Two African-American men are sitting at a bar. The bartender asks if they mind giving up their seats to two White women standing behind. The men are offended. The situation worsens and eventually leads to a federal court case and a claim for more than $3 million in damages, as reported in the NY Times article, A Last Bastion of Civility, the South, Sees Manners Decline. One of the men is identified as a former professional basketball player and the other a lawyer. The men’s lawyer contended that “the Tavern at Phipps used a policy wrapped in chivalry as a cloak for discriminatory racial practices.” The owners argued that having women in the bar offers an economic advantage because it attracts more men and giving up a seat to a woman is part of a culture of civility in the South. In the end, the judge decided in favor of the bar.
When reading this article, I initially viewed the situation as two African-American customers being asked to give up their seats to two White customers. There is something already problematic in this picture. It closely resembles the practices and codes that were implemented during the Jim Crow era. The bartender’s assumption that the two men will yield to his request is uncalled for. Since this is a commercial establishment the bartender should treat customers equally regardless of gender and race. The women should have waited, and been expected to wait, for an available seat or table like any other customer.
In the name of Southern civility, it’s expected that a man should give up his seat for a woman out of respect and politeness. This is considered a sign of good manners. I agree that people should be respectful and kind to one another, but what bothers me is the undertone of double standards that continue to exist because of gender and race. Why should the men be expected to give up their seats to the women? And why should the bar go out of its way to protect women’s sensibilities? I think in this day and age, where women are still struggling for equality, this kind of behavior does a disservice to women by reinforcing old ideas of women as needing protection and extra care. Manners are a great plus to have but they should not be exclusively directed to one group.