Redefining the “N” Word

People give words power, so let’s take back control!

Whether permed or natural, if you are a black woman, you have likely heard someone use the N word in a negative way to bring shame onto another person. In fact, you may have even used it yourself in a way of disgust. Well, I am here today to proclaim that we, the natural hair community and beyond, are going to reclaim and redefine how we view the word nappy.

Before I discuss where nappy has led us today and what we are going to do to change that, let’s first take a ride on the nappy history express. In the turbulent times of slavery and decades to follow, having distinctly black features like tightly coiled hair and dark, dark skin was like walking around with a scarlet letter. Sure, if you were lighter skinned with a slimmer nose and perfectly pressed tresses, people could probably still tell you were black maybe, but at least you weren’t as black. At least you were more tolerable to look at than the dark skinned, nappy headed folk. This mentality, along with many, many others, has stuck with the black community through the Civil Rights Movement, blacks having the right to vote, and even through today with having a black President. Maintaining straight, limp, overly pressed hair was a part of the black survival skills during a time where being nappy and proud could leave you jobless and hopeless. With that being said, if a person called you out as having nappy hair, it was equivalent to them ripping off your mask in front of a crowd of white folks, exposing your true blackness for what it was. Like saying:

“See, she’s not like y’all. See that dark skin and nappy hair? She isn’t one of y’all at all. She is just as black as they come”.

While being black has become more of a source of pride these days, being nappy, well– that is another story. A black woman can be alright having dark skin, or a wide nose or large butt. But, if you dare say to her that her hair is nappy, even if it’s natural (because being natural automatically makes you enlightened, right?), she will quickly correct you and say her hair is curly, or coily, or even kinky, or another term that is easier for everyone to swallow. Women with permed hair will likely try to claw your eyes out and demand that you correct yourself because it is clear that their hair is far from nappy, chile!

People give words power. If we, the black community, take our word back and turn it back into a positive and stop letting others have more ammunition against us to degrade us and make us feel lesser, then we will have the power. We will be able to say no, this is my word and you will not use my word to hurt me anymore.

So, how do we change this? Firstly, we need to create a base level of understanding within ourselves of what nappy really means. Nappy is tightly coiled hair. If you are natural, it is likely that your hair is nappy. If you have a perm, your hair in its natural state is nappy (I know, right). Nappy is a type of hair texture along side straight, wavy, curly, and so on. Next, let’s use the word nappy all the damn time! When you are taking a selfie, write: Naturally Nappy, My hair is nappy, Nappy all day, or whatever feels right to you. Describe your hair as nappy with a sense of pride in your tone, a hop in your step. Do it so casually that the person you’re talking to will feel comfortable enough to agree like “Well, nappy looks good on you girl!”. Thirdly, do not chastise other people, yes even those outside of your race, that use the word nappy in a positive way. It will never be redefined if everyone is not allowed to freely use the word as it should be used. Now, if they use it negatively, turn it around. If they say “Well you are a nappy headed—“, reply with “I don’t know about the last part but, you were right about the nappy [hair flip]“. Lastly, go to the nearest mirror and look at yourself square in the eye and be thankful that we live in a time where the cost of having nappy hair, full lips, and dark skin doesn’t have to be paid with our lives, hopes, and dreams.

Join the #redefiningnappy conversation on Twitter anytime and tell the world how you are redefining your nappy!

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