Can You Not, Twitter Thugs?
I didn’t even intend to log on to twitter today. I had my final wisdom tooth pulled this morning, so I fully expected to be unconscious until 8 am tomorrow morning. The powers that be, however, had different plans for me. The surgeon refused to sedate me if I didn’t take my nose rings out, and I simply refuse – so, a quick local anaesthetic, a bit of drilling, a tug, and a stitch later, and I was on my way in 40 minutes with a handful of prescriptions. In the Lyft home, I opened the twitter app, fully intending to scroll through commentary and articles on the mass murder of a Muslim congregation in New Zealand. That’s not my lane, so I plan to stay firmly out of that discussion and let Muslim folk express themselves while offering my support. But much to my surprise, the mass shooting was not the top discussion on my timeline. Instead, it was a debate on a decades old video of Maya Angelou calmly, but firmly, correcting a teenaged girl that referred to her as “Maya” on a television show.
In the video, Ms. Angelou can be heard informing the young woman that, to her, she is “Ms. Angelou,” not “Maya.” Given her age and body of work she had achieved at this time alone, there’s nothing unreasonable or disrespectful about this statement. Maybe my foreign extraction influences my feelings on the matter but addressing your elders with a title or honorific like “Auntie” is standard practise. You just do it, regardless of your age. I was cautious about wading into yet another twitter debate but I wasn’t completely opposed to the concept because both sides of the conversation were familiar to me. But then the discussion went so far left, I stopped recognising it. Participants grew more vicious and violent without warning. Talk quickly turned to whether slapping Ms. Angelou for her perceived disrespect would be appropriate or “giving her the same smoke and energy right back.”
Now I’ve watched the video about ten times so far, and absolutely nothing that I’ve seen would justify this violent reaction. Nothing. Nowhere in the video did Ms. Angelou call the young woman out of her name, disparage her character, or belittle her. She calmly and respectfully called the young lady to task for her over-familiarity with an elder and a stranger, especially one with such a profound legacy of culturally significant work. But that didn’t stop you strong-fingered, keyboard crusaders from typing out your violent fantasies of assaulting a woman that committed the apparently unpardonable offence of asking for some respeckt to be put on her name.
Indulging in a bit of not-so-idle speculation, I wonder what the response would be if the topic of discussion was a Black icon like Dr. Cornel West or Rev. Al Sharpton asserting their right to addressed with respect equivalent to their legacy of work and thought. I don’t fancy myself a clairvoyant, but I’m about 99.5 per cent sure that this would have never become a debate if the subject of conversation was a man, especially a cishet man that has never openly discussed their past as a sex worker. The way we treat and speak of women that assert their right to be treated with basic human dignity is evidence enough. But a black woman, a sex worker, an older woman – demanding, not just humbly requesting – the honour and respect due her? That’s simply too much. We meet that audacity with threats of violence and verbal assault against a person not even alive to defend herself.
A lot of the same folks engaging in this obnoxious behaviour are the same ones I’ve seen on the TL openly discussing the aggressive disrespect they’ve received from their parents and elder family members. Now, I’m no great believer in the theories of Freud, but I’m seeing a connection. It is astounding to me how many people would use a woman they’ve never known, and will never know, as a proxy for their unresolved familial issues, but here we are. I’m strongly encouraging those of you that find this applicable to seek professional help of a therapeutical nature. Without it, y’all will continue to seek and pick fights of no consequence with older folks that have committed the crime of being elders and brusque. There is a real difference between the abruptness that comes with a long life of being on the receiving end of racist microaggressions related to names and the actual disrespect many of us have experienced from our elders.
Now, my Caribbean and Italian background has instilled some fairly resolute conditioning in me to always defer to my elders with appropriate titles and honorifics. I’ve struggled with the balance between that immediate deference and the deserved pushback when the aunties and nonnas get out line at family functions. I’ve even seen a fair number of folks on the TL discussing this very thing, but that’s not what’s occurring in this video. And the lived experiences that many of us share is not an excuse to get online and let your twitter fingers fly. I am curious to know though, how many of you with the big, bold takes are keen to approach someone like Toni Morrison or Angela Davis addressing them by their first names, in over-familiar terms. Record the results and post them on twitter. Make sure to tag me a beg.