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.


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