Letter: Why the term “Nappy headed” is offensive

Posted 8/30/20

To the editor:

I assume most people see the harm done when a White man uses the term “nappy headed” to refer to a Black woman. But, perhaps some read the recent Facebook post of Town …

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Letter: Why the term “Nappy headed” is offensive

Posted

To the editor:

I assume most people see the harm done when a White man uses the term “nappy headed” to refer to a Black woman. But, perhaps some read the recent Facebook post of Town Canvassing Board Chair Vincent Calenda referring to “nappy headed Michelle Obama” and found themselves asking: It’s just a word, why are people so sensitive? Haven’t I heard Black people themselves using that term? Why is it such a big deal? Knowing the history of that term answers those questions.

The term “nappy” was used by the slave traders in the Americas in the 17th century to describe the hair texture of the Africans they brought in bondage to the US to be sold, bought, and owned as property of White men. Physical characteristics- such as hair texture and skin color- were used to rationalize the subhuman status of Africans, which in turn allowed those who profited from slavery to treat them as less than human. It also allowed society to create standards of “beauty” based on White people’s physical characteristics. The history carried in the term is so offensive it is referred to as “the other N word.” Some may remember the outrage when in 2007, CBS radio host, Don Imus, referred to members of the Rutgers women’s basketball team as “nappy headed hos.” Imus was fired from CBS.

The word “nappy,” which renders Black people as inferior and undesirable, has endured for three hundred years. In a heartbreaking study in the 1950s, social psychologist Dr. Kenneth Clark demonstrated the psychological cost of these racialized hierarches for children. He showed Black and White children between ages six and nine two dolls that were identical- except that one was White and one was Black. He then asked the children a series of questions: Show me the doll you want to play with. Show me the doll who is nice. Show me the doll that is bad. White and Black children alike chose the White doll as good, preferred, and nice. This study reveals how very young children, both White and Black, internalize what society deems beautiful, worthy, and wanted. Terms like “nappy” created these racialized hierarches and sustain them today.

So, if you didn’t know why the term “nappy headed” is offensive when a White man uses it to describe a Black female, now you know.

Kalina Brabeck

32 Shore Drive

Warren

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