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Old 04-12-2007, 09:39 AM   #271
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Old 04-12-2007, 09:41 AM   #272
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Why 'nappy' is offensive

By Zine Magubane | Boston Globe April 12, 2007

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. Since African women first arrived on American shores, the bends and twists of our hair have became markers of our subhuman status and convenient rationales for denying us our rightful claims to citizenship.

Establishing the upper and lower limits of humanity was of particular interest to Enlightenment era thinkers, who struggled to balance the ideals of the French Revolution and the Declaration of Independence with the fact of slavery. The 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen did not discriminate on the basis of race or sex and had the potential to be applied universally. It was precisely because an appeal to natural rights could only be countered by proof of natural inequality that hair texture, one of the most obvious indicators of physical differences between the races, was seized upon. Nappy hair was demonstrable proof of the fact that neither human physiology nor human nature was uniform and, therefore, that social inequalities could be justified.

Saartjie Baartman, a South African "bushwoman," was exhibited like a circus freak in the Shows of London between 1810 and 1815. The leading French anatomist of the day, George Cuvier, speculated that Baartman might be the "missing link" between the human and animal worlds because of her "peculiar features" including her "enormous buttocks" and "short, curling hair."

In "Notes on the State of Virginia," Thomas Jefferson reflected on why it would be impossible to incorporate blacks into the body politic after emancipation. He concluded it was because of the differences "both physical and moral," chief among them the absence of long, flowing hair.

For a runaway slave, the kink in her hair could mean the difference between freedom in the North and enslavement or worse if she were to be caught and returned to her master. Miscegenation meant that some slaves had skin as light as whites and the rule of thumb was that hair was a more reliable indicator than skin of a person's racial heritage. Thus, runaway slaves often shaved their heads in order to get rid of any evidence of their ancestry and posters advertising for fugitive slaves often warned slave catchers to be on the lookout for runaways with shaved heads : "They might pass for white."

In the late 1960s, after the FBI declared Angela Davis one of the country's 10 most wanted criminals, thousands of other law-abiding, Afro-wearing African-American women became targets of state repression -- accosted, harassed, and arrested by police, the FBI, and immigration agents. The "wanted" posters that featured Davis, her huge Afro framing her face like a halo, appeared in post offices and government buildings all over America, not to mention on television and in Life magazine. Her "nappy hair" served not only to structure popular opinions about her as a dangerous criminal, but also made it possible to deny the rights of due process and habeas corpus to any young black woman, simply on the basis of her hairstyle.

For African-American women, the personal has always been political. What grows out of our head can mean the difference between being a citizen and being a subject; being enslaved or free; alive or dead. As Don Imus found out this week, 300 years of a tangled and painful racial history cannot be washed away with a simple apology.

Zine Magubane is an associate professor of sociology and African diaspora studies at Boston College.
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Old 04-12-2007, 09:57 AM   #273
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If it's overestimating racist, sexist, homophobic etc. speech to argue that it can contribute to a discriminatory climate, then there wouldn't be much point in reacting to it at all. I don't think it's innately sanctimonious or infantilizing to count psychological harm among those contributions--I fully agree that can be overexploited, and I think it's fair to say that's happened here in the big picture, but I guess I do find it more understandable than you do for an emotionally charged response to be provoked by you're-not-worthy-of-being-here-'cause-you-can't-'pass' (categorically out of the question for the group involved) insinuations, however idle. It isn't uncommon for them to happen, and isn't uncommon for them to cause people to feel cowed and to back away from the environment they take place in, whether the specific slurs those insinuations were conveyed through seem 'true' or not. It can't always be framed as just taking the piss out of someone, and responding to it as if that were the case doesn't always work. It's more a question of repeated encounters with insinuations of that type over the course of a lifetime leading to an internalized anxiety about being worthy of belonging, and thus vulnerability to feeling 'exposed' by them, than a matter of the specific words used. Just a sad reality, not a question of playing some guilt-trip card. Is this as harmful or unjust as specific forms of structural discrimination being protected by law--no, obviously not.
if it were said by a politician, a college administrator, the coach of the men's team, the coach of the Tennessee women's team, an ESPN announcer -- then, i'd start to think that the response and circus was approprite to the remarks.

as it stands, given who Imus is and where he sits in the grand scheme of things and the context of the comment, i can't see any of this as remotely appropriate to what was said. and this is where my withering sarcasm comes in. we've completely inflated this situation into a caricature of itself, and it does make me worry about freedom of speech. it does.

and please tell me, where was the similar media frenzy when Eminem released "The Marshall Mathers EP." sure, he was protested by GLAAD, or whatever, but we didn't see nearly the same amount of reaction, and that album won a bunch of Grammys.

and Eminem is a genius, the album is brilliant, and i think he's far smarter -- and plays subtly with multiple, equally unreliable narrators -- than the homophobe that many on the gay left wanted him to be. i wouldn't have been protesting with GLAAD. i'm glad the discussion arose, and i'm glad attention was brought to this issue, as i'm glad that attention was brought to the Imus comments, but i'm talking mostly about what's appropriate to what has been said, and the total unwillingness for anyone to listen to what Imus has said about the comments -- he's apologized profusely -- and the disregard for his considerable achievements -- as a philanthropist and as a journalist -- as well as the context in which the comment was made.

as for Deep's point -- ho vs whore -- i do take the point, and it's a good one, but then i'd also ask, is there a difference betweeen a "nigga" and a nigger"?

i think that's a similar distinction between ho and whore.
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Old 04-12-2007, 10:40 AM   #274
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And which black rapper or comedian has a nationally televised or syndicated radio show, where they make similar remarks? Sharpton has spoken out against language used by rappers in the past - google for it.
Speaking out is not the same as trying to ruin a mans livelyhood.
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Old 04-12-2007, 10:52 AM   #275
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White men are really having a hard time with this part of this incident.
yes,only white men.We are the only ones who believe Imus should have apologized to the girls on the team and only the girls on the team...I am only one white man and I only speak for myself!
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Old 04-12-2007, 10:52 AM   #276
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I see what you're getting at Irvine but I'm not sure if it's a good comparison. "Nigga" doesn't necessarily have a negative connotation to it; there's no malice in "What up nigga?". Ho does. While ho doesn't specifically mean whore or prostitute, it's clearly a negative term for a female. I'd guess ho is more like bitch...

I suppose in a way it has been blown out of proportion. I mean, it's Imus...he's talk radio, and any non-Howard Stern talk radio is marginal at best. But the standard has been set - when a celebrity, no matter how marginal he may be (let's be honest, Kramer & Tim Hardaway are D-list at best) makes this type of remark, there's a media outcry. Then the guy apologizes, and most folks generally discount the apology "if you were sorry you wouldn't have said it in the first place" etc. Imus is no different than those who came before him. It's not the end of the world, but I don't think he deserves a pass either, no matter what he's done in the past.

And I thought some of the Rutgers women were kinda hot...nappy headed ho's my ass.
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Old 04-12-2007, 11:02 AM   #277
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Speaking out is not the same as trying to ruin a mans livelyhood.
When Sharpton proposes bans on certain rappers, he is in fact doing just that. I don't think it matters if it's what someone does for a living.
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Old 04-12-2007, 11:08 AM   #278
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Then the guy apologizes, and most folks generally discount the apology "if you were sorry you wouldn't have said it in the first place" etc.


and this is the thing i find genuinely concerning.

and i find this comment to be far different than Tim Hardaway's comments, and Michael Richard's, and Mel Gibson's.

this is all i'm really getting at. i've not once defended what Imus has said. i've not once said that it's not as offensive as it actually is. i fully understand what's going on here, and if we wanted, we could get into some really complex cultural analysis about the origins of these words and why the sprung to mind so easily when talking about a very tough group of female basketball players (has anyone stopped to consider that maybe Imus was commenting on just how tough these women actually were?)

i'm just concerned at the frenzied reaction and the full-throated bellows of condemnation that have been thrown at him, as if saying that we condemn these words somehow makes us, ourselves, less misogynist or racist.
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Old 04-12-2007, 11:14 AM   #279
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Wow, what someone misses in just one evening...
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Old 04-12-2007, 11:18 AM   #280
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If he wanted to comment on how "tough" they are, assuming that means how athletically competent and mentally tough, tough as competitors-well there is no way as far as I'm concerned that calling them nappy headed hos or some of the other comments by his cohorts can be construed to mean that.

Something along the lines of "those young women started off poorly this season but wow they must be very competitive and worked very hard to get to where they are" would have worked.
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Old 04-12-2007, 11:40 AM   #281
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this whole thing really is freedom of speech at it's finest. the will of the people is speaking. they want to nail imus. so that's what will happen...msnbc went first, dumping the simulcast right before his radiothon for kids with cancer, a classy move by them... cbs will be next. i have no doubt he'll be fired. but that's how it goes... a group complains, the news media gets wind, the public gets in an outroar, sponsors start to bail... just a matter of time before the show is gone for good.

it's exactly what happened to laverne and shirley.
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Old 04-12-2007, 11:49 AM   #282
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If he wanted to comment on how "tough" they are, assuming that means how athletically competent and mentally tough, tough as competitors-well there is no way as far as I'm concerned that calling them nappy headed hos or some of the other comments by his cohorts can be construed to mean that.

Something along the lines of "those young women started off poorly this season but wow they must be very competitive and worked very hard to get to where they are" would have worked.


but this was meant to be a comedic segment. the joke wasn't funny, but earnestness isn't funny either.

i hear stuff like this all the time from my mother who's a huge women's college basketball fan. UConn is her beloved team -- my parents have season tickets and they have to bring Kleenex when it's "Senior Night" because my mother cries when the senior girls introduce their parents -- but once in a while she'll say things like, "wow, would not want to come across her in a dark alley." it's a commentary on the toughness of the women and meant to be mildly humorous because, especially for a woman her age, a rough and tumble female athlete was not something she grew up with.

where Imus failed was invoking racist and misogynistic language to make what i think was essentially the same point. my mother would never in her life say "nappy-headed hos."
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Old 04-12-2007, 11:53 AM   #283
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it's exactly what happened to laverne and shirley.


vo-dee-oh-do-do, indeed.
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Old 04-12-2007, 11:53 AM   #284
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it's exactly what happened to laverne and shirley.
Use to love that show, what exactly happened?
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Old 04-12-2007, 11:57 AM   #285
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There is no freedom of speech over the publicly regulated airwaves. If there was, the FCC would not exist and would not issue fines and licenses.
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