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a perspective on luxury: the other side of politics of respectability

a necessary response for the intra-communal violence that is becoming common-place



#1 | when violence against Black bodies erupted into worldwide protests and calls for police reform in 2020, i wrote about the sham of politics of respectability because i was tired of white folx and Black folx alike missing the whole point of our collective outrage. it seemed that Black rage could only be swallowed if it was served with a lowly smile and coated with sugar. as if Langston Hughes’ warning had to be chopped and screwed and shortened only to say: “negroes, sweet and docile; meek, humble, and kind, [the end].” {tl;dr #1 = politics of respectability has its drawbacks and often makes us swallow our holy rage.}


#2 | but, here in 2022, i find myself looking back over that personal essay and wanting to offer a second look and a bit more nuance to the often polarizing topic of politics of respectability. the backdrop of this reflection comes after the death of 25 year-old Black woman, Shanquella Robinson. while on a supposed friend's trip in Mexico, Shanquella was fatally attacked by people with whom she’d traveled and, ultimately, died from her injuries. i struggle to articulate the layers and levels of anger i’ve experienced as more details have been publicized about her case. however, what sticks out to me is that there is something happening in *our* (read: Black) communities. no, i’m not referring to the unrelentingly problematic narrative of “Black on Black” crime - though, i remain concerned for the continued structural barriers that lead our young people to a life of hopelessness and self-destruction. what i am talking about is the steady decline of cultural reverence and love that we have for one another. {tl;dr #2 = the horrible death of Shanquella Robinson asks us to re-confront what we believe culturally about reverence and respect for one another.}


#3 | the easiest way to describe this ontology (a way of being) is to conjure memories of my grandmother. she died early this year at the age of 92 but she was a consummate ‘kind and gentle spirit.’ while my grandmother would have been considered of a certain class or stature, given her marital, educational, and economic status, what everyone said about her was always the same: “Mrs. McSwine loved everybody.” and love she did. it didn’t matter if it was the person who was intoxicated and living on the street or another woman in one of her church’s auxiliary groups, my grandmother treated them with a kind of tenderness that would render healing to the most troubled person. my grandmother knew something i believe we’ve forgotten over time: that luxury isn’t about material comforts; rather, it is about finding majesty in our kin. it is an embodied ethos of honoring the dignity of our Black siblings, no matter their station in life. it is the way we acknowledge, head nod, or speak to everybody Black, whether we know them personally or not. it is the extra lengths we go to make our folx feel seen and affirmed as valuable in a society that hates us. luxury is in our DNA. {tl;dr #3 = an ontology (way of being) of luxury means we understand luxury isn’t in material things; rather, it is about finding majesty in our kin.}


#4 | i still believe the politics of respectability will not result in the wholesale systems change necessary to end white dominant structures of power. however, i believe there is a counter-cultural approach to respectability that *we* must consider as a heuristic to the anti-Blackness, internalized misogynoir, and self-hatred that is causing us to make intra-communal violence our sport of choice. what would happen if we embraced our selves, our very Black bodies, as luxurious? how does the phrase #BlackLivesMatter shift when we rebel against capitalist notions of individual luxury and boldly proclaim our collective existence, and well-being, as they key to our wealth? and what kind of power would we have if we reframed luxury as an embodied, liberatory practice? {tl;dr #4 = politics of respectability is still problematic but shifting our minds to view one another as luxury might help *us* build power.}


perhaps, my wishful thinking is only that: a dream that sounds good in theory but has no practical import or impact. that may be true but it is a risk i’m willing to take a gamble on if it meant no more Shanquella’s would suffer from anti-Black, gender-based violence and femicide. may we all remember and affirm this namaste mantra that i learned as a young hopeful, aspiring to be a soror of Delta Sigma Theta.


i honor the place in you

where the entire universe resides.

i honor the place in you of love, of light, of truth, of peace.

i honor the place in you, where,

when you are in that place in you,

and i am in that place in me,

there is only one of us.


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