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Leigh Chestnut from Dartmouth, Mass., sent me a five-alarm letter of distress. She wrote how she innocently uttered the N-word, and promptly caught hell for doing so.

“Please help me,” Leigh wrote, using ample exclamation marks to emphasize her high level of angst.

“I am white; I have straight, boring hair. I used the expression 'nappy' last week to describe my daughter’s boyfriend’s hair (which it is, but it’s blond). They both exploded at me, telling me how racist I was to even use that term. I think they are wrong, and I was certainly not coming from that angle when I said it. So please tell me, am I ignorant?"

Sister Leigh, you are correct that you did nothing wrong. It sounds like you were innocently describing the texture of your daughter's boyfriend's hair, but you may not have known just how controversial your word choice was.

The word nappy is not an expletive, and being nappy is not the bane of a person's existence, contrary to misinformed beliefs.

Nappy also is not a racist term. There are those who have used the term with racist intentions because they are aware of the negative stigma that has been ascribed to the texture of hair that grows primarily from the heads of people of African descent.

Shock jock Don Imus was fully aware of the stigma when he called the women of the Rutgers’ basketball team “nappy-headed ho’s.” His intent was to describe them as loose women with bad hair. It was obviously not meant to be a compliment.

Perhaps you were not trying to pay your daughter’s boyfriend a compliment when you described his hair texture as nappy. But it doesn’t sound like you were trying to offend him, either. You were simply being descriptive.

Nappy describes a rich, thick, kinky, willful state of natural hair.

Nothing wrong with that.

So relax, Leigh, and tell your daughter and her boyfriend to do the same. Whether the texture is nappy and blond or nappy and black, it's all good.


Contact Linda or read her bio.

0 Comments
It does not matter if the word was not meant to be degrading. In our social construct N*ppy has a VERY negative connotation that carries with it years of cultural baggage with African Americans and whites, and if some people are offended by it then you should respect that and use alternatives like "kinky". I prefer tightly coiled since that is what the texture looks like to me. So Leigh if I were you I would simply explain your position and state that you didn't mean to be hurtful and learn from this-never call someone's hair n*ppy!
Nappy has negative connotations. It has become similar to the term coon or n*gger/n*gga. It is safer to use the word kinky.
Nap: A soft or fuzzy surface on fabric or leather. Nap: "downy surface of cloth," 1440, from M.Du. or M.L.G. noppe "nap, tuft of wool," probably introduced by Flem. cloth-workers. A soft or fuzzy surface on fabric or leather. The word nappy was used to describe many things before it was used to describe kinky, coarse, tightly coiled or curled hair on human beings. Not quite like N**ga or N**ger, which is derivation of the word Negro/a which was just the Spanish word for the color Black. (Portuguese and Latin share a similar version of the same word) So many words in English have connotations that have nothing to do with the actual word. Now, I don't use the N**ger words because those WERE created to have a negative meaning. But as a 4B my hair is fuzzy, similar to wool like sheep or lamb, so I'm okay with being Nappy. I am also proud of being Negro, Black, Chocolate, Brown or whatever color or shade people of African descent come in. (Even though in reality I'm closer to caramel ;-)) It's all okay with me. Happy to be Nappy.
It started being negative just like n**ga so I don't see what the difference is? How about kinky, coarse, tightly coiled or curled. People say nappy as to say hard,dry, brittle and tough.

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