Why I don’t feel the same way as other Black women do about the polarizing term “auntie.”
I’ve seen a lot of debate over the term “auntie,” over the last few years. The consensus seems to be that Black women hate the term, and it should be banished from our vocabulary. However, I’m going to offer what might be an unpopular opinion because, unlike other Black women, I don’t despise the term.
Now that I’m in my 50s, I’ve reached the point in my life where I can be referred to as “auntie.” I am an actual aunt, with one niece, three nephews, and two great-nieces. However, some younger people may wish to refer to me as an auntie as a sign of respect. In the Black community though, the term is under debate.
Some prominent older Black woman celebrities such as Oprah and Ava Duvernay detest the term and refuse to be referred to as such. However, Congresswoman Maxine Waters embraced it. Why is the term “auntie” so heated in the Black community?
How “Auntie” Became a Derogatory Term
The term “auntie” among non-Black people of color such as Asians and Latinos as well as with continental Africans denotes a term of respect and isn’t limited to a woman who is a parent’s sister. They use the term to refer to any middle-aged or elderly woman. However, African Americans have a different history with the term, which is why it has become polarizing among us.
For instance, during slavery, enslaved Black women were not allowed to be referred to by honorific or courtesy titles such as “Miss” or “Mrs.” As such, a common title used to refer to them was “Aunt,” such as in “Aunt Jemima.”
Many older Black American women today are resistant to the term “auntie” not only for its unpleasant history but also because they feel it’s ageist and demeaning. Oppressors referred to our ancestral mothers, aunts, and grandmothers as “Aunt” or “Auntie” not because they respected them, but because they wanted to diminish them. The honorific titles of “Miss” and “Mrs.” denoted high status that oppressors did not want them to have and served to infantilize enslaved Black women.
Additionally, the Aunt Jemima caricature that was used to sell pancakes for decades was based on the “Mammy” stereotype of a…