'Hon' Ain't Fun for Everyone

March 22, 1994|By ANN G. SJOERDSMA

Allow me to state the obvious about the ''Hon'' flap into which the Maryland Senate has unwittingly jacked Baltimore's mayor.

''Hon,'' alleged by some (transplants and outsiders, mostly) to be ''cute,'' ''quaint,'' ''folksy,'' and ''colorful'' Bawlamerese, is an exclusionary term. It is used nearly exclusively by whites, and by only some whites, generally in blue-collar neighborhoods in South and East Baltimore. And it has sexist overtones.

''Hon'' just ain't fun for everyone.

To recap for newcomers to ''Hon-gate,'' the state Senate, led by Baltimore Democrat Barbara Hoffman, whose district includes white, blue-collar Hampden, has voted to hold hostage $1 million in city highway funds until Mayor Schmoke officially embraces ''Bawlamer's'' term of endearment, ''Hon.''

The ransom terms are simple: Add ''Hon'' to the ''Welcome to Bal- timore'' sign on the northbound Baltimore-Washington Parkway. Or else!

Our ever-diplomatic mayor has agreed to consider this ultimatum RTC and to meet with ''Hon Man,'' a self-anointed city image-maker who has repeatedly altered the parkway sign by adding ''Hon'' to its welcome. It was cute the first few times.

I'd wager a blue-plate special at Cafe Hon in Hampden that ''Hon Man'' is white and lives, happily removed and oblivious, in the county.

In the dozen years that I've lived in Baltimore, in Fell's Point, I've been ''honned'' by the best waitresses at Jimmy's on South Broadway -- and the worst -- overly aggressive panhandlers (no go) and sidewalk Lotharios (ditto) on the same block.

Unlike the Hon Man, for whom ''Hon'' undoubtedly conjures up sweet grandmothers, I, a white woman in her 30s, get honned daily by men of all intentions and attitudes. They hon me on the street, in hardware stores, gas stations, the ballpark, when I'm walking, running, driving.

I've accepted that I'm ''honnable,'' but that doesn't mean that I always like it. Although usually warm and friendly, ''Hon'' can be patronizing, presumptuous, insincere and downright offensive, a substitute for ''little girl.''

In all my years of being honned, however, I have never been honned by a black person. I've received a fair number of ''babes'' and ''girls,'' but no African-American ''hons.''

''Hon'' limits, rather than characterizes, the Baltimore that I know and love, and I wonder at Hon Man's conscious and deliberate decision to exclude, however inadvertently, black Baltimoreans, the majority, as he has persistently seeks to define the identity and spirit of Baltimore.

''Hey, Eric,'' I called to the black friend working out next to me in the downtown gym.

''Yeah, babe?'' he replied, as if on cue.

''Do you ever use the term, 'hon'?''

''Black people do not say 'hon,' '' he flashed.

''Honey,'' but never ''Hon,'' Eric explained, is used by ''older black women.'' Which may explain why Bunita, a friendly, young black woman who works in the Inner Harbor, told me, ''I get called that [Hon] all the time and I hate it,'' but added, 'I don't mind honey, though.''

Surprisingly, African-American senators were slow to challenge

the ''Hon'' ultimatum. In a belated rejoinder, Sen. Larry Young, a Baltimore Democrat who is black, has come up with, and is lobbying for, an alternative sign revision: ''Welcome to Baltimore, Bro!''

Isn't it amazing how whites exclude blacks, blacks exclude whites, and they both manage to exclude women? In all my life, I've never been called ''Bro.'' ''Bro'' makes ''Hon'' look good.

The beauty of Baltimore is its diversity, found not in its insular neighborhoods, but in its collective energy and spirit. The city should never be limited by stereotype, folksy, funky, or otherwise. In fact, a case can be made that ''Hon-gate'' mocks the good folks who genuinely feel affection toward their neighbors and customers. They don't need a sign to proclaim their fellowship.

Hon Man and his supporters need to experience the larger community that is Baltimore.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma is a lawyer, writer and editor who lives in Baltimore.

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