The Imus/Rutgers insult and the furor that followed illustrate both the power of words, and the volatility of race as an issue in America and the world.
The remarks that he made have struck nerves on so many levels. The term Ã¢Â€Âœnappy headedÃ¢Â€Â invokes Black hair politics; the reference to women as Ã¢Â€ÂœhoesÃ¢Â€Â is degradation; darker skinned Blacks are pitted against fairer skinned Blacks with the Ã¢Â€Âœjiggaboos vs. wannabesÃ¢Â€Â comment; and all of it raises questions like Who has the right to call people names? Why is it okay that Blacks can use certain language while others canÃ¢Â€Â™t? How responsibile are Black people for the words that are used against us when we perpetuate the issue by continuing the use of those words?
On April 10 after the Rutgers WomenÃ¢Â€Â™s Basketball teamÃ¢Â€Â™s press conference, I submited a post titled, Ã¢Â€ÂœNot a Nappy Head in the BunchÃ¢Â€Â on Last Chocolate City. The post pointed out that those beautiful women had responded to Don ImusÃ¢Â€Â™s comments with poise and grace. The title implied, though the article did not clarify, that none of the women had what most Black folks would consider, Ã¢Â€ÂœnappyÃ¢Â€Â hair. Unfortunately, some people were offended by my reference to the womenÃ¢Â€Â™s hair.
I didnÃ¢Â€Â™t mean to offend anyone with that statement. I apologize personally, and on behalf of LastChocolateCity.com and The Michigan Citizen, Inc., I apologize as well.
Imus and his team had attacked the women for their physical appearance, and the women of Rutgers obviously did not fit the description of Ã¢Â€Âœnappy headed hoesÃ¢Â€Â by any stretch of the imagination. My intention with my post was to emphasize the fact that ImusÃ¢Â€Â™s comments were not only hateful, but inaccurate. However, by stating that there wasnÃ¢Â€Â™t a nappy head in the bunch, I stirred up some deep seated animosities within the Black community.
For the record, I am a brother with waist length locs. My hair is nothing if not nappy. The comment I made was intended to be a humorous remark directed with love for my sisters on that team and for my people. But by making comments that were offensive to someone else, my intentions (and my hair) were not scrutinized. What mattered was the perception and that another human being was hurt by my words.
The politics of hair is still a sticky subject especially among Black women. I have heard sisters criticized for having natural hair and for having perms, for having weaves and for being bald headed.
Blacks have been struggling with the language we use to describe ourselves and our people for many years now. Our choice to continue using the derogoatory terms that are used to insult us is coming back to bite us.
African culture has always been adapted by the dominant culture in the US. Why would we not believe that as Black culture becomes mainstream, that others would not mimic our speech? They always do. This has been the case from Ã¢Â€ÂœgoobersÃ¢Â€Â and Ã¢Â€ÂœyamsÃ¢Â€Â to Ã¢Â€ÂœcoolÃ¢Â€Â and Ã¢Â€ÂœchillinÃ¢Â€Â™Ã¢Â€Â. So when Imus uses our own language to demean our women, we shouldnÃ¢Â€Â™t be surprised.
But the question is also, are we not offended when Blacks refer to each other using words that start with the letter Ã¢Â€ÂœNÃ¢Â€Â, the letter Ã¢Â€ÂœHÃ¢Â€Â or the letter Ã¢Â€ÂœBÃ¢Â€Â? Maybe all this talk of banishing Ã¢Â€Âœthe N-wordÃ¢Â€Â is working. I cringe every time I hear someone use it. I get a knot in my stomach when I reflexively use it myself.
Natural African hair is still viewed by some as a curse or as a negative aspect of our appearance. Yet white kids work very hard to lock their hair. Japanese kids pay hundreds of dollars to have their hair Ã¢Â€ÂœdreadedÃ¢Â€Â. The frequent sightings of afros, cornrows and locs in public let us know that nappiness no longer has the negative conotations that it once did.
But when a white man calls a group of sisters Ã¢Â€Âœnappy headed hoesÃ¢Â€Â, and then a Black man says, Ã¢Â€ÂœNo, they arenÃ¢Â€Â™t nappy,Ã¢Â€Â emotions flair.
Is it time to remove all racially identifiable language from our speech altogether?