Starting far back in African history young people willingly used titles to indicate their deference to older people and not to do so was such a high degree of ill-manners as to call for serious punishment. When Africans were brought to the Americas as Slaves they had no concept of disrespect. Since then Black Americans have been victims of cruel racial name-calling to the point that the overwhelming majority feel vilified, as if they are being spoken evil of, whenever they are not given the proper respect regarding their names and titles. The brute caste custom of White people calling Black people by their first name began in slavery when first names (given by the captors to replace each Slave’s highly esteemed African name) were all they had. The reason is that since Slaves were property, they lacked the personal identity that would demand a last name. Yet, it was a major taboo for a Black person to call White people by their first name. The thinking of Whites behind both caste practices was that Black people never grew old enough or achieved enough to slough off their designated inferior role. Hence, by the Slaves calling Whites by a title was a constant admission of Slave inferiority. By contrast, Whites’ pathological need to feel superior was propped up each time they called Slaves by their first name.
I remember as a boy when Whites instructed other Whites to never refer to a Black man or woman as “Mr.” or “Mrs.” This began to break when businesses found it was financially beneficial to give “Mr.” or “Mrs.” and titles to their leading Black customers. For the rest of Black people—including the most mature ones from the standpoint of personal and/or social achievement-Whites used such appellations as “preacher”; “uncle”; “elder”; “aunty”; “sister”; “Buck”; “George”; and “gal” (which is the derogatory term many White physicians and other White professionals still use in referring to Black women of any age). These hate-filled appellations dismissed Blacks as being dignified human beings and symbolically relegated them to the foolish role of a plantation stereotype created out of the captors’ deranged minds.
It does not matter that White people address themselves in this manner— which seems to me to be a feeble attempt to try to establish some sort of facade friendship, as is done by politicians and con-artists. This is even taught students in business schools and that shows their total blindness to cross-cultural etiquette. To continue to not use ones title or to show ill-manners by calling a Black person by their first name implies that the plantation stereotype is still active—and I resent the implication—as do most Black people! Personally, I expect no less respect than is shown to a king or queen since they—or whomever—are not any better than me. If such disrespect is shown, the person will not get what I might otherwise give them or, in a business situation I simply refuse to do business with them thereafter. Employees in my orthopedic surgical practice were instructed to use titles and last names for every patient. Furthermore, they were to avoid even asking Black people if it was okay to call them by their first name because this puts the patient at an immediate disadvantage.
If the patient says “no” this may cause the patient to have the afterthought of possibly being sabotaged by that staff member. This simple act of always using their titles and their last names caused them to give me previously unspoken “pearls” that cleared up diagnostic mysteries. In relationships with my friends (including my White friends), the reciprocal use of first names between us has been earned by a track record of mutual respect as equals and serves as a mark of intimacy.
Ref.: Bailey, Word Stories Originated by Ancient Africans