A few weeks ago I attended a casual gathering of peoples of like backgrounds, professions, and achievements. Most were acquainted through previous interaction though a few were new to the collective. As names bandied through verbal introductions one stood out to me. “You can call me Mrs. Smith (I changed the last name). The use of title didn’t jump out at me right away; it wasn’t until I heard the same person refer to others including the woman she so vociferously corrected by their first names that something struck me as peculiar. It was then that I realized what had taken place.
From a young age people have looked to place title and importance on me. The more they insisted the more I not only resisted but purposefully sabotaged my own reputation (adolescent and young adult angst); how dare people project their expectations on my life (another life ago). What was especially disconcerting was when my peers, socio-economically and age-wise, began calling me Mr. Willie, Mr. Huggins, Sir, and other respectful titles. It wasn’t something I had asked for and though I was uncomfortable returning the favor, when I did, they did not want the favor returned. What’s a young 20 year old to do?
Working in corporate America as a 20 year old in the late 90s and early 2000s I noticed black and brown people tended to address people of certain ages and position with formal salutation while many white counterparts approached everyone as though all were noble and equal and addressed all by their first name (unless instructed otherwise). I do believe the latter were helped in pursuing specific opportunities because they saw themselves equal in stature to all (this paragraph is an over generalization but based in fact). It was in this world that my contemporaries began to address me formally and it is also when I began addressing others in the manner they addressed me; my default was to call all by their first name regardless title and position. It was also where I encountered resistance from secretaries and others on my plane when addressing their superiors in an informal manner. It was accepted by the intended parties but their subordinates were offended.
In 2013 we live in an informal society. Many of the strongholds of even two decades ago have weakened if not completely disintegrated. I believe there is a beauty in formalities but do not agree that informal interaction is necessarily indicative of disrespect. Though not often I still run into persons that request to be addressed as Mr. and Mrs. I appreciate and am willing IF… If you address me as Mr. Huggins I will most likely return the favor without your asking me to address you in formal manner. If you address me as Willie I will address you by your first name as my default is to address in informal measure. If you people want to be addressed in formal approach it should be a practiced behavior by the person making the demand and not a one-way street.
P.S. I realize this flies in the face of my actions as the guy who still opens and closes car doors, walks into the elevator first and exits the elevator last. I’m complicated; get over it, and take your title hypocrisy with you.