John W. Fountain, Chicago Sun-Times, October 31, 2009
Is “bud” the new “boy”? As a black man–even in a “post-racial America,” where a black man now occupies the White House–I still wonder.
Usually the way it happens is I’m somewhere out here in the Windy City, or near my home in the south suburbs, minding my own business, going about the daily fare, when suddenly I hear the annoying call–“Bud”–or some similar moniker, dangling from the end of some salutation: “Thanks, bud.” “How can I help you, bud?” “What’s up, bud?”
Sometimes I am running errands near home–buying tires, searching at a home improvement store for a toilet flapper valve; or near my office on Michigan Avenue, purchasing a new mailbox; or on a Loop elevator, or in a downtown lobby. And whether it is bud, buddy, boss, pal, pimp, or playa, all of it offends. For I am none of these.
The offenders most often are white, sometimes younger than me and almost always in service or blue-collar positions. Most often it is the “b” word that is used. It feels too informal a title for perfect strangers, especially when I suspect they call other full-grown men sir.
To be called bud might ordinarily seem innocuous enough. I have called my own sons buddy. My nephews bud, and even the dog I once had, bud.
But I am neither boy nor dog. And the name offends, especially coming from the lips of those who, in my mind, defer to the “b” word rather than call me by my name, or as a man, now a year shy of 50, by mister, or sir.
Bud is a condescending rub in a day when some would contend that racism has long since been buried, like that sliver of time in American history when every black man–no matter his status, stature or the silver in his beard–was a boy.
Still, I wonder whether I am being hypersensitive or simply stuck in the past, my consciousness inalterably warped by past racial offenses endured by black men once upon a time in America. And I ask myself if I have become one of those so-called arrogant black men, too uppity for my britches, to dare feel out of sorts for being referred to by something as harmless as bud? What’s the big deal, buddy?
Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I cannot shake from my mind the stories I have heard from black men like my grandfather of the way we used to have to cross the street in the South to let whites pass; how black men could not look whites in the eye, or how, sometimes to survive we had to kowtow, yessuh or shuck-yuck.
I want to shout back: “They call me Mr. Fountain. Or Professor. Or John, or Sir.” That “I am neither your buddy, nor your bud.” That “I am not your son, not your boy, nor your damn dog, and I certainly ain’t your buddy.”
Most often I figure it just isn’t worth my trouble.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I can hear it now: “Get over it, bud. . . .”
I intend to, though this elusive quest for respect as a black man, in a world that sometimes still seems intent on diminishing us, on reducing us to being less than men, stirs my anger.