Early one bustling Tuesday morning in spring on the uber-crowded Metro subway system in Washington, DC, I was forced to come to grips with the fact that though chivalry may not be completely dead, it is probably being bound, gagged and tortured in some dark, unhappy, Camp Crystal Lake-like hamlet and may, in fact, be DOA before we have a chance to resuscitate it.
Picture it: the cast of characters—me (in heels), an attractive brother old enough to know better and a freakish commingling of suit-and-tie stuff shirts carrying around briefcases and bad attitudes; too-loud teenagers en route to a generally unproductive day at school; and camera-toting, perplexed-looking, could-you-tell-me-how-to-get-to-the-White-House asking tourists.
The unfolding plot: In a train car full of chaos, a lone seat opens up to offer comfort, stability and sweet foot relief to one lucky passenger.
In reality, the situation played out every bit as dramatically as my atypical writer’s build-up suggests. Across that congested closet on wheels, he, the beautifully chocolatey Black man with locs, and I, the stubby, less-than-graceful sista girl, simultaneously spotted the opportunity to sit. I was a little closer, but four-inch stilettos ain’t the kind of shoes that allow most of us to pivot, turn and bust into an effortless sprint (unless you are, in fact, Beyonce Knowles), so although space and distance were on my side, we lumbered over to the object of our intention at the same exact time.
There was a brief pause, ostensibly so that the home-training his mama and other female relatives undoubtedly worked to instill in him could bubble itself up to the surface of his consciousness. He grappled for a moment, avoiding my eyes, which surely by now were pimp smacking him into submission, then proceeded to bend his long, lanky, designer-suit-wearing legs and park his narrow rear in the open seat. The punctuation mark on his blatant move of un-manliness? He crossed his leg. I had officially been served.
What just happened here? I struggled to not only to keep my balance against the swaying jerkiness of the train (and thwart the offers from the three-toothed fella two rows over who told me I could take a seat on his lap), but comprehend where the kindness and gentility of our men had gone. Maybe if I hadn’t grown up with a grandfather who took his hat off when he entered buildings and held doors open for as many ladies as there were to parade through them, I wouldn’t have come to expect respect and courtesy from Black men.
So here, fellow Clutch-ettes, is where a very unwarm and unfuzzy theory began to formulate in my overactive little mind:
With the breakdown of this generation’s sense of tradition and uprightness, can I really expect a man to hold a door for me when his culture and his music have ingrained in him that I’m only good enough to hold his… well, you get where I’m going here.
Just like Sophia loved Harpo, I am in love with hip-hop. Like theirs, it’s a tumultuous and sometimes dysfunctional relationship but that passion, that desire, that mutual understanding is still there. That being said, I recognize that it’s been used to loop a continuous message of outright, flagrant disrespect, let alone a general aloofness when it comes to being an honorable gentleman. The finger has already been flexed and pointed at misogynistic lyrics for relegating women to nothing more than trickin’, jigglin’ body parts. But I also have to lay blame at the feet of the macho hip-hop mindset for the rapid breakdown in basic, common manners. Between that dynamic and the failure of parents—many of whom are barely out of the same generation as their kids—someone has done a pretty poopity job teaching their son – the dudes who make up our shallow-behind dating pool – what to do and coaching their daughters on what to demand.
To top it all off, I find that sistas are either scared to insist on the kind of old school manners from their husbands, boyfriends and jump-offs that separated average men from gentlemen, or they themselves don’t know that we’re supposed to have passenger doors opened and closed for us. We’re supposed to get our seats pulled out and be helped into our coats. We’re supposed to ceremoniously have doors held so that we can sashay through them first. And in the name of all that’s good and decent and right-side-up, we’re supposed to have first dibs on an empty seat on a jam-packed subway.
This much I do know—if the good Lord blesses me with the opportunity to have a son, that little dude is going to be the friggin’ Billy Dee Williams of his generation because his mama is going to make ever so certain that he knows ‘gentleman’ is more than a compound noun (of course, he’ll know that too, since Mom is also a grammar geek). It’s not even about his becoming the object of desire for every girl who thirsts for a charming guy. His dad may slap him a high five off the benefit of that. I just want this yet-unborn manners prodigy to understand that chivalry is the kind of behavior traditionally expected from warriors, knights—and Black kings.