Is it offensive for me to refer to black people as "brothers?"

I do this all of the time; if I’m trying to refer to an inspecific black guy, I’ll say “He was the brother who came in wearing the red baseball cap last week” or I’ll say, “Did you see the group of brothers hanging out outside the taco joint?”

Is this weird or offensive? (I’m white)

It’s weird, and sounds like you’re trying to mock the people you’re describing. I have to say, I’d probably wonder what on earth you were talking about at first. Would you mind explaining why you do this? Why isn’t it sufficient to say the “black guy/gentleman/man” etc?

It sounds very odd to me.

No, but it’s stupid.

Unless you actually claim that ‘inspecific black guy’ and you have the same parent(s).

There are plenty of English words that are both clear and accurate – why not use some of them?
P.S. Shouldn’t that be unspecific, not inspecific black guy?

Sorry for the double post, but I want to modify the last question to say: Why isn’t it sufficient to say the “black guy/gentleman/man” etc., in situations where it’s necessary to mention that the person you’re talking about is black?

I don’t know if offense is the appropriate word to describe my reaction to your usage, but it does kinda sorta earn itself a great big WTF? It just screams “I’m either trying extra hard to seem ‘down’ or I’m mocking the whole ‘brother’ thing…in other words, I’m a fool.”

It’s in poor taste.

I should have mentioned that 1) I grew up in the south and 2) around a lot of black people who used the term, which is why it “stuck.” I’ve used it since I was probably seven or so.

Imagine a stiff walking in and saying “He was the dude who came in last week with the red cap, man”. It just looks silly to be using the slang of a group you don’t belong to.

This happens all the time at my workplace. However, there’s a lot of transplanted southern culture in this area, there are overt religious folks at work who refer to everyone as brother and sister, we’re in a union that habitually refers to members as union brothers and sisters, so the actual black demographic issue is pretty far down on the list.

Even so, it sounds bad, don’t be that guy.

If the context is clear, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it - come to think of it, it I know a number of older hippies who call people “brother” or “sister” sometimes. The issue is confining it to black people. Like the previous posters said, that comes off as an attempt to appropriate or mock the lingo.

I think it’s probably not a good idea.

Neither is the “soul shake” when used only with black people. As in, you see three gentlemen. Two are white, one is black. You shake the first two (white) men’s hands normally. You then clasp the black man’s hand in a “soul shake”.


A Lakota once explained to me that we are all brothers and sisters, traceable back to the same Creator. That’s why he ends every prayer with, “for all my relations.” So, if you refer to some people as brothers, extend the same respect to the rest of us.

Whenever a white person refers to a black man as a “brother” it always sounds somehow derogatory to me – it seems to imply “the black guy who was being all black-guy-like.” It’s certainly not on a par with “negro” or “darkie,” but it bugs this white chick a little.

“Mitakuye Oyasin.” :slight_smile:

Uh, yeah, I would lose that. Fast.

Black guy here.

My thinking on this is nuanced, but I’d say that, if I didn’t know you well and you addressed me as “brother,” you’d definitely see the shadow of “WTF?” darken my countenance, even if I didn’t otherwise address the issue at that moment.

Now, if you claimed that your use of the term was meant as a way of showing solidarity with Black people, I’d really need to know exactly what you meant by “solidarity.”

In other words, how do you **really ** feel about Black people? Do you like them? (Just growing up with and being familiar with Blacks wouldn’t qualify, IMHO.) Do you really feel that they’re equal to you? How would you feel if a relative dated seriously/married a Black person? How about if your **sister ** dated seriously/married a Black man? How about one of your parents, but especially your **mama ** (assuming that either of them was in a position to do so)? Would/could **you ** date seriously/marry a Black person without sexually or otherwise fetishizing them? Would you, all other things being equal, live in a neighborhood populated by Black people (and, by “populated,” I mean more than that magical tipping point percentage that engenders white flight)? Would you–in the interest of simple justice–in moments of challenge and controversy, and not just in moments of comfort and convenience, align yourself with Black people?

Please don’t misunderstand me–I’m not trying to stir the pot, and I’m certainly not accusing you of being a fair-weather friend WRT Blacks (I don’t know anything about you). I’m just saying that these are the kinds of questions that I’d have about a non-Black–but especially a White–person who wanted to call me “brother.” To be perfectly frank, these are questions that I tend to have about White folks (and especially White liberals) who profess a belief in the equality of Blacks.

Anyway…yeah, if you don’t know your subject well, it’s probably best to avoid the term.

Oh, and FWIW, when other **Black ** people who (a) don’t know me well, or (b) I’m not diggin’ (b/c maybe they’re homophobic or otherwise prejudiced and assume that I share their fucked-up views, etc.) use that term with me, I don’t consider that to be kosher, either.

Hey, I think we have a winner here. Next time I refer to “black guys being all black-guy-like” I’ll be sure to give you credit.

Depends on who I am talking to. I’ll use “black dude” before I’d use “brother”. Alot of my coworkers have been young black women and with them if we were talking about a ‘brother’ I might use it. Mostly because we all find it amusing when I mimic them.
BCW: Push, did you notice the two brothers that came in?
Me: Yeah.
BCW: Did you think that one was cute?
Me: Which one? The tall brother or the short one?
BCW: The tall one.
Me: I don’t know. I don’t dig on brown.
Then we all laugh.

What if you refer to every guy as “brother”?