For the past few months, I’ve been threatening (to my friends) to start a new feature about manners on my blog. Sure, there’s Miss Manners and all her books, but let’s face it. Miss Manners ain’t Black. Yes, I said it. It had to be said.
Listen, there are different ways of moving through the manners minefield in the Black community. Traditional Negroes have an extremely involved set of home training going way back to 1619. And there is a whole bunch of us Black people who remember.
For example, back in the 1970s when I was a little girl, bad manners could get your butt whipped—or in the country, switched—all up and down two or three blocks of your neighborhood by everybody’s mama–everybody’s Black mama, that is. And then, when you got home, the news would have gotten there first, and your own mama would not only whip or switch you again, she would call up the other folks who whipped or switched you and thank them for correcting you.
And why did all this happen? Because all those Black mothers–your own and someone else’s– were trying to keep your narrow, rude behind off the chain gang, which is where badly behaved Black kids—especially Black male kids—go when they get grown.
But these days, I’ve noticed that in the African American community, there’s a real rise in Negroes acting like they don’t have no [insert expletive adverb] home training.
Now, there are just admittedly some African American fools out there who weren’t raised right. And some of them Negroes, we just have to let go. Some people’s parents were raised by wolves or something, and then, they mated with other people who were raised by wolves, and then they made them some human wolf-babies. So, all those wolf-people need prayer and that’s all we can do for them because they cannot be helped.
Again, I said it. It had to be said.
But there are some Black folks with good parents who were raised right, but then those raised-right folks left home, got in with the wrong crowd of human wolf-people, forgot what their mamas taught them and started making up–or unmaking— home training rules as they went along, like this world is some Tyler Perry version of Lord of the Flies.
And here’s the deal: I don’t pay no attention to those human wolf-people. But unfortunately, I’m starting to also bump into these Lord of the Flies folks all over the place, folks who can fake manners long enough to sneak through the cracks of polite society but still haven’t figured out, they can’t act in certain ways and get away with it forever. Sometimes, they even roll on me 1) trying to be my good friends, 2) trying to be my boyfriends (who will one day have sex with me if they are extremely, extremely lucky and go to the mall and buy something nice for me), or 3) trying to get me to help them get jobs—putting my (hopefully) good name on the line for them by writing letters of recommendation.
This lack of Old School Black Home Training among Negroes who should know better is a tap-dance on-my-nerves contest. And then, I am placed in the very uncomfortable position of either giving these people The Heisman Hand—meaning, totally ignoring them—or lecturing them on their bad behavior.
But here’s the problem with The Heisman Hand. As I get older, I feel a deeper sense of responsibility to my Black community. I think about all those old people—including my mama—who took time with me to have those conversations and pull my coat to correct me, even when I was a young knucklehead with none of the sense I had been born with.
But then, when I move into The Lecture—trying to be a Race Woman–all I get is either a promise to do better–a promise which is quickly broken–or backtalk from people trying to tell me they haven’t done anything wrong in the first place. Both of those reactions make me mad and want to cuss folks out. But because I do have me some manners, I can’t cuss folks out. (No more.) So now, instead of cussing folks out, I am faced with the possibility of personal conflict—meaning, engaging in calm discussion with my transgressor. And that is going to involve a back and forth. Which I hate. I cannot stand some back and forth.
Y’all, despite the bold way I roll in public, I really don’t like to have personal conflict/calm discussion, because I’m afraid of going back to the Angry Black Woman Who Will Cuss You Out—an ABWWWCYO—who I was long, long ago in my twenties. I really, really enjoyed being that person, I can’t lie. My Id and I were on first name basis. But then, I had to get me a job and work on my credit. Since most good jobs in America involve working around White folks, I had to learn to behave. Because White folks cannot stand an ABWWWCYO.
And for the third time, Yes, I said it. It had to be said. Stop being surprised when I say what we all know to be true but are just too embarrassed to admit in print. I’m not embarrassed in the least, which is why you read this blog.
So now that I have evolved into a bit of graciousness and maturity, I avoid personal conflict/calm discussion like the plague. Now, on my job, I can’t always run away, so I have learned a series of polite, labyrinthine strategies for conflict resolution. But in my personal life, whenever I imagine the back and forth that will ensue, I just seize all up–unless it’s my mama. You can’t seize up with your mama.
What does “seizing up” mean? That means, I delete all the contact information of that person and pretend he or she doesn’t exist anymore. When the phone rings and I recognize the number, I just switch off the ringer and also, switch off that place in my mind that liked or loved that particular person. Emails are easy. I can avoid emails indefinitely. (Unless, of course, they involve my job or my writing hustle.)
But if I bump into the person I “seized up” with somewhere, and that person wants to have a personal conflict/calm discussion, I’m not having it. Because I’m thinking, why did you act like that in the first place if you really wanted to be 1) a good friend, 2) a boyfriend (who would eventually have sex with me if you were extremely, extremely lucky and went to the mall and bought something nice for me) or 3) somebody I wrote letters of recommendation for?
So I just move into Southern Belle Pretend-Warmth and Charm, smile brightly, and say, “You know what?”—my voice getting breathy and sweet—“I’ve got an appointment right now. But it’s so good to see you. And let’s talk about this later. Just give me a call. Or email me.”
And you know the rest.
For those of y’all who have been getting to know me through this blog, you know that I’m all about growth. And frankly, I do realize that it’s just not emotionally healthy to run away from personal conflict/calm discussion. I really, really know that. And I’m working on it. I started thinking about all the Lord of the Flies people I have encountered in the past who needed The Lecture but who I was just too cowardly to confront head on and instead, gave The Heisman Hand to. I know that was kind of, like, passive aggressive. So then I thought, maybe I should just write a series of Old Black Home Training lessons for this blog, and that way, I can feel a little more powerful in the future and not so cowardly.
But also, there’s an added bonus to this new feature on manners, because although I am working on dealing head on with conflict, you know what I haven’t started working on quite yet?
Y’all, I’m just not in that completely healthy emotional place yet, and if I can’t avoid personal conflict/calm discussion, I can still signify on a [insert expletive maternal noun] like nobody’s business on my own blog. And if he or she happens to be reading this blog and recognizes him- or herself in a particular post, that’s definitely not my intention in the least and a complete and total coincidence.
I promise. And let’s talk about this later. Send me an email. Or call me.