I’m a black woman, and a casual white female friend of mine who I’ve known for about seven years has recently started calling me “sis” in text messages and IMs. I hate it. We are cool and comfortable with each other and have had drinks and lunch together on occasion, but we’re definitely not close to being besties. Honestly, even if we were besties, I wouldn’t be OK with a white woman calling me “sis.” I cringe every time I see that word coming from her and would really appreciate some help in formulating a way to tell her to knock it off without ruining our comfy but casual friendship. I feel so silly for worrying so much about her white feelings, but this is truly the only thing I find problematic about our interactions.
Uh oh, someone thinks that they’ve been “invited to the cookout,” huh? I’m very glad that all the “cookout” talk has waned over the past couple of years, because, for a minute there, white allies were committing these kinds of well-meaning but disrespectful behaviors in the spirit of solidarity. Somehow, some way, our expression of approval for political support from the privileged morphed into the idea that these privileged people were somehow part of our struggle, too. I am fully confident that your friend thinks that there is nothing wrong with using blaccents and African American Vernacular English (AAVE) because she views herself as not racist or—an even bigger lie—unable to be racist because of close personal proximity to various people of color.
I say all of this to prepare you for the possible crying fit that she could launch into when you confront her about this. There’s a chance that she’ll have no idea that what she’s done is offensive and born out of appropriation, and she’ll flail and prostrate herself to the point that that you’re the one apologizing for even bringing it up and getting her so upset. (If this happens, do not apologize.)
There’s also a chance that she’ll disagree that using AAVE with people of color isn’t offensive and that you’re just splitting hairs and being nitpicky, and eventually she may call you a whiny minority and torpedo your friendship herself because she’s too proud to acknowledge that she messed up. This happened to me only about a month ago with a white lady acquaintance from my past—I called her out for trying to compare getting bad service at a restaurant to racism—and let me just say that God’s timing is always right.
My hope is that she hears your concerns, apologizes, corrects her behavior and continues on with her life. I don’t have a lot of confidence in that happening, and I freely admit that this is because of my own very disappointing experiences with white liberals in Trump’s America. Have you seen how many of them are acting like Bloomberg isn’t just another minimally qualified racist millionaire attempting to buy an election? Some of the smartest white people I know are entertaining this guy’s presence while literally refusing to even look me in the eye for a chat about stop and frisk. Seriously, is this a joke to y’all?
Still, you know your friend better than I do, and you can judge if she’ll actually listen to you and change. If this person is just an acquaintance, then I say don’t stress too much about her response. She probably just thinks she’s really cool and a total ally, and therefore she’s “one of us,” or something stupid like that.
Set her straight by pointing out that this is not a vernacular that you two have ever used together in the past and that it makes you uncomfortable to be spoken to in such a way. Recommend she read Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, by Reni Eddo-Lodge, if she tries to force you into a conversation about why. Keep your truth at the forefront and your labor at a minimum.
Need advice? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, use the anonymous form at flagpole.com/getadvice, or find Bonita on Twitter: @flagpolebonita.
Like what you just read? Support Flagpole by making a donation today. Every dollar you give helps fund our ongoing mission to provide Athens with quality, independent journalism.