My favorite Teddy Pendergrass song is “My Father’s Child”. When I was growing up, I thought is was curious that my parents called all their friends “Mr. “and “Mrs.” Even to this day, my mother calls her backyard neighbor Mrs. Wood even though they have known each other since 1948 and she calls my mother Mrs. Black. I once asked my Dad why. He told me that since no one else called them Mr. or Mrs., they used it as a term of respect among themselves. My parents grew up in the segregated south and whites either called by their first name or “boy” regardless of their age. Since my dad was an elementary school principal in a small Georgia town, he was called “Professor.” My generation was different. We call our peers by their first names and I have wondered whether that was a by-product of integration where now whites even in the south use titles when referring to blacks? However, one thing does strike me. I have noticed that black professors invariably have “Dr.” printed on their checks, put the title in their correspondence and emails and even refer to themselves as Dr. Yet my white colleagues don’t. I met another black professor at a UT commencement, introduced myself as Harold Black, and he introduced himself as “Dr.” I then said “Your first name is Doctor?” He said no, and then turned his back to talk to someone else. I guess it is still a matter of respect and forcing the world at large to acknowledge your status. I understand and actually do it myself when I think I am being disrespected. I don’t think I am much of a snob. How can you be a snob watching cole slaw wrestling at the Cabbage Patch during BikeWeek? Yet when a senior student emails me – or refers to me as “Mr.” I tell them that I have not been a “Mr.” in 40 years. I guess it is a respect thing. They know better and I consider it their way of putting me down. Another instance of nontolerance is my reaction to this generation’s total absence of manners. Aren’t you irritated that people who are providing a service use your first name? I get a call from my doctor’s office and she says, “Is this Harold?” I then say, “It is only if you are over 60. Otherwise it is Dr. Black.” I walked into my credit union, they pulled up my account and said “What can I do for you Harold?” My response is “You can call me Dr. Black.” Now in my doctor’s office computer and in the one at my credit union they have entered “call him Dr. Black!” Who trains the people at call centers to use customers’ first names? It is certainly inconsiderate and ill-mannered at best. When I place an order on the phone and am addressed by my first name, I tell the person on the other end “I guess it is a product of your generation. But I do not address strangers by their first name nor will I allow strangers who are serving me to address me by mine.” When they apologize and say “Mr.”, I am fine with that title. So am I my father’s child? Am I a snob? Or am I just a crotchety old man?
Harold A. Black is professor emeritus in the Department of Finance, University of Tennessee, Knoxville having retired after 24 years of service. He has served on the faculties of American University, Howard University, the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill and the University of Florida. His government service includes the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and as a Board Member of the National Credit Union Administration. He also has served on the boards of directors Home Savings of America and its parent company, H. F. Ahmanson & Co., Irwindale, California prior to its merger with Washington Mutual Savings Bank, on the board of New Century Financial Corporation, Irvine, California, then the nation’s largest real estate investment trust and as director and later chairman of the Nashville Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. He writes an occasional article for the Knoxville News-Sentinel at http://www.knoxnews.com/staff/dr-harold-black/. His web page is haroldablackphd.com