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"They Call Me MISTER Black Man Not Blogging!"

BMNB has a bone to pick. Mind you, this is a man who, in more than 26 years of his relationship with me (albeit on and off), has only raised his voice to me in anger once. Yeah, once. He’s cooler than President Obama, he is. So when he has a bone to pick, it needs pickin’.

BMNB would like telemarketers, bank tellers, customer service representatives, and any one else who meets him in a business capacity to know that her prefers to be called MISTER BMNB and not by his first name. He thinks Americans have become just a little too familiar. He likes the formality and propriety of calling someone you’ve just met by their proper name. Don’t just assume that you can call him by his first name when you’ve just met, especially if he’s your customer or potential customer.

For example, BMNB was speaking with a bank teller who pulled up his account, found out his name, and proceeded to address him by his first name, which, for purposes of this blog, is “Black Man.”

“Well, Black Man . . .” and she proceeded to explain something to him. But he couldn’t get past the fact that this stranger was calling him by his first name.

Now, he makes it clear from the get-go: “I prefer MISTER Not Blogging.”

It takes them aback. BMNB would prefer to think that it gets them back to the way their mommas raised them or should have raised them.

First, BMNB believes that you don’t get to call your elders by their first names. Even older cousins in his family are “Cousin So-and-So,” not “So-and-So.” The idea of some pimply-faced customer service rep calling him by his first name when he has visible gray hair in his goatee does not sit well with him, no sirree.

Second, BMNB just isn’t that familiar. He likes the respectful distance that using someone’s full and proper name entails. It requires the person you’re speaking to to decide whether they want you to become more familiar with them instead of you assuming that they do. He likes that because, like most professional black men, BMNB knows you can’t afford to assume anything.

Third, BMNB is, and always will be, a Southerner. And in the South, titles entail respect. I found this out myself when I was a professor at a law school in the South. I allowed my students to become too familiar too soon, giving them permission to call me by my first name as I had allowed my previous students in California to do. One of my colleagues, another African American female professor, told me I had already lost the battle for respect before I had even known there was a battle.

“What’s the big deal? It’s just a name,” I questioned.

She looked at me like I was an alien. “This is the South. Titles mean everything. Titles mean respect. No title, no respect. Just tell me – do they call you “professor” or “miz”?

I stopped and thought. “Well, actually, they do call me ‘miz’.”

She looked at me as if to say “game over.” “’Miz’” is what they call black women when they don’t want to properly address you as “Mrs.”, “Miss” or “professor.”


I hadn’t really thought about it that much. In her mind, I had been subtly dissed and didn’t even know it. Funny, I thought they were just being friendly.

And that’s the point – we didn’t need to be “friendly” at that point in the relationship.

BMNB noticed this little phenomenon at work yesterday when we watched Matt Lauer interview Essence Editor-in-Chief Angela Burt-Murray to discuss the May issue of Essence, which features an interview with Mrs. Obama and her mother, Mrs. Robinson. Now, mind you, I would never think to call the President’s mother-in-law anything other than Mrs. Robinson for no other reason than she’s my elder, and I have tried, despite my feelings of identification with Mrs. Obama, not to call her “Michelle” because she deserves the same respect I would give any other First Lady – being addressed and referred to by her proper name.

I guess Matt Lauer felt a bit differently. During the beginning of the interview, he referred to them as Michelle Obama and Marian Robinson.

But not Ms. Burt-Murray. Throughout the interview, she continued to refer to them as Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Robinson. As you can imagine, my husband believes that Ms. Burt-Murray was raised right and is probably Googling her this minute to find out where in the South her people are from.

Mr. Lauer didn’t get it, though. Although he modified it a bit and began to call Mrs. Robinson “Mrs. Robinson,” he continued to refer to the First Lady as Michelle Obama. Ms. Burt-Murray never wavered, though, as if to get the point across to Mr. Lauer. He never picked it up.

Good thing BMNB wasn’t there. He would have checked him: “Their names are MRS. OBAMA and MRS. ROBINSON!”

And, he would have told him, to boot: “And they call me MISTER Black Man Not Blogging.”


Eponymous said…
I completely understand your husband's point of view. Although I look younger than my age, I don't appreciate it when cashier's, etc greet me with a "What's up?" Are we friends? Do I know you? Please be professional in professional settings.

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