Catsuits & Tutus: Politics of Respectability
It seems like people finally are getting it! Before that newfound grasp of knowledge flits away like a box of warm Krispy Kremes, let’s talk.
Serena Williams wore a bodysuit which she said reminded her of the greatness of one of the blackest mainstream movies in recent years, Black Panther. What did the French decide in all their whiteness and hatred? That the compression suit, for Serena’s health, was not only unacceptable but banned. But like the true clap back slightly petty queen, Serena wore a whole damn tutu and (compression) fishnets to the US Open. And on that day not a word was heard other than to congratulate sis on being Petty LaBelle.
But that’s the whole damn point. Serena wore what she felt like wearing and WON her game. Her athleticism and her dedication to her work was not impeded by her style of dress. When you work to do the job at hand, when you’ve studied, worked hard, practiced, prepared, your style of dress has no effect. But, there are still so many people who will police the dog shit out of others for what they wear in the workplace. For how they look in a school. For how their hair is coiffed in public. We are constantly policing how the bodies of others are presented in various spaces. The problem is that we think we are just trying to help someone get ahead or to do better but we are really being agents of White Supremacy. We continue to say that only white people are professional individuals worthy of time and attention. We continue to buy in to the white supremacist, patriarchal. capitalist mindset that tells us in order to be considered a person of value and worth we must show we agree with the purchases we make. From suits to collared shirts, from heels to make up, we change who we are to fit the narrative that says we are worthy.
I am not saying that everyone is of the mindset to change who they are through consumption of the unnecessary; shit, I’ve been known to purchase more than a few useless items that I thought were pretty. But I also understand the source of my actions many times over. I am honest with myself about why I do what I do and what narratives I have bought into. I am actively working to resist, reroute the streets of my mind, and decolonize metaphorically what has been physically snatched. But those who don’t self examine make no choices for themselves, only the ones that they have been told to make, through conscious or subconscious means.
Wearing a tutu and fishnets says that she can perform the functions of her job without hindrance. Wearing a bodysuit shows that she is serious about her job and her health. Being told no is not a function of maintaining the sanctity and traditions of the sport. It is about maintaining the cishet white male gaze in the arena. To allow perverts to get their rocks off in rising skirts. Banning a catsuit is not about athleticism as it is about the idea of propriety and if they are seeing too much body to be titillated by the rising of skirts. Denying a Black women a catsuit and banning it from future use is a desire to do what they know would be of detriment to them. After all they don’t want to raise their flag of white supremacy too high. They don’t want to truly utter what they mean. What they mean to ban in her black catsuit is her Black self. What they want to say is “You aren’t welcome.” What they wish they could do is ban Serena. I get it. It hurts to have someone you think is beneath your superiority come to your own house and school you in the ways of holding shit together. It’s exhausting that no matter how hard you try to beat someone you deem beneath you by race and sex, you are not even second best. It hurts. So your plan? Kill her. You plan is to make it so she cannot have what she needs while you disguise it in pretty rhetoric about traditions.
We do the same daily with how we judge people on how they dress. With classist traditions about what you can wear and when. About how you are allowed to appear in the spaces that white people wish you would remain out of. So they change the rules, they move the marker. And instead of saying fuck it and fuck you, you bend. They have you by the balls after all. They dictate your ability to get and keep a job through power. They redline you out of neighborhoods. They allow their white brethren to swarm into what was once your own damn neighborhood and make you feel unwelcome and under threat of violence. We chip away daily at who we are and what we could be under the guise of traditional workplace clothes.
White women dress to prove themselves worthy of their white male counterparts. And everyone else follows suit hoping to be noticed. Hoping to be picked. Hoping to be a model enough minority to gain power to wield against others. We work in the machine. We keep white supremacy going. We allow politics of respectability to take center stage from fear and hunger. We police ourselves and then police others. Except today. Today, you praise the audacity of Serena. Tomorrow, you’ll condemn the person who came to work wearing jeans.
..or I guess now, you can keep talking sh!t because you now feel Serena behaved badly. It seems we are almost out of Krispy Kremes.