On Words I Cannot Use

It seems innocuous enough to white eyes and ears. Words I threw around ignorantly in high school. Words like ‘ratchet’ and ‘ghetto’, and ‘nappy’. Words that sound grossly rude and condescending when spoken by white people. Words that may not necessarily be classified as slurs, but that definitely don’t belong in the mouths of white people.

But I now, like to think, that I know better. And knowing better is pointless if you don’t try to teach other white people. Allyship is taking initiative to not only actively change your behavior, but correct the behavior of those around you.

So when a very dear (white) childhood friend of mine* posted a snapchat of her ‘ratchet’ nails, I thought that the person in question should know better. I know that they are intelligent and well-meaning, but smarts and good intentions don’t mean much in this context. So I privately replied to this friend’s snap and told her that that word isn’t really hers to use and that she should probably delete said snap. ‘Ratchet’ is a word that refers to things associated with the linguistic, stylistic, and cultural practices of (in particular) poor black women. It’s a cultural word that should be used by only people of that culture.

I am not trying to be a white savior or asking for cookies, but I am trying to remind other white people to not use terminology that doesn’t belong to them. White person to white person, if a word doesn’t pertain to your race/culture/practices, don’t use it. Do not try to claim ownership of language that has never been and will never be yours.

As for taking criticism on (mis)behaviors, that’s for a different time.

* I’d like to keep this person’s identity anonymous. They remain a close friend of mine and I like to think that she has taken what I told her to heart.


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