Why ‘Taking the High Road’ Won’t Save Us and Maybe a Little Shade Will
By Jasmine Banks
“Taking the high road” is a myth and a distraction from revolution. It wasn’t even two days after the United States of America established Donald Trump as president that calls to “take the high road” started. The calls came from white folks who did and didn’t vote for Trump and Black folks who were seemingly embarrassed that the nation, yet again, held a referendum on Black folks and their humanity and confirmed that they could not vote for our wellbeing.
In fact, the ‘high road’ is covertly coded language that leads Black folks to believe that if they act in a way that others deem respectable, that we can elevate ourselves above our own oppression. Taking the high road applies pressure on the victims of oppression to modify their anger and rage in order to package their experiences and reactions for consumption and judgment. The fact is: how Black folks choose to express themselves should never be a measurement of their worthiness to live lives free of harm and domination.
Who gets to judge what the high road is or isn’t? The same folks who protect domination and systems of oppression.
Black people are a diaspora, not a monolith— so the playbook on behavior is as varied as how our Black identity shows up in the world. The high road is often sold as not being assertive, always being nice, and waiting until the folks in power figure it all out for you.
Is There a Wrong Way to Fight for Your Life?
Vulnerable communities create all sorts of tools and mechanisms for their survival. We do this to fight for our lives against the institutions and structures that established to end us. In the fight to thrive, there are no wrong tools. We are resilient, vibrant, and powerful. And, the uses of humor, sarcasm, and “shade” are within the boundaries of struggling against oppression.
Shade, sometimes referred to as the “clapback,” or being “petty” are absolutely valid forms of resistance. As Virgie Tovar says, “Shade is a resiliency tool constructed and wielded by those who have been forced to survive systems of unfairness. Shade isn’t polite, but everyone knows that the high road is over-sold to oppressed people!” Folks who reject being polite, nice, and approachable often do so in order to resist those who say that their commitment to justice depends on how they are treated as allies and co-conspirators. Folks who refuse to “take the high road” while doing the work to dismantle systemic oppression are embracing and aesthetic that takes up space. It threatens the dominant ideals that we should wait around and be nice until we are rescued.
White Comfort isn’t justice
Respectability politics is about making white folks comfortable with “those negroes who don’t know how to act”. Resistance, in this instance, is a refusal to confirm that only certain kinds of Black folks who behave certain ways deserve justice. Those who deserve justice, according to White Supremacy, are those who further the will of white heteronormative capitalist patriarchy through being subdued and submissive unless asked to do otherwise.
White Supremacy teaches that Black folks are animalistic. It forces Black folks have into dehumanized and oversimplified stereotypes and tropes. A myth within White Supremacy is that Black folks are sub-human and so “take the high road” often becomes a way of telling Black folks to “act civilized.” Of course White Supremacy also asks us to be hyper-sexual, fertile, and aggressive when the white gaze requires it and so how we show up in the world is always impacted by white comfort and white needs.
Tamping down our emotional experiences and the “less acceptable” parts of emotional expression is an act of limiting the fullness of our humanity. Therefore, creating space for the expression of our petty feelings is empowering in the face of dehumanizing respectability politics.
Calling for unity, through taking the ‘high road,’ with those who are bent on our destruction is not unity, but a request for those who suffer to disappear into the power of their oppressors.
When White Supremacy rises to the front of the American conscience you can always find the pleas for taking the high road. We should be curious why the call to take the high road is never given to those with the most power, but rather to those whose lives are at risk.
Situations of justice should be polarizing, uncomfortable, and divisive. You got shade? Throw it. Will a good read make you feel better? Read for filth. Do what you need to do to wrestle your way toward more freedom.
Photo via Pixabay
Jasmine Banks is the Managing Editor of MyBrownBaby.com. When she is not curating stories for MyBrownBaby, she is over at JustJasmineBlog.com on that social justice tip and also working for Postpartum Progress, fighting stigma in maternal mental health. She believes in the collective power and beauty of Black folks and women. You can find her Instagram or follow her Twitter.