Saturday, May 14, 2011

is "nappy" an offensive word?

In the wake of Rihanna's recent twitter smack down of a fan who critiqued her hair for looking "so nappy", Jessica C. Andrews, in an article over at Clutch, asks if "nappy" is a word we can reclaim.  She likens the process of redefining hate-marred words that have been used to demean Blacks to walking on a tight rope, where at any given antagonizing moment, pain from years of degradation can be brought to the surface.  Andrews writes:

"It’s clear that in society’s imagination to be nappy is to be unattractive, undesirable and unkempt. It’s a look that is oft rejected by corporate and even popular culture. Rock it and prepare to defend yourself—or be ready to correct it with a flat iron or a relaxer. Yet again, we find our hair tangled in the web of institutionalized racism and sexism in America ...We are one of the few groups of people forced to defend the texture that grows out of our scalps." (Clutch)

I'm a bit torn on this:  See, like Andrews, I love my naturally kinky hair.  I don't feel at all insulted when I hear the term 'nappy hair'.  The word 'nappy' means 'kinky', nothing more.  So, in answer to Andrews' questions about reclaiming 'nappy', I'd say that the only thing that needs reclaiming is perspective and truth:  Beautiful nappy hair exists just like beautiful silky hair does.  I said this out loud in conversation with friends recently and inadvertently sparked a bit of a debate:  One person, citing the Don Imus "nappy headed hoes" fiasco, said that the term 'nappy', when used by a White person to describe a Black person's hair, is akin to the n-word.

I think I understand a little:  It's not like most of the White people in my life have a tendency to have deep hair conversations with me.  The topic tends to stay at bay most of the time, so yes, it might feel a little awkward if a White friend (who doesn't usually) suddenly started touching my hair, and using the word 'nappy' to describe it.  It might feel a bit experimental, a bit naive on their part, because clearly, 'nappy' is a word that has been historically loaded and meant to be derogatory towards Black hair for a long time.  But I don't think it would feel the same as being called a n---*r, at all.  And it would certainly be an easier segway than the n-word into possibly having an educational conversation about Black hair.
What do you think?  Does the term 'nappy' make you twitch?  Give you pause?  Make you want to cuss somebody out?  Do you use it?


  1. I do feel uncomfortable saying "nappy"--I'm a white woman, and I feel like that term has been flung around to demean black women, even though, as you point out, it's a texture, not a judgment. Whenever this comes up with a black woman, I follow her cues, and so far "nappy" hasn't been a word that's used a lot--but of course, the only conversations I've had with black women specifically about hair texture have been one-on-one. They may well be choosing terms that they think this white girl is comfortable with instead of using terminology they'd use with other women who have the same hair texture! I've gotta say that it would be difficult for me to use the word even in response to a woman who fluently used it for her own hair texture, but this post is making me question why I have that resistance. Thank you!

  2. The word "Nappy" is disrespectful. Really, why would an African American be okay with using the N-word as people are saying. Why can't we have the same hair respect as any other culture. I understand that we are different from any other race concerning hair that is. But we are all human. When people describe our hair compared to others. Nappy really. Sorry, I will never be okay with that term. Why can't people just say we have thick hair? tingle, coarse. Caucasians don't have nappy hair their hair is tangled. Blacks have been frowned upon for so many years because of race, and our features. The nappy word degrades us even more because its typically used to define our hair as being, knotted, screwed up and just bad hair in general.