Friday, April 13, 2007

The Ramifications of Racial Remarks

Originally posted by Nadir at

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 “nappy headed” invokes Black hair politics; the reference to women as “hoes” is degradation; darker skinned Blacks are pitted against fairer skinned Blacks with the “jiggaboos vs. wannabes” 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 can’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 Women’s Basketball team’s press conference, I submited a post titled, “Not a Nappy Head in the Bunch” on Last Chocolate City. The post pointed out that those beautiful women had responded to Don Imus’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, “nappy” hair. Unfortunately, some people were offended by my reference to the women’s hair.

I didn’t mean to offend anyone with that statement. I apologize personally, and on behalf of 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 “nappy headed hoes” by any stretch of the imagination. My intention with my post was to emphasize the fact that Imus’s comments were not only hateful, but inaccurate. However, by stating that there wasn’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 “goobers” and “yams” to “cool” and “chillin’”. So when Imus uses our own language to demean our women, we shouldn’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 “N”, the letter “H” or the letter “B”? Maybe all this talk of banishing “the N-word” 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 “dreaded”. 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 “nappy headed hoes”, and then a Black man says, “No, they aren’t nappy,” emotions flair.

Is it time to remove all racially identifiable language from our speech altogether?


Blogger Paul Hue said...

So, in other words, in judging your comments, "context matters"? We should not judge you entirely by just one comment, but in the context of your feelings for others, intentions, racial group membership, and hair attributes? And we should accept your apology and promise to never make such a comment again?

Just wondering. I'm rethinking my initial support for Imus on this matter, by the way.

April 13, 2007 11:36 AM  
Blogger Nadir said...

Right. Imus has a history of offending people, so we can judge him by his actions.

The same is true for all of us.

Why are you rethinking your position on Imus? You're an advocate for free speech all the time, right?

April 13, 2007 12:28 PM  
Blogger uptownseteve said...

Funny that you got on the subject of hair.

My father was 1/4 white and 1/4 Catawba Indian.

He looked like a cross between Adam Clayton Powell and Tony Perez, the Cinnicati Red Hall of Famer.

My brothers, sisters and I have been told all of lives that we had "good hair" by our fellow blacks.

My hair is like the halfway point between straight and kinky (curly).

When we were kids it made us feel special but as I got older I began to realize the tremendous self-hatred that phrase represents in my people.

We still hear it today.

My wife, who is an ATTORNEY and a very beautiful dark skinned kinky haired woman, told me before our son was born that she hoped he would hair like mine.

For all our bravado and claims of pride, there still exists in many of us a secret pain for merely being born black.

April 13, 2007 3:30 PM  
Blogger Nadir said...

"For all our bravado and claims of pride, there still exists in many of us a secret pain for merely being born black."

And those deep wounds are the reason comments like those made by Imus and others illicit such anger among us. We have been struggling for centuries against the notion that we are somehow inferior. The insults and racial descriptions pour salt on the wounds. How long do we have to fight against the stereotypes and the epithets?

April 13, 2007 3:49 PM  
Blogger uptownseteve said...

And that self-hatred manifests itself in young brothers killing each other in the streets of urban America, calling each other nig.gers and calling their women "ho's" and "b".

The feeling of inferiority is starkest in the 'hood where there is so much hopelessness and despair.

It's almost self-satisfying for ghetto brothers to demean their women.

Or kill their brothers.

Now the Paul Hue's of the world will claim that this is a "black thang" or "black culture".

That's ridiculous because middle classed blacks and professional blacks shake our heads in amazement and shock at the carnage in the 'hood.

And I've seen some trailer park white folks who act very similar to blacks in the hood with one exception.

As white Americans, they can hold to the notion that they are special because they white.

April 13, 2007 4:47 PM  
Blogger Paul Hue said...

White people also have their views of honkey hair, some types of which they consider to be "good" or "bad". Many have a preference for blond hair, for example, placing special value on it, as but one example of different honkey hair types and the relative values that honkies place on these types. Does that indicate "self-hatred" on their part? How about honkies laying in the sun to get darker skin? Does that indicate "self-hatred"?

April 13, 2007 4:55 PM  
Blogger Nadir said...

True dat.

Poverty and violence go hand in hand regardless of color.

But white privilege does play a real part in issues of race. This is why racial epithets against whites don't hold water.

Some (like Paul Hue) disagree, but others like Tim Wise not only agree, but try to do something about it.

April 13, 2007 5:01 PM  
Blogger Nadir said...

I was saying "True Dat" to Uptown Steve.

April 13, 2007 5:02 PM  
Blogger Nadir said...

What about that Paul? Why do white people lay in the sun or pay to sit under a microwave to get a tan? I've never understood that.

I heard about a teenage girl who went to several different tanning salons so she could get tan for the prom, but ended up cooking herself on the inside.

April 13, 2007 5:03 PM  
Blogger uptownseteve said...


A funny thing I've noticed.

My family and I have been on several Carribean cruises and once the cruise ships dock in the Bahamas or the Virgin Islands, the first thing half of the young white girls on the ship do is rush down to the beaches to get their hair cornrowed by the black women of islands who do that for a living.

April 14, 2007 8:39 PM  
Blogger uptownseteve said...

"White people also have their views of honkey hair, some types of which they consider to be "good" or "bad". Many have a preference for blond hair, for example, placing special value on it, as but one example of different honkey hair types and the relative values that honkies place on these types. Does that indicate "self-hatred" on their part?"

In a sense, yes.

The darker southern European immigrants were thought to be "inferior" upon their arrival in America and they were the "nig.gers" of their native countries, which is why they came here in the first place.

But once they arrived and assimilated they eventually became "white" which gave them status and privelege above blacks who had been here for a couple of centuries.

I grew up in NYC and went to school with dark haired, olive skinned Jews and Italians who fell all over themselves trying to get with blond haired Irish girls and considered dating them a form of status.

I've known Puerto Rican and Dominican girls as dark as I am who will not date men who were too dark because they didn't want their children to be "black".

They're all trying to achieve "whiteness" Paul.

That's America.

April 14, 2007 9:34 PM  

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