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Class Contradictions in the Civil Rights Movement: The Politics of Respectability, Disrespect, and Self-Respect

1 Howard Human & Civil Rights Law Review 45 (2017)

Howard Law Research Paper No. 17-2

41 Pages Posted: 6 May 2017  

Harold A. McDougall

Howard University School of Law

Date Written: May 5, 2017

Abstract

In 2014, nationwide protests over police harassment and brutality towards African-Americans surprised many, not only with their passion and broad base, but also by their general disconnection from the civil rights establishment. Similar to the student sit-ins of the 1960s, bright and passionate young people surged forward without the sanction—or even the knowledge—of established leaders. Much as their predecessors fifty years before, the establishment in 2014 sought to get out in front of these young protesters, channel them into approved and controlled activities, minimize any damage to the establishment donor/patronage base, and exploit their energy to advance the establishment agenda. However, there has been pushback. These young people see their constituency as the poor and working class of the African-American community, the ghetto dwellers who occupy ground zero in conflicts with police, rather than the more affluent classes from which so many of these young people have come. Moreover, a significantly larger number of today’s protesters and protest organizers are from the affected communities themselves. These latter participants are often suspicious of established civil rights leadership as well. This paper will explore class tensions that have bedeviled the civil rights movement since its very beginning, yielding conflicting narratives and patterns of activity, and ultimately resulting in the disorder we see today. This paper will also address how we might identify the best these narratives and patterns of activity have to offer, marshalling, and synthesizing them into a more productive approach.

Keywords: Civil Rights, Human Rights Law, Political Rights, Social Rights, Black Lives Matter, Politics of Respectability, Racial stereotypes, Classism, Malcolm X, Civil Rights Movement, Civil Rights Movement History

JEL Classification: K38, K39

Suggested Citation

McDougall, Harold A., Class Contradictions in the Civil Rights Movement: The Politics of Respectability, Disrespect, and Self-Respect (May 5, 2017). 1 Howard Human & Civil Rights Law Review 45 (2017); Howard Law Research Paper No. 17-2. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2963600

Harold A. McDougall (Contact Author)

Howard University School of Law ( email )

2900 Van Ness Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20008
United States

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