I’m Not Impressed by “Respect”: Your Decency Will Not Liberate Us

By Taylor Janay Manigoult

I was once dumped by a cisgender man who, at the culmination of our relationship, sent me a text saying, “I still respect you.”


I was not privy to the fact that respecting me as human being was in wavering condition. I did not know this was a possibility. Unfortunately, I was small enough to feel grateful for respect.

It was a statement among many “let’s be friends” stipulations. I realized he was confirming with me that he had respect for me. This alludes to the fact that there was a chance for that respect to be in question or rescinded – as if his respect for me was contingent upon our sexual and romantic relationship, which suddenly ended.

Prior to that breakup, no man had ever taken the time to break up with me. I’ve been ghosted so many times that it seemed ordinary for men to ostracize me once they were done with our relationship. In a way, I fell more in love with the man that took the time to dump me. For what. His respect and communication ended up being the key to my heart when that’s just the shit that made him a decent human being. Those same traits were the characteristics he prided himself on, especially in comparison to the majority of men in my life who did not respect/communicate with me as a fellow human being.

Basically, the objectification of women is so pervasive in our culture that to consider us respectable humans is the act of heroism. I’m not impressed.

His self-congratulatory attitude is only a consequence of a habit I am really over. People really pride themselves over practicing standard decency to other people, especially when “other people” are a part of a so called marginalized crowd.

I define decency as respecting the human rights of others and accepting/acknowledging identities. All people need to recognize that respecting each other as humans is an act of mere decency. You do not get my vote for being decent. I’m not here for idolizing decency either.

This undeserved glorification breeds the idea that it is possible to arrive to a place above offending people. As if respecting all people inherently makes you an aware and sensitive person. It is not that simple. This idea creates imaginary distance between good people and bad people. We have “good” people calling out “bad” people on offenses all of us practice or have practiced. Consider: because racism is an internalized structure, it is almost impossible to draw a line between racist people and not racist people. There is no clear separation because we all live with internalized evil isms.

The unwarranted pride of being a “good” person often evolves into a hero complex, where there is a separation between struggling and not struggling, a mindset that says “I am a good person, so I am going to help the pitiful, aging woman cross the road.” This mentality paints the hero dynamic: the wonderfully generous, abled, privileged person, and the poor, sad, strugglers... over there. It is an exhausted, patriarchal narrative that I am really over. In this context, heroism is inherently othering. It introduces pity and a towering, separated perspective.

Recognizing the humanity of others in order to help and pity them equates to dehumanizing them altogether, which only contradicts decency. As a queer Black woman, people casually ignore me, question me, and repress me. Too often, some who challenge this norm feel a sense of entitlement and heroism. Don’t look at me like we have this implicit understanding of my struggle because you’re refraining from interrupting me or listening to what I say as a woman.

If you think being an ally means helping those people over there, you’re hurting yourself. Ask yourself if you’re ready to get free because that means helping each other. Our freedom walks hand in hand. No one is separate from the isms; no one is an outside hero. We all suffer under capitalism.

Also, if you are wearing your decency as a remarkable aspect of your character, you can have a seat. White liberals. Bernie Sanders. I see y’all saying no brainers like “women deserve equal pay,” “black lives matter,” “homeless people are criminalized.” Y’all don’t understand: not hating a group of people does not exclude folks from perpetuating racism, transphobia, etc. Black Lives Matter activists will be booed off stage by white liberals, but if Bernie Sanders comes through using their language to talk about racism, he is suddenly championed. Miley Cyrus has been out here with a feminist hat on for a while, simultaneously stealing and appropriating Black culture and using Black women as stage props. Hatred is a symptom of these issues, and depending on who you are, it will manifest differently. People with symptoms beside blatant hatred expect applause and then do some mad problematic shit on the side.

And I’m like, “you cannot play me.” Your decency is not a placeholder for being a progressive, accountable, or loving person. I don’t care if you’re respectful or decent. Your actions will show whether or not you take the time to check yourself.

As a consequence of using decency as a trait, you inevitably play victim when you are corrected. No one is safe from being problematic, and if this righteousness is a part of one’s identity, they will always feel attacked when rightfully put in their damn place. Equating decency to progressiveness stunts consistent analysis of the issues at hand. It is as if folks think they have somehow arrived to a progressive knowledge that enables them to be sensitive. In fact, there is NO arriving to universal understanding. It is not a final destination. On the contrary, if you are for real progress, you are always working toward progress.

And it is hard. I’m no doubt more problematic than I think. Anyone born into this capitalistic culture is. My first impressions and perspectives deserve rigorous questioning and criticism. The eloquence of my political rhetoric does not mean I should not be questioned. No matter the level of someone’s notoriety, their actions and accreditation will never be above critique or flaw. Even those we look up to with righteous, silver-tongued, in your face language need to be held accountable.

I know it is tiresome to always be working toward progress. Exhaustion and burnout is real. It is important to be an accommodating person for the identities of others, and this includes your own. However, I wholeheartedly condemn the end goal of decency. I know if we all take a deep breath, we can do better than that.

Photo: Shutterstock

taylor is a 20-year-old indignant Black person. she is an artist and social justice organizer with Southerners on New Ground in Richmond, Virginia.

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