Respectable Discrimination: Disciplinary Respectability as Acceptable Prejudice Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Malloy, Tamar
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Political Science
  • Marginalized groups’ adoption of the politics of respectability has been intended as an assertion of humanity, dignity, and a right to self-determination. With disciplinary respectability, dominant groups have flipped that script, using non-compliance with respectability norms as a justification for misrecognition and exclusion. This project explores the ways in which disciplinary respectability is enshrined in laws, institutional policies, and social norms. It argues that excluding expressions of identity from anti-discrimination law, and providing protection only for those aspects of identity that are considered immutable, means that these laws fail to offer meaningful protections. It further contends that disciplinary respectability masks and reproduces prejudice, harms marginalized groups and group members, facilitates ongoing discrimination and inequalities, and conceals systemic oppression. This study proceeds in three parts. First, it explores the ways in which United States antidiscrimination law, most notably Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, permits for respectability-based employment discrimination. It argues that the structure and interpretation of the law—particularly the standards of disparate treatment, disparate impact, bona fide occupational qualifications, community norms, and immutability—allows employers and judges to discriminate on the basis of identity by masking those prejudices in rhetorics of respectability. Second, it explores schools’ use of respectability requirements—policies whose purpose is to require compliance with white middle-class behavioral norms of respectability. It argues that these policies teach a narrow concept of respectability, normalize the idea that people who deviate from respectability are deserving of punishment and exclusion, and are counterproductive to a multicultural, democratic state’s interest in developing citizens with an understanding of and ability to navigate difference. Lastly, it turns to the National Basketball Association’s 2005 implementation of a racially coded player dress code. It describes how the NBA drew on rhetorics of respectability to justify the implementation and enforcement of the code, and uses the cases of Allen Iverson, LeBron James, and Russell Westbrook to explore the ways in which individuals navigate respectability requirements in the face of powerful institutional demands.
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Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Eichner, Maxine
  • Spinner-Halev, Jeff
  • Bickford, Susan
  • Baumgartner, Frank
  • Lienesch, Michael
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2017

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