Ray’s Crash Course in Respectability Politics

The power of social media, especially Facebook, helped me learn about respectability politics. I had never heard of respectability politics before today. As my below Facebook post shows, I thought I was helping to improve bike advocacy efforts by policing badly behaved cyclists.

For example, I saw a cyclist go through every stoplight on Fairfax Drive in Arlington, VA last Wednesday during afternoon rush hour. Since I’m tired of hearing well behaved cyclists and motorists tell me how badly behaved cyclists are ruining the image of all cyclists, I tried to chase down the badly behaved cyclist and tell him to stop breaking the law.

While I wasn’t able to catch up with the badly behaved cyclist, I’m thankful I posted this experience on social media. My friends were able to educate me about respectability politics and why it doesn’t work. Even though I was convinced I was doing the right thing by policing badly behaved cyclists, I’m thankful my friends stuck to their reasoning and waited patiently for me to show them that I understood their viewpoint. It took a few days for me to stop arguing my viewpoint and finally understand their viewpoint. Now I can share their reasoning with others that may not fully understand respectability politics.

In case you haven’t heard of it before, respectability politics “refers to attempts by marginalized groups to police their own members and show their social values as being continuous, and compatible, with mainstream values rather than challenging the mainstream for what they see as its failure to accept difference.” Instead of policing cyclists, my friends suggested I encourage people to do the right thing. As Zvi Leve, who is an experienced cyclist living in Montreal, wrote, “I find that positive reinforcement is a far more effective strategy to encourage people to ‘do the right thing’.” Zvi also shared the following CityLab article, which discusses Sweden’s Vision Zero approach to education and enforcement.

Vision Zero Enforcement

Source: CityLab

Speaking of Vision Zero, I’m currently working with GGWash‘s staff to publish my next blog post about why Sustainable Safety, which is the Dutch alternative to Vision Zero, is more effective than Vision Zero.