One of the blogs I read on the regular is Dances With Fat; I like the material and it’s turned me on to lots of HAES resources and ideas. It was interesting reading her post “There Are Two Kinds of Fat People” today, because it reminded me of the baloney Bill Cosby used to put in his stand up act (when he was still somewhat respected because we hadn’t found out about his bad sexual assault habit) talking about black men.
There are a ton of black comedians (and of course, comedians of other races, but we’ll ignore them in favor of people who have actual lived experience and have a voice as people of color) who talk about different kinds of black people. Chris Rock had the most famous bit (I think), talking about how he hates n*****rs. You can watch it here.
His bit is clearly part of respectability politics, the idea that if you act good enough, achieve high enough, try hard enough, that you will then be treated as a human being, worthy of respect and consideration, by the dominant class. Generally, this involves simply adopting the ideas, mannerisms and goals of the dominant class, without regard to your personal autonomy or being able to choose your appearance, dress and presentation.
An excerpt from Buzzfeed, of all places, sums it up:
Society has spent decades, if not centuries, just waiting for black people to “get it,” and one by one these brave messengers will come, sharing with us the gospel of how it’s all our fault…but hey, we can fix it.
But in order to become “respectable,” the targeted group is always encouraged to change. And the changes always, always require the targeted group to become more like the dominant group. If black people act more like white people, or women act more like men, or gays and lesbians act more like straight people, they’ll all see the same outcomes. But the underlying goal of this is to stop being “different.” Act “normally,” and you’ll be treated normally, but if you step outside those boundaries, it is your fault and your fault only.
(full article here)
As you might have guessed, I don’t buy into this idea. I may have personal preferences for how I enjoy people to behave, but those are my preferences. People deserved to be treated like people, no matter how they choose to dress or present themselves.
The idea of a “good fatty” is the same kind of respectability politics. I figured this out finally – the reason I was so defensive when I’d go to the gym for only 30 minutes rather than an hour, or the reason I still can’t look a clerk in the eye when I buy an ice cream cone, is because I feel like this is proof I’m a “bad fatty.” I was being judged, I deserve what I get, I am disgusting, and if only I would deign to change my lifestyle, life would be easier and better for me. Any bias or judgment or discrimination is my own damn fault for not caring enough to change.
Someone’s appearance is not a judgment of their worth. Wasn’t it Martin Luther King Jr. who wanted his daughters to be judged on the content of their character, rather than the color of their skin? Yet here we are, adding prejudice to our already bright array of ill-formed ideas about what a good, normal person is like rather than opening our minds and hearts to the beautiful diversity so essential to the human race.
People deserve to be treated like people. The end.
(all images link to original sources)