“Downy, meaning "fuzzy, kinky," used in colloquial or derogatory reference to the hair of black people”
In 2007, radio talk show host, Don Imus, sent mainstream media into a frenzy with his racist commentary referring to the Rutgers Ladies Basketball team as “nappy headed hoes”. While he is not the first to cross the line of respect, only to later come back with a political apology, it was a highly publicized incident. Although there are other adjectives used to describe our texture which are deemed by some as derogatory, “nappy” seems to resonate more among black women. This is a topic that remains divisive and contentious within our own community. Some use the word synonymous with the term natural. Here are just a few opinions on whether or not the term is appropriate that I’ve heard from both sides.
· It depends on how you use it. You can take its power away but using it positively. If you use it as a negative adjective, then it becomes problematic.
· It is ok for “us” to use it but not for outsiders.
· Freedom of speech argument – if we start allowing the language police to dictate word choice, where will it end?
· Origin – the term was designed to be used against us in a negative manner and therefore it still carries the same negative connotation.
· There are other terms that can be used to describe our hair such as curly, coily or highly textured.
· It’s the same as the good hair vs. bad hair argument
These comments raised a few questions for me:
1. Do phrases such as these help lessen the blow?
“Happy to be Nappy”
2. Why is the term “kinky” more accepted? Or is it?
The definition of kinky (as it relates to hair) is “tangled or tightly looped, as a wire or rope; tightly curled.
3. How do you feel about salons that embrace the term by using it as the name of their business?
Rosario Schooler- Ukpabi, Owner of the natural hair salon “Oh, My Nappy Hair”, in California.
“The name caused a lot of controversy, and we had to overcome a lot of hurdles. People actually wanted to fight us because of the name of the salon! We’re trying to say that nappy hair, natural hair is beautiful because it’s the way God made us. But we got lots of death threats and hate mail because of it. We were challenging people’s notions of what natural hair was, after being brainwashed for years that straight hair is the best and only way to go. It was a fight within themselves– ‘I have to accept my hair? My hair is beautiful the way it is?’ But they tried to flip it on us. We’re just trying to embrace and celebrate our beauty, and announce it to the world!”
4. Sabrina Moella directed the film “Nappy Heads” as a celebratory tribute to the afro. Does taking control of the word and using it in a positive manner make you feel more comfortable with the term?
5. Should we hold a mock burial and vow to never use the word again like they did with the other “n” word? And if so, will it have any effect? Will people still continue to use it anyway? What are the underlying issues?
This article was complete prior to the controversial twitter battle between Rhianna and a so-called fan. In case you’ve been stranded on an island, here it is:
This is just another example of the emotional response the term triggers.