The Misuse of “Auntie” and How It Perpetuates Ageism In The Black Community
“Auntie” started as a proper noun of respect to refer to your parent’s or grandparent’s sister and has now become a condescending term to passive-aggressively label certain Black women.
In the Black community, especially in the South, “Auntie” is used as a proper noun all on its own rather than saying Aunt Pam or Auntie Pam. Some aunts, like those in my family, do not like to be called “aunt” or “auntie” because it makes them sound old. When I was a little girl in the 80s, one aunt, who was 29 at the time, told me not to call her “Aunt <first name> because it made her sound old. So, Black women’s hesitation about being called “aunt” or “auntie” is nothing new.
Around 2017, “Auntie” became more mainstream when Black Twitter began calling Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Auntie Maxine. (Congresswoman Waters recently celebrated her 85th birthday on August 15, 2023.) I recall attending the Congressional Black Caucus in 2018. Congresswoman Waters hosted a very informative session and had Rev Al Sharpton, Ed Gordon, and Senator Cory Booker in attendance. One of those gentlemen told us that publicly calling Congresswoman Waters “Auntie Maxine” was belittling to her achievements and continued dedicated work as a Congresswoman. In other words, to those who already doubted her abilities and achievements, hearing her called Auntie Maxine instead of Congresswoman Waters only validated their biases because Black Twitter and her constituents — those who held her in high regard — were not putting respect on her name and position.
Recently, Essence Magazine posted an article — likely in response to many people’s outcry (see my article below) over the Hot Girl Summer Bootcamp. In the article, Essence claims “aunties” have been the primary attendees of past Essence Festivals. The next sentence implies that aunties are high-class, high-earning Black women. The article later states that the Essence Festival our mothers and aunties attended no longer exists. This is blatant bias, stereotyping, and ageism — many of the same things marginalized people, such as Black women, have to fight from the grocery store to the workplace. It is the very reason we have everything from Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws to the Crown Act. Yet, the very magazine that is supposed to…