Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Nappy Roots Day

I stumbled across this blog, written by a St. Petersburg staffer, on today. The entry is about a white teacher who was suspended - and will be required to attend diversity training - for calling a black child's hair "nappy." And while the reporter didn't editorialize the story, it made me wonder: Is it offensive for a white person to use the term "nappy' regardless of context?

The blog story reads, "According to an account by the district’s Office of Professional Standards, a student asked Call *the suspended teacher* why another teacher was combing the hair of an African American girl. Call responded, 'She is trying to do something to her nappy hair.' Another teacher reported the remark to an administrator.
Call, a veteran teacher with a good employment record, told investigators she did not know the term was offensive."

This is what the board members who handed out her one-day suspension had to say.

“I don’t know that the word is racially offensive,” Clark said. “I’m not black, so I can’t speak from personal experience. But it is an adjective, correct? It describes your hair.’’Mary Brown, the board’s only black member, said the term has been used in a negative way to describe black people. Another board member said she'd stumbled across a web site, "A Nappy Hair Affair," which seemed to celebrate the word nappy, but also said she didn't use the term.

Hm, I'm a little stumped here. As a black woman, I know who I should be offended, or am expected to be, but I don't know that I am. Is "nappy" the new N-word? One of those things that can be used and accepted in the black community, but is considered a racial slur when used by whites?

For me, it's more context than the actual words. Imus's infamous "nappy-headed hoes" was obviously meant to be deragatory, whereas this woman's words were, I don't know, merely ignorant? And what if a black teacher had said it? Would both black teachers have shared a knowing chuckle, and glance? A sort of "I've been there" moment?

I'm really torn about this, and how I feel about it. I don't think the teacher meant it as a hurtful statement, but then again, as a teacher, I don't think I would have made the comment.

I talked to a white colleague about this, and she thinks that though the comment probably wasn't racist, it was inappropriate. But while listening AND agreeing with her, that little voice in the back of my head said, "Well, what would you expect her to say?"

So, I want another opinion. Was this racist? Is "nappy" in and of itself off-limits to whites, despite having heard more than a few white people refer to their own hair as nappy?

I think I am pretty objective on most matters of race. And although I don't immediately associate every slight, real or perceived, with race, I understand that sometimes race IS a factor.

But still, I sometimes wonder if other blacks think my background and diversity of my friends, disqualifies me from matters of race anyway because I'm "not black enough."

But THAT is a completely different issue.

P.S. I considered putting picture on here, but didn't to avoid any potential racist overtones :)


woodstock said...

I personally don't think "nappy" is derogatory (sp?). And of course, anything can be said in a way that could be degrading. It's just another case of the let's-make-this-a-race-issue that has become so common nowadays. Just like the Vick thing, just like the lacrosse thing, and whatever else you want to name. "Nappy" is an adjective, just like "skinny", "young", "feminine", etc. That brings to question the African-American vs. Black dilemma that I dealt with a few months ago with a white commander who was trying to be politically correct. Americans need to stop worrying about not being offensive. What's worse is the suspension of the teacher, no wonder white teachers leave schools when the black enrollment increases.

RoadRunner said...

I can't even get my words together I'm so mad. What a waste of energy...did anyone bother to investigate why someone had to do the child's hair in the first place? How many kids in the school read on grade level - are parents complaining about that? Who will take that teacher's place - someone with no training and even less commitment? Ugh.