I had an argument with a coworker a while back. We both were so excited that natural hair is not just a trend with many black people, but for many of us, it seems to be a part of our way of life. But here’s where the disagreement came in: she said black people’s hair is not nappy. It’s tightly coiled and actually curly.
OK, I agree that it’s tightly coiled and curly. But how about that’s exactly what the Merriam-Webster online dictionary lists as one of the definitions of the word nappy? And I quote, “Nappy, adjective, of hair: having many tight bends or curls.” See, that’s how we get into trouble as humans, we either use words or stop using words thinking we already know their meaning and don’t. Further, you can turn any word or phrase into something ugly. It’s all in the way you use it.
For example, Ms. Jealous walks up to Ms. SheGotItTogether and says, “You think you look good.” See what I mean? Now, because of one small-minded person, looking nice or being confident seems wrong. I can even remember when I was much younger when one of my older brothers wanted to hurt my feelings they would say with a snarl, “With yo’ blllaacck self!” My feelings would be so hurt! But of course after a while I came to the realization that I am black so why should this word hurt my feelings so? The hurt was gone.
This is true of any word that has been misused to degrade another. And it doesn’t just start and end with race. It goes on to include gender, cultural issues and on and on. Additionally, it doesn’t always come from people who are different from us. Sometimes they are family members like my oh-so-young and immature brothers. So what can we learn from this? What will we do when people (who may be black themselves) call us nappy-headed?
Claim it, what else?