Just the other day as I was leaving work, I spoke to a woman who works in a different department. As she turned to walk to her car, she said “Have a nice evening young man.” In the moment, I gave a cordial reply, gave a courteous smile and went my way.
When I got to my truck I squinted my eyes. I turned my head and postulated “…did she just call me young man and I’m 41 years old?“
First of all, I get it. She was probably 10-20 years older than me, so she considers herself to be my elder. Which gives her permission to see me as a young man and speak to me in the way she did. Taking all that into consideration, I’m still 41 years old.
As I began to consider who she was and how she spoke to me… I honestly considered her words insulting. Even though I realize sometimes I can be too sensitive.
My healthy body, clean cut appearance, energetic disposition and personality… these things do cause me to appear to be younger than I actually am. This is true. And, yes. I know that being youthful is a blessing as we mature in age. As I want to healthy and happy.
Nevertheless, from my perspective, professionally…. I have received so much disrespect throughout my adult life. Some of it may come from my demographics and/or lack of viable connections…. however, I feel a lot of it comes from my youthful appearance. I cannot count how many times my education, work experience, and even accomplishments have been overlooked and disregarded when I’m actually talking with coworkers or in group meetings.
It’s like society doesn’t know how to categorize tall athletic African-American men. If I’m not an athlete, an entertainer, or a service worker… then what do I have to offer? Can I at least be respected as a man? Do I have to wear my graduate degree and all my accomplishments on my sleeve?
No one says “respect your elders” to other adults. They only say that to children.
Just as it would be disrespectful for me to have said to her “Have a good evening old lady.” I felt some disrespect when she called me a young man. Plus, it was also how she said it.
People have a way of discounting others and elevating themselves with their words and actions… honestly, I felt when she spoke to me, she was indirectly telling me I needed to respect her. Ok. I get it. She needs to feel respected. What she didn’t take into consideration is that I’m not a child, nor is she my supervisor. So, I don’t need her to tell me to respect my elders, especially when they need to show respect to me.