I sold industrial insurance," poor people's insurance, which fit the budgets of the people I knew and called on door-to-door. I started wearing a hat so I could take it off. I would knock at a single-family home and wait until the lady of the house answered. As soon as she opened the door I would remove my hat with one hand and introduce myself. Mrs. Smith," I would say, how are you today? My name is David Dinkins, I'm from the Progressive Life Insurance Company" and launch into my presentation. It was important that she see me take off my hat. I was showing respect to people who received very little of it. People pay respect to those who give respect, and besides, whether or not it was reciprocated, I felt that was the way one ought to behave. I had always been taught to be polite, and I found it to be good business.
I was also aware that the white agents from the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, my competition, treated these same women quite differently. They would breeze in to collect their premiums, step through the door and say, Hi, Suzie, how're you doing?" With their big smiles and air of assumed familiarity, these men were entirely unaware of the resentment they were creating. This was the plantation mentality brought north, and in their smug certainty the agents didn't even know it. This woman is your client, she is paying your salary, she is entitled to better than being called by her first name. Suzie" is a girl, Mrs. Smith" is a woman; there is a profound difference. I found their behavior disrespectful, I resented it, and my presence was in clear contrast. Of course it was racial.