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The Other "N" Word

So I have a friend that refuses to refer to her hair as being “nappy”. Even if her curls are dried out she will refer to them as a dried out curl, but never “nappy”. Nappy Hair book coverShe hates that word. It made me think. Although I use the word I would imagine if I heard some one from another culture refer to my hair as nappy I would take extreme offense to it. I have overheard mothers refer to their biracial daughters hair as “nappy” and cringed. Or I think of when Imus called the Women’s Rutgers Basketball team a bunch of “nappy  headed hoes” how there was not a black women I encountered that was not completed offended, just as if he spewed out the other “N” word. Apparently I...we hate the word too. 

With this type of conflicted feelings on the adjective, I have determined that nappy may be the other “N” word. Obviously no way near as painful or socially unaccepted, but derogatory nonetheless. Although we are hundreds of years away from slavery,  this word like the other "n" word the sting is still being felt. Where did this word come from? Who used it and why? Why naps? I did a little research and tada….it stems from slavery.

Originally it was used to describe fabric. Apparently the fuzzy surface layer on yarn was referred to as “Naps”. This is dating all the way back to 14th and 15th century England brought there by the Dutch weavers. The Dutch would have called them “noppich”. So now fast forward to the 18th and 19th Century in the United States this is what whites would use to describe the texture of the African’s hair. So the African's hair looked like cotton, or naps. That is how they saw it. It was just as foreign as the African’s skin tone. It was not a term used endearingly, it promoted the way too accepted views of the African's inferiority in terms of beauty.

So what is the long drawn lesson from this tid bit in History? Don’t be mad at those who don't want to be called nappy…say dried up curls. For me I am going to work on letting people know where the word comes from and letting them decide what to do with the info. Maybe some creative Naturalistas can coin a new term for “you need to moisturize your hair”.


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1 comment

  • Lindsey I completely agree with your thoughts. I think the term ‘moisture’ is also good enough :)

    Siata Moore

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