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Why 'Nappy' Is Offensive


Why 'Nappy' Is Offensive

Zine Magubane

When Don Imus called the Rutgers University basketball team a bunch of "nappy-headed ho ' s" he brought to the fore the degree to which black women's hair has served as a visible marker of our political and social marginalization.Nappy, a historically derogatory term used to describe hair that is short and tightly coiled, is a preeminent example of how social and cultural ideas are transmitted through bodies.


Important but somewhat belabored point from 11 years ago. Imus didn’t get away with it, but it was more for the “ho’s” than the “nappy.”

I graduated in 1971 as a White girl with tightly coiled, uncontrollably frizzy (though laboriously grown out to below my shoulders) hair from a NJ suburban HS. The school had one African American teacher (girls’ PE), and there was one Asian (Chinese) member of the class (her dad, of course, ran the laundry on Main St). I got my hair from my Mother, who got it from her Welsh ancestors, but hers was nearly black, and she kept it cut short. I also knew that when my Dad’s mother first met my Mother, she warned him off her, citing her hair as well as her lips and nose as evidence of ‘something in the woodpile.’ I never heard anyone call my hair “nappy,” but then I was pretty clueless.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I have to say I had a delightful conversation with a dark-skinned, dark-haired grocery checker who identified us as “curly girls” who “have to stick together.” It was provoked by my purchase of the spray detangler that has indeed brought me back to loving my curls (now again much shorter). I was honored to have this moment of identity and mutual appreciation. I wish when I was the checker’s age that I’d had the courage to toss my curls even in the limper “Celtic Afro” a coworker once called my medium-length do. We are making progress, but I still wait for those who may have been called “nappy” to invite me into the sisterhood.