Respectability Politics Definition

Learn about respectability politics and how marginalized groups conform to societal norms to gain acceptance. Explore examples, case studies, and statistics.


Respectability politics is a term used to describe the actions and behaviors that marginalized groups adopt in an attempt to gain acceptance and approval from dominant societal groups.

What is Respectability Politics?

Respectability politics involve conforming to mainstream standards of behavior, appearance, and values in order to be viewed as worthy of respect and acceptance by society.


  • Dressing in a professional manner to combat stereotypes of laziness or incompetence.
  • Condemning members of one’s own community for engaging in behaviors deemed unacceptable by society.

Case Studies

One notable example of respectability politics is the civil rights movement in the United States. Leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. advocated for nonviolent resistance and portrayed black activists as respectable, middle-class citizens deserving of civil rights.


A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 57% of African Americans feel pressure to be successful in order to gain respect from society.


While respectability politics can provide short-term advantages, critics argue that it perpetuates systemic inequality and upholds oppressive power structures. It is important for individuals to challenge these norms and advocate for respect and acceptance of all people, regardless of their adherence to societal standards.

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