That was a quote from Sidney Poitier’s character, Virgil Tibbs, from In the Heat of the Night. It was in direct response to being called “boy” in the movie. I follow Virgil perfectly. You see, the human condition has a dichotomy of wishing equality with dominance. We’re intelligent enough to create ethical behavior, yet animalistic enough to ignore it when convenient.
I observe people, not in a voyeuristic manner but take note of their actions in public. Avoiding awkward phrases like “people watching,” I merely observe the reactions of others under certain stimuli. It’s more clinical than “people watching,” and many of my observations come from personal experience.
One particular section of knowledge pertains to the less savory of human characters: bullies. They’re everywhere. They come in all sorts of colors and both sexes (no offense the people in the gradient). That is something I’ve been trying to convey for some time, as people tend to cherry-pick their beliefs based on political platforms. Also, societal norms often silence the more surprising cases of hatred. Apparently, I’m privileged, even if I was clothes lined, run over, punched, pelted, shoved, kicked, bludgeoned, choked, berated, gossiped about, back stabbed, jeered, mocked, marginalized, threatened, laughed at and finally alienated. I’ve been expected to shut up about these things, or otherwise be taken less seriously due to my race, gender, and class. My life clashes with political agendas, and my data point is to be quickly spun away.
For anyone with a soapbox, that’s all the airtime I’ll give it. I understand you have crusades elsewhere and won’t stand in your way. People like that are better let go to march on, while men like me are suited to perches high above city centers quietly looking out over the skyline. It’s not as glamorous as Batman makes it out to be.
“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”
~ Henry David Thoreau
So, what’s this all about then? It’s about how I cope and why I do what I think is right. A few months ago, I read a blistering “freshly pressed” article about how a woman didn’t want to be called “ma’am.” I’m not going to link it, as I find it putrid trash. Someone who obviously found the address inseparable from old age belched fire at people she didn’t know for calling her “ma’am” or “madam.” In her egocentric mind, there was no other explanation for a complete stranger addressing her otherwise. I’d like to emphasize complete stranger, for it’s one thing to be upset with the acquaintance and another with the unfamiliar.
Due to all of the experiences I’ve witnessed over the years, I’ve found it necessary to take a stand for myself. I often address unfamiliar people as “sir,” “madam,” “Mister [insert last name],” “Missus [insert last name],” or “Miz [insert last name].” Many of my contemporaries and colleagues will say something along the lines of “Mr. [insert last name] is my father. Please call me [insert first name]” or some variation of that. This is perfectly fine. I am eager to accommodate people with their level of comfort, however I often find myself in the precarious position of requesting my formal address from complete strangers. It doesn’t go so well, and I have to let things slide frequently. It’s still a goal I like to have. My friends and family should know me on more casual terms, but from someone I’ve never met? I’d like a little more respect than that.
That’s why I initially address people as “sir,” “ma’am,” “miss,” “mister,” or “missus.” It’s the respect I never got growing up, and I wouldn’t be able to stand myself if I didn’t return the favor. Without even the most basic level of respect, this rock drifting through the vacuum of space is filled with nothing but savages.