It’s a real shame that decades after we shouted loud about being black and proud, pumped our fists, chanting "Power to the People" and righteously proclaimed that being black is indeed beautiful, we still get upset when someone calls us by the N-word.

I’m not talking about the N-word that derogatorily refers to people of color. I mean the one that refers to a texture of hair.

The word is "nappy."

Nappy is a word considered so raw and unsophisticated that if you say it you might be accused of saying a curse word.

It’s considered so offensive that if you call someone nappy you might wind up being cursed.

Ruth Sherman can tell you what can happen to people like her who make the mistake of engaging in nappy-speak among members of the African American community who have no clue about the “good-hair-bad-hair” madness and other warped perceptions about our culture that still exist among us.

Sherman was the white elementary school teacher in Brooklyn who (in 1998) attempted to teach her African American and Latino third graders a lesson in racial tolerance and self-appreciation by reading from Carolivia Herron’s acclaimed children’s book “Nappy Hair.” By Herron’s account, the book was written to celebrate the beauty and uniqueness of African American characteristics.

But angry parents, who incidentally had not read the book, accused Sherman of teaching derogatory racial stereotypes and threatened her with bodily harm. Sherman left under fire and transferred to another school.

Now Don Imus has a story to tell. The syndicated radio talk show host drew a firestorm of protests, threats of boycotts and was finally fired for recently calling the women players of the Rutger’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos.”

But Imus gets no sympathy from me for the criticism that he received. Nothing short of firing would have been sufficient punishment for making such deliberate and mean-spirited remarks. Unlike Sherman, Imus cannot claim innocence for what he said. He knew those words were loaded.

From what I could tell from the television images, all the black women on the Rutgers team had their hair straightened -- either by nature, chemical relaxers or the hot comb. So when Imus called the team players nappy-headed, he was being more than ignorant.

He was also flat out incorrect.

But even though Imus’ comments about the Rutgers team were ill-conceived and twisted, let me set one thing straight. There is nothing wrong with having nappy hair. The Rutgers players may not choose to wear their hair that way, but their beauty or their talent would not be diminished if they did.

Ask their beautiful and talented nappy-headed elders Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Sonya Sanchez and Johnetta Cole and all the other prominent and lesser-known black women and men who celebrate their uniqueness without apology.

Nappy is a simply a texture of hair that is strong, resilient, versatile and free.

The same holds true for nappy people.

Maybe that’s what Imus was really trying to say when he called that rainbow team of basketball players nappy-headed. He was merely speaking metaphorically about a classy group of women who are strong, resilient, versatile and free.

Now that I’ve given Imus a way to fix the first part of his verbal blunder, he’s on his own to explain what he really meant when he also called them “hos.”