I PUT THE CULTURE ON THE COUCH
Don Imus And Bernard McGuirk re “Nappy-Headed Hos”
‘Drive your dead over the edge,’ that’s what my elders used to say when people were being the least of what they could be. ‘Take that dead person passing for the living, and just leave them off. It’s your better self that’s most truly alive. In life, don’t be ashes, be the flame…’
One could have chosen to say about the Rutgers women basketball team members who played in the finals, something like this: ‘Those are some fine tough girls. Man, look at the grace, look at those leaps. Those tattoos, you have to be brave and stand pain to get tattoos. Those women are some strong and tough angels alright…’
But instead we heard 1950s backwoods invective by two Anglo guys who seemed to think they were talking like real baad gangstas, followed by a third fellow who wrongly named a segment from a Spike Lee film just referenced, and ending with a fourth fellow who tried to start another round of participatory screed by offering yet another insult.
If these fellows had been playing ball… the real jump-ball is initiated by Bernard McGuirk who dribbles it out of bounds, but he passes to Imus who takes a turn and adds a foul of his own… McGuirk back in the game as ball hog, fumbles, and runs in the paint again as Imus feints away from center court…. But McCord comes up fast with a wrong turn, and Rosenberg tries to bring the ball into play again, but fails.
The Transcript [via Media Matters]:
DON IMUS: So, I watched the basketball game last night between — a little bit of Rutgers and Tennessee, the women’s final.
SID ROSENBERG: Yeah, Tennessee won last night — seventh championship for [Tennessee coach] Pat Summitt, I-Man. They beat Rutgers by 13 points.
IMUS: That’s some rough girls from Rutgers. Man, they got tattoos and —
BERNARD McGUIRK: Some hard-core hos.
IMUS: That’s some nappy-headed hos there. I’m gonna tell you that now, man, that’s some — woo. And the girls from Tennessee, they all look cute, you know, so, like — kinda like — I don’t know.
McGUIRK: A Spike Lee thing.
McGUIRK: The Jigaboos vs. the Wannabes — that movie that he had.
IMUS: Yeah, it was a tough —
CHARLES McCORD: Do The Right Thing.
McGUIRK: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
IMUS: I don’t know if I’d have wanted to beat Rutgers or not, but they did, right?
ROSENBERG: It was a tough watch. The more I look at Rutgers, they look exactly like the Toronto Raptors.
… “Nappy-Headed” Amongst Blacks, some have hair that has a dozen crimped waves to every inch, what Gwendolyn Brookes the poet, called ‘sand-waves.’ Thus, ‘nappy hair’ is often so like a beautifully woven soft-crested silk. A fine-toothed comb catches in it, but combs that are wide-toothed are perfect for sculpting this majestic kind of hair.
Where I grew up in the backwoods a million years ago, when a Black woman used the word ‘nappy,’ she meant her hair was being defiant, not yet combed to satisfaction. It could also mean she didn’t like the texture of her hair that day, or moment, or ever… for back then, many Black women were pressured to believe that the Anglo and Euro models in magazines and the actresses in films, displayed the only acceptable hair texture… smooth like glass and swinging.
Therefore, if your hair was ‘different’ than the models in magazines, there was a degree of shame and fret– and hope about doing whatever you could to make your hair match the images on paper. Iron, heat, chemicals, fire, burn, scar. This wish to look ‘magazine beautiful’ was not a vanity. Back then, it was an imperative: Many Blacks had to try to ‘look right’ to the dominant culture, because that culture held the power of absolute exclusion and punishment for those it had decided were inferior… ‘those others who are not like us.’
For myself, as a child of an immigrant and refugee family, by the time I was in grade school I was deemed “not college material,” ‘a waste of money to educate this girl.’ So right after high school, I got the idea I could earn my way in the world by traveling from porch to porch on the farm roads, trimming old farm guys’ beards and taking care of farm wives’ hair and that of the workers in the fields and inside the big houses. The people of that time and place were Anglo, Euro and Native Americans, Asian, Latino, and Black. I can still call back all the different textures and temperatures of people’s hair that ran over and through my hands.
For my Black women customers, I’d oil their poor scalps between all the old scars they’d gotten years before from accidentally being burnt with the tip of a hot iron while straightening their hair. I’d cut and curl, push and finger-wave, braid and halo…then step back for the final ta-dah. Smiling eyes would meet mine in the hand mirror. It ever gave me happiness to make others their most beautiful, to see firsthand that our God was a fierce Creator God indeed, for no two person’s, even sisters and brothers, had hair that looked, or flowed or fell in quite the same ways.
“nappy-headed”… This phrase is used another way, one that has nothing to do with having a semi-benign ‘bad hair day.’ ‘Nappy headed’ was also a slur, a term of intense derision against Blacks. The epithet ‘nappy-headed’ often was ejaculated with a curse attached to it, as in, ‘That nappy-headed s.o.b.c.s.’ Back then, to attack a person’s God-given appearance, meant the target of such was being deemed a far lesser person than the speaker. Far less.. Often enough, dangerously so.
Back then, it was considered ‘alright’ amongst those in such agreement, to treat the ‘lesser person’ unctuously, heartlessly; to use them as fodder for sarcastic and gleeful elbowing of each other; for the group to affirm their bonds with each other by pushing off from the first insult and then trying to top each other in how harsh, low and ‘funny’ they could be whilst humiliating ‘those others who are not like us.’ Back then, too often, such unprovoked aggressions escalated to unending harassments, and sometimes to doing direct harm, or covertly arranging that harm be done to the person deemed inferior.
…’Jigaboo…’ is an ugly old slur used by Whites long ago to refer to dark-skinned people. This word and other pejoratives were used to taunt and demean in some seeming mad attempt to erase the humanity of the person being spoken to or about. That some people slur others is not an issue about ‘feelings’ being hurt; although that is part of the aim of those who sling derogations. I know it puzzles some and angers others that calling people in less than humane ways ought even be an issue. ‘It’s all sport,’ some might say in various ways. ‘It’s just fun. I don’t see why anyone is upset. It’s funny, lighten up. If you don’t like it, turn away. I like it, so you should too.’ I think I grasp the timbre of these points.
…’nappy-headed’, ‘Jigaboo…’ Yet, I would offer that in any family… meaning the world family or the personal family … when an adult hears ‘the kids’ in the next room using words associated with demeaning others… an alert adult hears this as a signal… a signal that they ought go investigate, listen, assess, and see what’s really going on, to then lay down terms for peace-making, keeping close watch for a time afterwards… because the adult knows that unjustified ill-treatment of one by another often magnetically encourages others who are not thinking clearly, to join right in.
Moreover, adults know that if and when ‘the designated target’ doesn’t bow to accept such abuse compliantly, the actor(s) may deem it ‘normal’ to ratchet up the abuse further… feeling justified in punishing the ‘other’ for not having capitulated properly, humbly, tearfully or quickly enough to begin with.
Throughout history, humiliating a person or a group has been one way that some commence in their unconscious intent to dehumanize so it can be made to seem alright to also deal undeserved emotional, social, economic and/or physical blows on ‘others who are not us.’ Humiliation as sport has too often led to the least of what is human rather than what is best, or even moderately good. The answer is not, ‘What’s the matter with you, can’t you take a f-ing joke?’ because mob psychology is not a fiction, nor a joke. It’s a hard fact.
In psychology of groups, being brutal with others is catching, like an infection. Thuggery and torment by one, are contagions to those who are not immune to ‘joining in;’ to those who are being thoughtless in the moment, who are impulsive, easily distracted, afraid to be thought soft, fearful of being punished or losing some advantage for not joining in, wanting favor for their families, wanting to keep a friend more than wanting to hold to an ethic, wanting to be part of a coterie that calls itself ‘elite,’ feeling pressured to keep up a false persona, or simply not weighing inevitable negative consequences yet to come for those who proliferate the dehumanizing of others.
Children try out taunting one another, and sometimes gang up on one another. However, with adult leadership, they soon drop those behaviors and instead learn civility toward those they have little in common with, and favor an authenticity of friendships with others. Children are thus helped ‘to grow up’ by both peers and adults who notice and invite them to a higher bar. They may waver in learning these skills because they are young and still practicing. But they do learn discernment as they continue to practice.
But, some, for any number of reasons, instead learn to seek excitement in insulting and being cruel… most often for an outer and an inner payoff of some kind. They often try to inveigle vulnerable others to join them in spewing… in part because they take a kind of –not happiness, although they are often guffawing and giggling while tormenting others– but rather a kind of very evanescent security…a security that comes from seeing others add to the roil by copying their own poor treatment of others.
Most often, tormenters and menacers carry a painful secret as well: they cannot bear to be lonely or without the approval of others. Thus they seek like-kind. Somewhere in life, each decided that admiration is not available to or for them. They turn to ‘negative forms of admiration’ that do not satisfy either, but amongst humans, to not be recognized for anything at all is far worse than being a consistent carrier of negativity and a seeker of negative attention.
And as difficult, sometimes in defense, those whom they torment learn to be just like them in certain ways … flattened of feeling, not properly reactive, and chronically depressed. Those who predate on others sometimes almost solely seek the excitement they feel when taunting as a remedy to their depression. But like a sugar high, using cruelty as an anti-depressant doesn’t work for very long before the person must dose themselves again.
Children and young adults who are challenged in these ways are most often not hopeless however. There are many professionals and spiritual people, leaders and helpers in the field of turning young lives around, lives which first began on this loveless path. And some of those leaders, now grown and healed through hard work of self-questioning and new life with new friends, were once themselves one of the children who said they felt nothing anymore, and therefore neither ought anyone else.
By my sights, most everyone is reachable in time, even though it is a difficult and often heroic endeavor on everyone’s part, and the child/ young adult is often at first resistant. But when a person is born with a soul, despite all the outer armor one has piled upon oneself, the soul is still ever listening for goodness and for love.
… “nappy-headed ho’s” and all the other names called that reference stupidity, ugliness, lack of value… The thing is, all of us regardless of heritage, come from a long ago and not so long ago people… who were hounded, barred, harassed, harangued, harmed and their blood spilled as though it were mere water. There is no familial history that stretches far back that is without a plague and a conquering, sometimes many times over.
Not only that, but much discrimination is intra-cultural, meaning enmity is set up between this kind of Irish and that other kind of Irish; between this kind of Jew and that kind of Jew; between this kind of Republican and that kind of Republican; between this economic class of Whites and that other economic class of Whites. Spike Lee commented about the tensions between light-skinned and dark-skinned Blacks in his film School Daze.
Setting enmity between people is an old old story, one we have to strive to not be knee-jerked into joining up. Most of us are barely but a generations or two or ten distant from having such opprobrium and injustice unleashed on those we descended from… All the more reason to resist heaping unnecessary harshness on others now… for surely we’re here to build something better with one another.
Thus, the answer to these issues regarding deleterious words used to put down others, is not some school-marmish, ‘You shouldn’t call people names; bad bad.’ Neither is it a laconic, ‘Well, some people make their money by being inhumane.’ It isn’t an issue of, ‘By gosh, anyone has a right to call anyone whatever they want according to the First Amendment.’
Nor is it a matter of political correctness which is far too often really just a version of ‘free speech for me, but not for thee’ regardless of who is crying uncle. And the answer to these issues is also not an after-the-fact, ‘Aw come on, it was just a joke.’ By my lights as a long-standing visiting diversity scholar, neither is it an issue of ‘diversity.’
In fact there is no answer at all. Because it’s not an answer that’s needed. It’s a set of questions that’s needed. And the first question is one of humanity: How shall we live with one another? How shall we live with one another with best grace and most hope?… What shall be our code of conduct with one another? How to knit being a humane person deep into the roots of all our cultures?
These questions and more, are not modern issues. How to be ser humano, a full human being, is an ancient issue, and one that requires in our time, new level-headed and unruined-heart responses to be imagined and lived out.
Mr. Imus has read a written apology on air since. He seems a complicated man for I also know of his work of giving much to those who have little or nothing via he and his wife’s healing ranch for children: the oppositions of these two sides is bewildering to many.
However I can say this: I believe that all our young on this planet are born gifted in different ways. Through honing and practice, often striving alone, through believing by force of spirit alone that what they dream is within their reach…. many many of the young grow up to be great in their gifts. Even those who become derelict geniuses for a time, they too find their way. And the late bloomers in the extreme: Ah yes, often after many seasons of looking wilted and unpromising, they suddenly bloom… and more than once, and for life.
We can never know which young gifted person has run longer without help or without nourishment enough. We can never know which gifted young person is losing their dream but for lack of a kind word or a jot of encouragement that pours into their soul just right.
Therefore, it is especially incumbent on those of us who are the elders in this huge rendezvous of world tribes we now live in, to never try to demolish or demoralize the gifted young, but rather to lift them, to let them know we are the old believers who can see what the young are trying so heartfully to see, and that rather than taunt them we are here to dream with them.
Thus, if the women of the Rutgers team have broken from old corrosive pressures to conform to anyone else’s idea of beauty, then good for them. Excellent, in fact. And let the women players from the Tennessee team have their own special beauty too. Do not one more time allow any person to set enmity between women who are different from one another, by lifting one up high, while throwing the others down low. Though it may startle some of the old guard who are used to thinking narrowly about women’s appearances in ways they most easily identify with, still, good for women who decide to appear as they are and however they wish.
Defining oneself with sovereignty over one’s own life, is what all persons ever aim toward. And for women who also have the gifts of leaping and turning and running and sharp vision, well then it’s time and far past time, to add another category to the lexicon of women’s splendor. Let’s add ‘Women strong of heart and sure of step who show up in all their feminine warrior beauty.’
‘Drive your dead over the edge…. Take that dead person passing for the living, and just leave them off. In life, don’t be ashes, be the flame…’
‘ ‘Nappy-Headed Hos’ ‘ Â©2007 Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estes, All Rights Reserved.