Maya Angelou Has People Contemplating How To Respectfully Refer To Elders
A few weeks ago, an old video of Dr. Maya Angelou surfaced on Twitter , sparking debate about respect. With this, a quintessential message was rediscovered- the wisdom from her very testimony as to why we should put some respect on our elders’ names .
Of course, there’s been a number of us that had grown up reading her books, and watching the television appearances about her visiting life, current price of talents, and her immaculate use of words. However, those who have never seen or been in the presence of Angelou, or should we say Miss Angelou, were caught off guard by her guest appearance on a 1980s talk show in which she told a young black girl in the audience to essentially respect her name ( child, let me clutch my pearls real quick!).
“I’m Ms. Angelou. I’m not Maya. I’m 62 years old,” Angelou stated in the clip after the teen asked her a question about dating outside of your race, referring to her as “Maya.”
“I’ve lived so long and tried so hard that a young woman like you, or any other, has no license to come up to me and call me by my first name,” she stated.
The 30- second clip propelled a discussion across social media. Many people didn’t see anything wrong with Angelou’s response to the girl because their upbringing taught them to never ever address an elder by their first name; while others thought that Angelou was being completely rude and pompous and shouldn’t have talk to the team like that on national TV.
The initial reaction is wanting to stick up for the teen, especially if you’ve experienced the sting of embarrassment from correction in a public setting by those who have been on the earth longer than you. But even then, Ms. Angelou wasn’t incorrect in her declaration.
In youth, I didn’t refer to my elders by their first names ( nor was I allowed to)- then again, I don’t even think I knew their names because it wasn’t even a part of my vernacular . It never crossed my mind to refer to my grandparents, parents, or family friends as anything other than grandma, grandpa, auntie, mom and so forth. I was able to distinguish that these are not my peers, they were men and women who deserved to be called whatever title they preferred.
Just like Angelou, our elders have lived lives that many of us couldn’t even fathom, especially the group in a society that was founded on xenophobia. Many times, they didn’t even get the respect that they deserved from the outside world , given that the people were persistent at dehumanizing and interrogating them at every step of the way.
That’s why in today’s era , some people don’t really value things and people that came before them. That’s why we have people canceling dead black writers like Angelou because they do not like something that was said decades ago , completely disregarding the context of the time, and shirts declaring “I’m not my ancestors”.
Ultimately, there are many ways to lovingly correct people - and I do believe my Angelo did that-but the lessons don’t always feel good within the context they are given. Angelou’s words may have stung a little bit in the moment, but the young girl in that video learned to address elders with reverence from then on out.
cover image via 101 Mobility