I was on the bus the other day when an old Black man sat down beside me. The bus was full and I was the last open seat around, so I didn't blame him.
While he was sitting, I looked at him from the safety of the corner of my eye. He had a little black mustache and was wearing a worn white outfit, a suit that would have been slick at some time. I realized this man was old enough to have struggled, to have strived for a respect that was refused.
So as I got near my stop I had a problem. In my training to be personable I learned to treat everyone as equal and able. Don't treat the old as aging 'sirs' and 'madams', or treat children as 'tykes'. When I got up I wondered, should I be cheerful and say simply, "excuse me?"
this doesn't seem like much of an issue, but in a social problems class we talked about a crisis in a new age hospital. Black seniors who were checked in were greeted with smiles and a nurse adressing them by their first name. This was a practice to make the patients feel young, excited, and recognized. Yet many of the Black patients fought hard to be addressed as sir or madam, to be respected enough that they were not called to like a child.
I cannot remember the end result of the hospital's practice, yet I knew what I would do. As the bus slowed I said quietly, "excuse me sir."