The double door

My mother always used to say that you didn’t truly possess good manners if you didn’t extend them to everyone. And I was thinking about that recently because of some experiences that exemplified this.

A little while ago I was somewhere when I saw two white women carrying large boxes struggling to open a door. So I stepped forward and held the door open for them. There was another interior door so I then walked around them and held that door for them as well.

Their response?

They sailed through the door without even a glance. And they waited for me to open the second door without looking at me or acknowledging me and then walked through the second door.

Last weekend I held open a door for a elderly woman of color. A 35-ish white woman took the opportunity to cut around and to enter through the open door. By the way, you ignorant boor, it is dangerous to rush past older people because you can cause them to lose their balance and they can become seriously injured. There was a second door there as well. The woman pushed through and then let go of the door, allowing it to swing back on the older woman.

And then last weekend I was somewhere else when I saw a woman struggling to open a door. She was carrying a case of water bottles. I was some distance behind her, but I called out to her, “Let me get that,” and hurried forward. (You think I would know better by now!) She initially demurred, but when I got there she was still trying to wrestle the door open and she looked at me and thanked me profusely.

And then another man who had been in front of her turned around and saw her, and opened the second door for her.

And then a bunch of folks came through, but rather than just going through the door, they either tried to take the door from me or the other guy or they were apologetic or thankful or both.

So then I was at a community event and a woman was honored for her service. And as she went up to the podium, I recognized her. It was one of the two white women I’d held the door for a little while back, the ones who didn’t even look at me. While other people were applauding and she was beaming, I thought something largely unprintable.

Now I’m willing to bet you that if you ask that woman’s white friends and associates if she has good manners, they’d tell you yes. But my mother would vote no.

Sue brought this up in a comment on another post in which she asked why good manners should be so different. And sinoangle and I have discussed this issue a number of times within the framework of “bad manners vs. racism.”

sinoangle ultimately said that people don’t respect others because they don’t consider them to be equals. Therefore they are exempt from the traditional norms of politeness. The more I think about this, I think that there is a deep and underlying belief in white superiority that pervades our nation. I remember once reading that people’s behavior was more constrained by fear of consequences than by any real sense of morality. I’m not sure how much I believe that. But I do believe that when people feel there will be no consequences (or no observers, or no observers of consequence), they may feel inclined to behave in their selfish interests, screw everybody else.

I think my mother would agree with this as well, as she used to complain about a sib’s friend who had “wonderful, darling manners” (another parent’s viewpoint) when adults were around. But my mother could see what the kid really was like.

I’ve had a couple of interactions with white men who were strangers to me that have reinforced this belief. Once was when I was riding on a crowded train. A black woman with a baby and a toddler entered, and I stood up to offer her my seat. (I must note that I am not all that polite, and I really didn’t want to give up my seat and gave it up grudgingly because nobody else was making a move to do so. So I want you all to know this so I don’t ruin my reputation.)

No sooner had I gotten up than a nice-looking white guy in a suit and tie made a dive for the seat and planted himself in it. I said, “Excuse me, I got up so this woman could have the seat, not you,” but he would not even meet my gaze. And nobody else in the train car appeared to much care either. So I leaned forward and hissed, “Get out of that [expletive deleted] seat before I [expletive deleted] yank you out by your [expletive deleted] tie.”

Surprisingly, he got up. And he went to the other end of the train car.

And yet, I’m willing to bet you that among white people he knows, he’s perfectly “polite.”

With regard to majority-white group settings, A. has mentioned it within the framework of “in groups vs. out groups.” A. says that perhaps white people are afraid to be seen being “too friendly” to people of color. Again I think this is the result of white superiority. Because if you are too friendly, perhaps some white people will throw you out of the club. And inclusion is very important to white people, but for many is largely dependent on exclusion. Whereas for other people inclusion may be important, and is dependent on inclusion.

I was thinking about how all this stuff is internalized for people of color, and it reinforces my belief that we need to seek out environments in which there are a whole bunch of us. Because that door is going to hit you in the ass otherwise.

6 thoughts on “The double door

  1. i’ve also had the experience of holding a door open for an elderly person, my children or someone with their hands full, and others behind them filing in past me, like i was the doorman. i find it extremely rude and i think it has to do with some folks’ sense of entitlement.

    Like, why WOULDN’T i hold the door open for them, right? i’ve tried to communicate this idea to others, the idea that some are here to serve and others are here to be served; that the comfort, dignity and ease of some must come at a cost to others and how it is assumed that white people are due that comfort, dignity, ease- like it’s innate.

  2. My heart aches when I hear such incidents! I think sometimes it really is the opinion and character of the person no matter what the color of our skin. I would like to believe that, more than is the reality, I fear. I had a female co-worker from Thailand several years ago. She had dark skin and long black hair. She was a lovely woman. She told me several stories of people in the most common of places making egregious comments to her. I literally cried. In fact, I am tearing up, even now. I do NOT mean to preach, but in Christ, there is no race and those of us, that claim His name, are to care for ALL others.
    In Christ’s Love,

  3. The fact that you keep bringing this up is keeping me on my toes as if you are watching!

    I won’t describe in detail how I went out of my way to have good manners with a person of color (and thought of your blog comments) but I will say I caught myself in a moment when I almost made someone invisible, out of my own discomfort with our differences, which included not only skin color but a hijab.

    So I gave myself a mental [redacted] slap, backtracked and started over with good manners, and THEN caught myself waiting for more gratitude than I deserved for behaving the way I was supposed to behave.

    I hope I did not convey any of this but I doubt my awkwardness was totally hidden.

    Until the problem becomes apparent to white people and we consciously make changes, it will always be true that we will show our deep-seated sense of superiority to POC through poor manners.

    (I am not bragging on myself so much as confessing. I am not proud of the fact that none of it was automatic or graceful.)

  4. chughes, you have put your finger exactly on what I was trying to say. When white people receive courtesies from people of color, those are expected because we’re here to serve them. When white people receive courtesies from other white people, they weren’t due those courtesies. Thus, the “thank you’s.”

    sue, I’m curious about making somebody visible or invisible.

  5. Not sure what made you curious. Was it the “making” part? Since I don’t have the power to make anyone disappear, that might not be the right verb. Or are you asking in what way I perpetrated the invisibility factor? Or why it happens?

    When I was in seminary I saw it done to POC by fellow students–white peace and justice champions, no less. They were so afraid of being seen as racist that they wouldn’t speak to the POC. When I got tired of them, in so many ways, and started hanging with the POC, I noticed an interesting combination of invisibility and hostility directed toward us (but never toward me by the POC).

    Either the white students failed to acknowledge our groupings (such as at a lunch table) or if they glanced at us, their eyes were very wary and/or downright hostile. I think fear was at the root.

    It was creepy to be on the receiving end and quite an education. Beyond it being a failure of manners, I see it as something I once heard Maya Angelou refer to as “little murders.”

  6. Hey resistance – thanks for keeping my name alive here even though I have had so little time to blog in recent months.

    Re making people visible or invisible, I find I am torn over this often. I have taken the hidden bias test a couple of times and found I have a slight tendency to favour people of colour. One of the manifestations, I realise, is making poc visible: I acknowledge them, I SEE them. But when I catch myself doing it, I worry that I am singling out their difference!

    When people do it to me, I like it because it makes me feel included, but I guess that 80s “one world” socialisation has taught me it is a “bad” thing to do.

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