At a rally for college students in Miami Gardens Thursday, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum invited his opponent for Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, to "put some respect" on his name.
He was referring to how DeSantis addressed him during the last two televised debates. DeSantis called him “Andrew,” not Mr. Gillum or Mayor Gillum.
Gillum told the audience at Florida Memorial University he was not friends with the former congressman and had only met him for the first time at the CNN debate a few days ago.
“I'm a sitting mayor and he had the nerve to address me only as Andrew,” said Gillum, who continued, “I never would have reduced myself to referring to him in such familiar terms.”
The message resonated at this historically black university where students and professors nodded their heads knowingly. This wasn’t just about political decorum, where it is the norm to address elected officials by their titles.
It was deeper than that. Gillum, a black man, was not afforded even the basic title of mister by his white opponent. History gives extra weight to what some describe as a not-so-subtle racial slight rooted in the Jim Crow-era custom of denying black men courtesy titles.
“I recognize how people who have not had these experiences might not even see it,” said Michael Moss, an African-American professor of psychology at FMU. “Mayor Gillum is not just running as a person, he’s also running against the perception of his perceived place as a black man.”
Moss says not calling Gillum by his title enforces the idea that Gillum isn’t worthy of basic respect on a public stage.
“To not acknowledge his title is to keep him, a black man, in his place, in a coded way,” Moss said.
On social media during both recent televised debates, people took notice of how Gillum referred to DeSantis as “Mr. DeSantis” and at times “congressman”—even though he’s no longer a sitting congressman—and how DeSantis called the Tallahassee mayor “Andrew.”
Filmmaker Yvette Nicole Brown tweeted, “And call him Andrew again, Ron. He is Mayor Gillum or MISTER Gillum as you have been Mr. DeSantis all night when he references you.”
Poet and educator Clint Smith wrote in a tweet, “Ron DeSantis calling Andrew Gillum by his first name feels a lot like him trying to call him “boy.”’
And call him Andrew again, Ron. He is Mayor Gillum or MISTER Gillum as you have been Mr. DeSantis all night when he references you.
Calling a grown man who is your OPPPONENT by his first name makes you look small. Real, real small, Ron.
— yvette nicole brown (@YNB) October 22, 2018
Ron DeSantis calling Andrew Gillum by his first name feels a lot like him trying to call him “boy.”
— Clint Smith (@ClintSmithIII) October 22, 2018
It is notable that @AndrewGillum calls @RepDeSantis “Congressman” and DeSantis calls him “Andrew.” Gillum is still Mayor of Tallahassee, and DeSantis is not even a Congressman anymore. It is clear what his word choice implies.
— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) October 22, 2018
DeSantis’ campaign has been dogged by accusations of racism or associating with people who have said racist things.
The DeSantis campaign asked WLRN to email them questions, but the campaign had not responded at the time of publication.
“We’re still close enough to the generation that experienced Jim Crow,” said Susan Glisson, historian and founding director of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation.
During the Jim Crow era in the south, in addition to laws that kept black citizens as second class, social customs also relegated black people to an inferior status. Black people had to refer to whites as miss or mister, including children, but in return would be called by their first names, “aunty,” “uncle” or racial epithets.
“I don’t know how old Mr. DeSantis is but from appearance he looks old enough to be aware of that generational racist legacy,” she said. “He’s either doing it out of implicit bias or doing it intentionally; either way a candidate running in the 21st century should be informed about history and should be cognizant of that. It’s in poor taste.”
DeSantis is 40. Gillum is 39.
For many in the black community, the way DeSantis has chosen to address Gillum is regarded as a glaring insult.
Tameka Bradley Hobbs, a former professor at FMU, says during both debates it’s one of the main things that stood out for her and her friends living in Florida.
“People kept remarking, ‘Why is DeSantis calling Mayor Gillum by his first name?’ People see the disrespect,” said Hobbs. “It may work for his intended voters, but for African-Americans we see it for what it is.”