“Mister,” once Master, owner of property, land, estate, or slaves, or one possessing great knowledge and proficiency in the arts, has been reduced to use when a man’s name is unknown, as in, “Hey Mister.” Some of you men may remember being called Mr. as a child when you were scolded for misbehaving. Right or wrong, accurate or inaccurate, my perception of Mister is what precedes my name as a sign of respect. Mr. Davis. Mr. Jaye, and Sir, are all suitable, welcome, appropriate, and appreciated… Thank you!
“Mister” is a simple, harmless, unpretentious title or prefix unlike Doctor or Professor. While it is a simple term, unlike King or Your Majesty, it does, however, acknowledge a man as a man— as an adult, worthy of and deserving the most basic terms of respect– not endearment, but respect. Mr. Sidney Poitier’s classic line in the film, In the Heat of the Night, “They call me Mister Tibbs!” was liberating to generations of Blacks viewers. And who can forget the slap scene? We witnessed a once prohibited, public display of indignance, defiance. We were taught to grin and bear it, like the old folks used to say, but Mr. Tibbs wasn’t having it!
I’m particularly irritated when a young person, ignoring my full head of white hair, addresses me with anything less than what they may offer someone who’s complexion shares the same hue as my hair. Try this young people… “Did you find everything you needed today, Sir?” or “Paper or plastic, Sir?” Recently, Deion Sanders was reported for pushing back on a young white reporter calling him Deion. “You don’t call Nick Saban “Nick,” don’t call me Deion.” He went on to make his point, “If you call Nick, Nick, you’ll get cussed out on the spot, so don’t do that to me. Treat me like Nick.”
Regrettably, Mr. Sanders’ claim proved to be an unforced error. Apparently, reporters do refer to Saban as Nick. As you can imagine, folks who were not Sanders fans from the get-go, took the opportunity to take pot shots at him, accusing him of arrogance and over-sensitivity. “This isn’t a case of a reporter showing disrespect, it’s a case of Sanders displaying self-importance and thin skin.” one reporter wrote.
Personally, I think it’s a case of Deion Sanders making a point and taking one for the team in the process. So, perhaps he did in fact, misspeak, regarding Coach Saban, the bigger point to which I share his hypersensitivity is respect. The media is notorious for this brand of not-so-subtle jabs. Former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice was “Condi” and former President Obama was reduced to “Obama.” The mere fact that Jackson State, an HBCU, is being represented by an NFL Hall of Famer is enough to be overly protective of their legacy and standing in college athletics. The bigger point, the real fight is this: networks, ESPN for example, have never taken HBCU’s seriously.
To be clear and fair, the issue of respect is far from exclusively racial. It may present as more generational then racial. Young Black folks have lost sight of Sir and Ma’am. My mother would say, “They’ve lost their minds.”. Addressing grown folks with tone and attitude that would have gotten my head dented. Yes, I would have had a dented dome for speaking to my mother the way some young folks feel entitled to speak to adults today. The only viable solution is to check the offender, and start young, the earlier the better.
As for grown-ups… White folks, Indian, Asian, Hispanic, and especially Black folks, tend to get far too familiar and far too comfortable, far too soon, if you allow it. If you want respect, stop smiling and joking all the time. Somewhere along the way, you adapted this behavior as a means of making someone else comfortable in your space. Why? Don a serious demeanor sometimes. Keep them guessing! “Is Jamal upset today or just a little off?” or “Is Lakeisha one of those angry Black women I’ve been hearing about?” Ladies, how many times have you been asked at work, “Are you okay? You don’t seem like yourself today.” all because you may not be in a playful, cheery mood. Good for you! Now practice that grimace!
Author, and Life Coach, Tony Haskins said: “You teach people how to treat you by what you allow, what you stop, and what you reinforce.”. The most viable, and most reliable solution is to give the respect first. Create the ground rules. Where and when appropriate, address the individual you encounter as Miss, Mrs., Ms., and Mister. Apply prefixes to the kids’ names from time to time just to acclimate them to the culture– Mr. Tashaun, Miss Tanika. Try it! It may catch them off guard. They may even get a kick out of it, but it will get results… Guaranteed. Let me know how it works out for you.
That’s what’s on my mind!