things will be broken. What more do you expect when the people up top don’t pay attention? Don’t worry. Goldlink’s got you:


The Black community isn’t the problem here. White Flight and the pushing of drugs into bloated urban environments, conveniently stuffed full of Blacks who couldn’t afford better housing because of the racist housing laws and practices of post-WWII America, was – and is – the problem here, and the Black Lives Matter movement is doing far more to address that issue than anyone else. I’m sure it doesn’t look that way from your ivory towers, but self-love isn’t the thing that’s lacking here. If anything is lacking, it’s empathy from people like you.

Some late bars from Open Mike Eagle’s “Dark Comedy Late Show” sum it up best: “They respond to demonstrations wearing kevlar briefs/When the main problem is nobody respects our grief.”

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