ANNAPOLIS – Lawmakers from Prince George’s County came to the General Assembly session here three months ago with a 12-point written agenda, but one key item wasn’t on the list: Get people to stop calling the county P.G.
It’s all about image and respect, with particular significance for the African-American community.
“When I first came here it was always referred to as `P.G,’ ” said Delegation Chairman Rushern L. Baker. “We have become a real force in the state. If we are going to get the type of respect we deserve then we have to demand it.”
So the delegation did demand it throughout the session. When other lawmakers or visitors referred to the county by its initials, the delegates and senators would quickly speak up.
House members interrupted Delegate Sharon Grosfeld, D-Montgomery, when she stood on the House floor and referred to the county as P.G.
“Prince George’s County,” the delegation shouted in unison.
When constituents call lawmakers’ offices asking questions about “P.G.” they are curtly told, “It’s Prince George’s.”
“When people come to committee and say P.G., I say, `What did you say?’,” Sen. Nathaniel Exum, D-Prince George’s said. “You don’t say M.C. for Montgomery County and you don’t say A.A. for Anne Arundel County so why say P.G.? I think if they can call everyone else by the full name why don’t they call us by the full name?”
But the reason some lawmakers get especially upset with the shortened name could be a cultural one. The delegation has a significant number of African- Americans. And some African-Americans take strong offense to being given shortened names or being called something other than their proper name.
“Especially with an older generation of African-Americans … this shows a lack of respect,” says Tamara Brown, a historian at the Smithsonian’s Center for African-American History and Culture. “This dates back to relations between blacks and whites evolving from slavery through Jim Crow and the civil rights movement.”
Years ago, Brown said, blacks had to respond to any name a white person called them. Now many, but not all, prefer to be called strictly by their proper name.
“It’s tricky because there have always been nicknames within the African- American community,” Brown said. “It’s really up to the individual and their community.”
That’s exactly what Exum says.
“(People) used to call us names all the time, that doesn’t mean it was right,” he said. “P.G. doesn’t give a good impression of the county so we prefer people to say Prince George’s.”
All the county’s delegates, regardless of race or age, agree the county’s name shouldn’t be shortened, Baker said.
“It’s not so much a race issue as it is a respect issue,” he said. “I don’t have people shorten my name. It’s not `Rush.’ It’s Rushern.”
Baker said lawmakers’ resistance to the shortened name shows pride in the county and supports their new image of unity: “I don’t think members of the delegation are ridiculous to ask that we be referred to with some respect.”