Who You Calling Auntie?
Oprah. Ava. Gayle. These are some of the most influential African American women in media and entertainment who have one thing in common: They don’t want to be called auntie. According to a June 2019 post on OprahDaily.com, Oprah explained, "I cringe being called Auntie or Mama by anybody other than my nieces or godchildren. Except if I’m in Africa, where it’s the custom for everybody to refer to anyone older as 'Sister,' or 'Auntie,' depending on the age difference.”
Likewise, in separate social media posts, Oprah’s best friend television host Gayle King and award-winning director Ava Duvernay shared that to them auntie is what you say to old people. Having been an aunt since I was in my early 20’s, I’ve never thought being called auntie made me feel old. To be honest, I’ve always considered it an honorable title of respect.
The controversy around being called auntie, aunt or TT reminds me of the iconic “Hey Auntie” line from the 2018 blockbuster Black Panther. Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan says this when he greets his very surprised Auntie Ramonda played by Angela Basset. I laughed like so many others in the movie theater when I heard it because it reminded me of what I hear from my own nieces and nephews. It is a greeting of honor, respect, intimacy that invokes the importance of the aunt in the family. And the fact that he boldly called her that the first time he met her face to face was intended to be shocking but ironic. It was as if by calling her auntie, he was also reminding them of his undeniable connection to the family.
In looking at what others have said about not wanting to be called auntie, I discovered a few reasons why. The most common reason mentioned was that it made them feel old. Others stated that it made it seem like a family relationship was being forced on them whether they wanted it or not. To them, it seemed intrusive and made assumptions about the desire to be closely connected. Lastly, some stated that it made them feel unattractive and no longer valued. A few even mentioned Aunt Jemima and the stereotypical mammy who is past her prime sexually and romantically.
To me, being called auntie implies respect and admiration. The bible talks about how an older woman should behave in Titus 2:3 “Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good.” And as an Auntie, I enjoy sharing “good wisdom” that I’ve gained over the years with my nieces and nephews.
Being an aunt is a privilege and a blessing that I’ll share more about in the next few weeks leading up to the celebration of National Aunt’s Day, July 26th and the launch of my new podcast “The Chocolate Auntie podcast.” Next week, we’ll explore the importance of the Aunt in African American television families.