Ralina Joseph , University of Washington associate professor of communication, has guest co-edited a special triple issue of the interdisciplinary journal Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture and Society with her former mentor and dissertation adviser, Jane Rhodes of the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Joseph’s own article in the issue focuses on the creator of the television show "Grey’s Anatomy,” set in Seattle.
The special edition, the guest editors wrote , resulted from a panel discussion called "The Right Representation: Race, Gender, and Black Respectability Politics in the Media” held at the 2014 meeting of the Society of Cinema and Media Studies. The issue’s wide-ranging articles on respectability politics in the media range from magazines Jet and Ebony to reality TV show "Preachers of LA” and the lives of pioneering African American scientists and artists.
"The ideals of respectability and the regulation of so-called appropriate behavior have loomed large in the lives of African Americans and other minoritized groups for generations,” said Joseph, who is also founding director of the UW Center for Communication, Difference, and Equity.
The panel’s organizers expected a "lively conversation” about the historical and contemporary aspects of the politics of respectability, but the response was much greater.
"What we found was that the overflowing crowd, while interested in the individual papers, was really focused on the larger topic of how to make sense of race and respectability in our highly politicized and fraught cultural moment.”
Organizing the panel along with Joseph were colleagues Robin Means Coleman of the University of Michigan, Khadijah White of Rutgers University and Jane Rhodes , professor and chair of African American Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who also co-edited the triple issue.
Talking later, they agreed there was much more to say on the topic: "We wanted to further interrogate how the representations of marginalized people bear the weight of depicting whole communities, cultures and races,” they wrote.
The first part of the special issue has articles that take a historical view of respectability politics, and the second part "examines contemporary examples of African American engagement with and struggles over respectability politics.”
Joseph’s own paper in the issue was about the respectability politics of Shonda Rhimes , the "showrunner” or creative force behind the television show "Grey’s Anatomy.”
Joseph wrote: "In the shift from the pre-Obama era to the #BlackLivesMatter era, Rhimes’s careful negotiation of the press demonstrates that, in the former moment, to be a respectable Black woman is to perform strategic ambiguity, or not speak frankly about race, while in the latter, respectable Black women can and must engage in racialized self-expression, and thus redefine the bounds of respectability.”
Souls is housed in the African American Studies department of the University of Illinois at Chicago and is edited by Barbara Ransby, a professor of history there as well as an activist and president of the National Women’s Studies Association.
The triple issue, Joseph said, broke the journal’s record for submissions for a special issue.
Joseph holds adjunct appointments in the Department of American Ethnic Studies and the Department of Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies.
Respectability politics also figures in the current era of protest, Joseph added: "What forms of protest we use, the language of our protest, and whose voice gets heard in a protest are all regulated by respectability.”