Calling Females Sister

I’ve read a fair bit of thought about the N-word around the blogosphere lately. You know, the n-word. I’m black, so I guess I’m allowed to type it out: nigga.

I don’t feel the need to weigh in too heavily. We can do without the word. When I was in high school and at Morehouse, my friends and I used it liberally, mostly as a term of endearment, but not always. It actually has many meanings, kind of like “Fuggetabouit” for the Italians in Donnie Brasco.

For the most part, I’m putting the n-word behind me, largely because of my quest for integrity. As I’ve explained before, I feel like I need to be the same person around everyone all the time. If I wouldn’t curse around my grandmom, maybe I shouldn’t curse at all, for example.

So what can I replace nigga with? “Brother” and “sister” seem to be an obvious choice. I like “brother” a lot. Address a black man as brother, and his defenses go down immediately. Some of the coldness with which they have learned to view the world melts away. Similarly, I like the positive reaction I get when I call a white guy “brother.” It tends to catch them off guard and make their day.

I’m still working with “Sister” as a label. It just doesn’t sound right to me yet. At church, it’s cool. For example, Martha Smith is a seventysomething lady who bakes us cakes and watches our son, often for free. Even though she’s more like a mother to me and Isis, since we know her from church, she will forever be “Sister Smith.”

But outside of church, I’m still struggling with “sister” as a moniker.

“Thanks, brother,” rolls right off the tongue.

“Thanks, sister,” sounds like I wear patchouli and recite poetry for a living.

I know, that’s some real flimsy reasoning. If I blame society’s inherent sexism, that’s equally lame. To say that calling women sister takes the edge off of my flirting is questionable coming from a happily married clergy person. Alas, there’s no good excuse.

Spiritually, I do believe that we are all brothers and sisters under God. I more or less act like it. The hard part is talking like it. But I’m committed, and I know I can get used to it. If people look at me like I’m crazy  for my intentionality, I’ll know I’m doing something right, sisters and brothers.


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