In a recent post for XOJane, writer Linda Chavers argues certain words are off limits to White women, like “girl,” “girlfriend,” and “boo,” because of their racial implications.
Shortly after moving into a new apartment, Chavers received a text from her new housemate, who happened to be a White woman, that said: “Hey Girl! Just wanted to let you know the electric bill came in today.”
The message got on her nerves and reminded Chavers of all the times White women/girls have called her “girl” or “girlfriend” or “sister” in an attempt to “be down.”
It immediately reminded me of that time when I was in high school and Ann Perkins greeted me in the hallway with, “What’s up, girlfriend!” Ann and I had known each other since the fourth grade and maybe spoke ten words to each other between elementary and high school. Yet, there she was, calling me “girlfriend” apropos of nothing. I think she even high-fived me, too.
In any case, the micro-aggressions of “hey girl” iterations are too many to count — it’s a part of our American racial fabric: I, black person, walk past you, white person, who then says something that subtly yet aggressively triggers that we are different, but luckily for you, my color signifies a racial experience that’s then co-opted for amusement, or irony, or I don’t know what.
So when I saw a recent Facebook post by Rebecca Carroll (yes, the xoJane editor), I grinned knowingly. Her post read: “Now I know that white folks are going to continue to appropriate black vernacular no matter what all — but I’m kind of going to need them to stop appropriating it AT me. To wit, white women, all the best, but please stop calling me ‘boo.’ Thanks.”
Ha! Poor woman, I know how she feels. I quickly “liked” her post and commented, asking if we could add “girl” to the list. What I didn’t do was change whatever setting it is that shuts off notification every single time someone comments on something you commented on (typing that explanation just now has me feeling so many things). Thusly, a few hours later, I log back on and see a slew of responses to Rebecca’s pithy post.
I’d (wrongly) presumed most of the responses would be like mine, with suggested additions to the list of appropriations black folk could do without. Instead, the responses expressed sentiments of, well, butthurt — a term I loathe, but fits here. No one asked, “What do you mean, Rebecca?” or, “Where is this coming from?” — or even, “Ha, OK, guess it’s one of those days!”
Chavers argues that when White women use the words “girl” or “boo” they are appropriating terms of endearment created by Black folks and are claiming them as their own.
She surmises: “When I bristle at a white woman calling me boo or girl or girlfriend or sister, it’s not that I am then making her the singular target of white supremacy. It’s that she has effectively (indeed, breezily) reminded me of that the structure still exists, and more importantly, of my exact place in it.
I empathize with Chavers frustrations, but I’m wondering if it’s really that deep.
Moreover, he whole thing has me questioning whether or not I’m appropriating Latinas when I call women who email or tweet me, “Chica.” Or if I’m ripping off French people when I call my son, “Le Kid.”
Can anyone use any term of endearment that is not rooted in racism (ehem, the n-word) regardless of their race or ethnicity, or are these words just off limits to White folks, because…White supremacy?
Since I’m not a linguist, or someone who studies language trends for a living, I’m going to go out on a limb and say both “girl” and “girlfriend” have been around for quite a while. And even if they were popularized by Black people (and more specifically gay Black men who’s slanguage gets jacked by straight Black women), they—like the words “dope” or “cool” or “epic” or “awesome”—have been absorbed into pop culture’s vernacular and are open to use by everyone.
While I don’t knock Chavers for feeling annoyed by White women addressing her in a way that annoys her, I just don’t believe writing think pieces aimed at schooling legions of random Whites who don’t care what you want to be called (I’m just saying) is the best use of her time or talent.
I mean I get it. I write for the web, so I know articles about race, microaggressions, and being snarky to White folks are great click bait and can have everyone talking (hell, I’ve done it, and honestly, I’m doing it now).
But in the grand scheme of things, perhaps Chavers should spend less time trying to educate faceless White women on the internet and more time correcting folks who address her in real life like they’re the homie from way back.