WFAN and MSNBC talk show veteran Don Imus is in trouble for something he said, not an unusual state of affairs for him. This time it's because he referred to the Rutgers women's basketball team as 'nappy-headed hos' and the media--both professional and amateur--are up in arms about the perceived racism of it all. But is the observance that a group of black women have 'aggressively curly' (i.e. nappy) hair and choose not to straighten it necessarily some sort of racially-tinged insult? After all, most black men have the same sort of hair and choose not to straighten it also.
The thing is this. Imus's words for these women were couched in his opinion's regarding the less-than-feminine demeanor of the members of this team; the adjective 'nappy-headed' was a part of that. Most black (American) women with nappy hair choose to straighten it, buy hair extensions to make it longer or to wear wigs that give the appearance of long straight hair. These choices fall in line with the generally accepted standard of female beauty in America and in many other places (with Africa being the notable and pertinent exception).
When women who do not have naturally straight and/or rapid hair growth choose not to buy into that standard--choose to set their own standard--often their femininity and sexuality are questioned. (Aside: sweat and other liquids cause straightened hair to revert to its natural state. As a result, many black female athletes and those who try to remain physically fit find straightening their hair to be a waste of time and, more importantly, money.)
So I think that when Imus observed the general rough, tough demeanor of the Rutgers team, the fact that many of these girls don't straighten their hair was a part of that roughness and toughness in his subconscious mind.
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.I don't think it was racist; however, it was a cultural bias in favor of the prevailing standard of beauty, one to which many black men subscribe as well. And, to drive home my point, it seems that it is the adjective 'nappy-headed' that is perceived in many quarters as the more insulting part of the phrase.
So now Imus is making an "apology tour" among notable black American people; he will meet with the Rutgers women and their families. And irony on top of irony (for many reasons) he will go on Al Sharpton's radio show to apologize. Yes, the Al Sharpton of Tawana Brawley fame and, applicable to this incident, the Al Sharpton who is among the tiny minority of black men who straighten their hair (I think that minority was halved when James Brown died). How's that for crazy?
If I were one of the Rutgers players, I'd want to kick Imus's crusty, creaky a** for the unequivocally offensive epithet 'ho.' After all, Imus is implying that he has some person knowledge of these girls' alleged "ho-dom." And I'd call an allegation that I had had physical relations with him a particularly heinous form of slander.
UPDATE: Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés is far more eloquent that I am regarding the tumultuous relationship that many black women have had historically with their God-given nappiness.
UPDATE: FWIW, video of Imus on Sharpton.
Banner at MSNBC site: "NBC News is suspending for two weeks Imus simulcasts on MSNBC." Apparently it's a rushed headline.
(Thanks to Lucianne)
UPDATE: After observing the hair of the mostly black Rutgers women during a press conference they held with their coach earlier this week, I noticed that all of the black women straightened their hair and that the two white women on the team possessed (presumably) naturally straight hair. So what did the concept of "nappy-headed" really signify coming out of the mouth of someone like Imus? See my further take on the subject here (at the end, before the updates).