Family Members, Ranked

Photo: Shutterstock, G/O Media

As Black Thanksgiving quickly approaches, it may be necessary for some people who are unfamiliar with this holiday to understand black genealogy. In black culture, the family dynamic is not dictated by genetics, DNA or blood. Instead, much like race, “family” is a social construct.

To help our readers understand this subject, we assembled a team of experts to rank the importance of black family members. Our panel included a geneticist (although he isn’t licensed, he has watched more episodes of Maury than anyone on earth), a Ph.D. student (Phil da’ Emcee, a who is studying Megan Thee Stallion’s Knees) and Louisa Perkins, a board-certified babysitter.

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While subject to individual variations, this familial hierarchy determines everything from funeral seat placement to Thanksgiving plate fixing. Here are the top 10 family members in descending order

10. Pastors

As we mentioned earlier, familial status is not determined by blood. In black communities, all pastors are considered members of the family. To be clear, pastors are different from preachers, because anyone can be a preacher but a family pastor is passed down through generations. Even if a family doesn’t attend a church, they are assigned a pastor by the ancestors. When introducing oneself at black gatherings, one must always mention one’s pastor.

One of the reasons pastors are considered family members is because they keep their position even after death. My grandfather died before I was born, but he is still my grandfather. Similarly, I haven’t attended church in years, but my pastor is still Bishop R.O. Johnson, who passed away in 1989.

9. Nephews/Nieces (tied)

As one of the greatest uncles in African-American history, I am qualified to say that nephews are slightly more bothersome, but not less important than nieces. Nephews are bad as fuck and they require you to do shit. I had to wrestle with my nephews, teach them how to ride a bike and show them how to use a socket wrench.

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Nieces, on the other hand, are easy. As long as you buy them shit, let them ride in the front seat and pretend their boring-ass tea parties are interesting, they are cool. When my niece turned 6, I took her to the mall and let her ride the escalators. She still talks about that shit all the time.

I can uncle like a motherfucker.

8. Sisters and brothers

Not to be confused with siblings, these are people whose Holy Ghost credentials has elevated them to special titles. Even if they don’t attend your church, everyone knows at least one head deacon or usher board president who everyone in the neighborhood refers to as “Sister Wilma” or “Brother Jay.”

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“Sisters” have some of the best selections of pocketbook candy one can find and always have a real handkerchief in their purse. “Brothers” always have a lot of shit in their wallet and can fix a lawnmower in a three-piece suit. Sisters and brothers only listen to gospel music, usually on a.m. radio. These are the proverbial prayer warriors. They are the source of 73 percent of prayers in the black community.

They fucking love Joe Biden.

7. Playcousins

To qualify as a playcousin, one must live within one-quarter mile of the family home and should also be granted carte blanche spend-the-night privileges. playcousins can go in your refrigerator and if they are at your house at dinnertime, they eat, too.

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6. Siblings

These are your real sisters and brothers, although it is still not determined by DNA. In black families, there is only one kind of sibling, while Caucasian families have multiple varieties. I still don’t understand the difference between a step-sister, a half-brother and a regular sibling, but that’s white people shit. I’ve only known one black stepsister in my life, my next-door neighbor who, along with her older sibling Stephanie, also qualified as a playcousin.

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If you asked her her name, she’d always say:

“I’m Step’s sister.

5. Uncles

Uncles are the male siblings of your mother or father; the male friends of your mother or father; or any relative more than 20 years older than you. Therefore, in black families, a 42-year-old nephew of a 12-year-old is technically the younger child’s uncle. Uncles are skilled in alternator repair, can shine shoes with spit and are the only family members allowed to light a barbecue grill.

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All uncles have chest hair.

Periodt.

4. Aunts

Aunts rank higher than uncles simply because they are responsible for:

  • Potato salad recipes.
  • Shaming and all family scorn-related issues
  • All macaroni-making.
  • Keeping up with the birthdays of all cousins.
  • Informing the rest of the family when a distant relative dies
  • Passing down the right words to church hymns

3. Cousins

Contrary to popular belief, cousins are not the same as playcousins. A playcousin could elevate themselves to a real cousin but a blood cousin can never be demoted. And according to the Black Bylaws, cousins are required to fight for all coequal cousins, regardless of fault or blame.

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What kind of white nonsense is this cousin-ranking bullshit? There is just one level of black cousins. I don’t even know what a “second cousin” is, much less a “third cousin, once removed?” Who removes their cousins? Where are they removed from and why?

My female cousin once broke up with a guy because he disparaged another cousin. Then, she keyed his car. Then, the rest of her girl cousins jumped him. They were definitely wrong, but they were legally right according to Article I, Section 4 of the Cousin Constitution.

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Look, I don’t make the rules.

2. Mamas and Daddies

The importance of parents is understood, but in black culture, a grandmother can also be a mama and a grandfather can be a daddy if they raised the child. There are daddies who are uncles and aunts who are mamas. If two children are childhood friends for more than 10 years, the parents of the children each become mutual mamas and daddies. In fact, even before America acknowledged same-sex relationships, a lot of children in black communities grew up with two mamas.

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1. Grandmamas and grandaddies

They rank No. 1. These are the ancestors, the prayer-givers, the babysitters and the backbone of the black family.

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When you get in trouble, a grandmother is the lawyer who petitions your parents for leniency. I don’t quite know how this works, but all grandmothers are born with an unabridged Bible, a full arsenal of seasonings and two shawls. Grandmothers love shawls and high beds. Their mattresses must be, on average, 11 feet off the ground and covered by a fitted sheet, a top sheet, a blanket, a quilt, a cover and a comforter.

Grandfathers know shit. They know how to fish, fix plumbing and they know the shortcut to everywhere–even places they have never been—but they only know the former names of the road. If a street is named David Jenkins Memorial Boulevard, your grandfather still calls it “Old Canton Road.” Grandfathers are immune to gluten and like their bacon fried hard.

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These familial names are very important and you can only understand them if you live in the black community.

For instance, my mother raised her niece, Nikey, since birth, so Nikey calls my mother “mama.” So, even though, in white genealogy, I’m Nikey’s second cousin, I’m her brother in blackology, which makes her son, who is my second cousin, my nephew (who I had to teach how to ride a bike in 95-degree weather). My mother’s sister, Marvell, is not Nikey’s aunt. That’s her grandmama. And her grandmother. Nikey’s great-grandmother, who is my grandmother, died. She was also Nikey’s grandmama. Her name was Marvell, too.

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About the author

Michael Harriot

World-renowned wypipologist. Getter and doer of "it." Never reneged, never will. Last real negus alive.