Pedagogica: Just call me "…"

Some years ago, it was a given in diversity training to advise newbies, particularly coming from abroad to the USA, that black managers should be addressed by their title of Mr. or Ms. until the person addressed gave explicit permission to do otherwise, in the form of something like, “Just call me Dolly/Darren.” 

Aspirations of equality (don’t kid yourself – hierarchy, power and authority are not absent from US life), couched in the use of first name address and other forms of informality can still be shocking to some coming to work in the USA. However, the advice was given, even inside the USA, that in dealing with people from “targeted groups”, one should hold back on the informality until it was asked for, a sign of taking them seriously and respectfully, since they often were not. On the other hand, with bearded white guys, since they are assumed to be living in the lap of privilege, it was okay, or even de rigueur to dismiss with the titles. When lecturing in several French universities, I used to do the USian thing and tell my students, “Just call me George,” and then watch them uncomfortably stutter as they tried to stop saying “Doctor”. This seems to be disappearing, if not totally gone in most of my current teaching experiences.

Thus, I found it interesting when today a colleague of mine, a US university professor working in Europe, shared this linked article with me. It made me wonder whether it is to be taken at face value, simply an op-ed rationale for a kind of practical restoration of formalities, or does it share the motivation and rationale of elevating those who are presumed to be minorities, as I have mentioned above. If the latter is the case, are profs and teachers now enrolled in the feeling set of targeted minorities, requiring a new level of PC to breathe free? Or, lastly, does this possibly reflect the contemporary shifts toward authoritarianism we are increasingly seeing in politics, or… Opinions please.


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