Laurie Toby Edison

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Fired!

Laurie and Debbie say:

The news that Don Imus has been fired from both his MSNBC and his CBS gigs was only one of the cheering headlines in this morning’s paper, but it’s the one with the most body image implications.

As just about everyone knows by now, Imus lost his jobs for calling women from the Final Four Rutgers college basketball team “nappy-headed ho’s.”

“Ho” is hate speech, pure and simple. Like “cunt” (when used about a person rather than a body part) or “kike,” among others, the word, has absolutely no role other than denigrating an entire group of people with a single syllable.

“Nappy-headed” is more complex. As used by Imus in this context, it is viciously racist. Some of the feminist blogs have been discussing the ways in which Imus’s phrase is also viciously sexist, which hasn’t gotten much traction in the mainstream media. (For all we know, Imus is sitting at home wishing he’d said “skanky ho’s,” which he might have gotten away with.)

“Nappy-headed” is about how you look; “ho” is about what you are. One point to be made here is that even if you fit the cultural ideal of female beauty–thin, young, white, and blonde with big tits–you’re still a woman, and somebody is for sure going to call you a “ho” at some point.

Rachel at Rachel’s Tavern has been closely examining the words Imus used.

So let’s focus this into a few questions. How would you define the terms “nappy” or “nappy headed”? Do you feel the term nappy is derogatory? Do you think there may be differing contexts where nappy is derogatory or not derogatory? What do you think would be some alternative terms to describe the texture of Black people’s hair that are not as potentially offensive as “nappy”? And then for Black women, if you are offended by Imus calling the Rutger’s team “nappy headed hos,” how would you explain how these statements make you feel (I’m having a hard time imagining a black woman not being offended by this comment, but I’ll leave the question open.)?

Read the comments as well as the main post; they’re detailed and thoughtful.

One question Rachel is implying without actually raising is how to examine the continuum from descriptive through insulting to hate speech. On this site, we often use “fat” as descriptive, but we all know it can be used as an insult. The same is true of “nappy” or “nappy-headed,” as some of the commenters to Rachel’s post make very clear.

When Don Imus calls a group of women “nappy-headed ho’s,” “nappy-headed” becomes hate speech. While “ho” can certainly be used against women of any color, “nappy-headed,” in this context, is a hateful way of telling the world, as well as the women, that (in the ugly mind of Don Imus) they are the ugly ones. Nothing could be further from the truth.

(We wanted to put in some pictures of these women playing basketball but, you know what–the web is full of pictures of Don Imus, and we couldn’t find a good unposed picture of the team. Surprise! If you Google Matee Ajavon, the team star, you’ll find one or two good action shots of her.)

We’ve written before about the costs of hearing yourself dissed over and over.

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2 Responses to “Fired!”

  1. Alan Bostick Says:

    I think of “nappy” as being descriptive of African people’s hair: very tightly curled. It would not have occurred to me, a middle-aged European-American man, as being derogatory on its own. At the same time I am aware of a lot of pain African-American women experience around their hair in this culture, and the social pressure to have it straightened, so it looks more “white.”

    I’ve often heard natural African hair described as “kinky”; again, because I’m a middle-aged European guy, I don’t hear this as derogatory, but there may be resonances that my privileged ear never has to hear.

  2. Denise Says:

    All my life nappy headed or hair basically meant you couldn’t get a comb through it, it wasn’t taken care of and was just nasty. Only the girls who had their hair relaxed or hot combed was “it”. Unless you had naturally straight hair even better with nice natural waves. All the “boys” wanted to go out with you, be with you. “Men” today are pretty much still the same.
    And don’t have “bebes” in your “kitchen”. Tightly wound knots of hair in the back of your head at the nap of your neck.
    IF someone doesn’t know what it means or why it can hurt they shouldn’t use it IF they do know they still need to NOT use it.
    I know this sounds elementary but it’s true. So, now you know. I hope this helps.

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