Friday, April 13, 2007

Of Nappy Headed Hos and Condoleeza

There's probably been more than enough said about Don Imus and the Duke rape case. And I have debated whether I should add my voice to the throng. I've drafted and deleted several posts. But this won't leave me alone. So here goes.

First there are two responses to all of this that drive me insane.

"What ever happened to free speech."
To which of course I might respond, what have ever happened to good manners or common decency. Putting aside for the moment the racist misogyny of Imus's remark, we have to recognize that calling somebody a "nappyheaded ho" is just rude. Yeah, the 1st Amendment gives you the right to be a dick. But having the right to do something doesn't mean that you should. Take this for instance.

"Why do people like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson always play the race card? We will never get over our divisions unless people learn to let things go."
See, the 1st Amendment allows me to call this racist idiocy. But I won't because I was raised right. I might ask though what the hell this even means. Does it mean that racism will end if we let racists be racist in peace? We can live in a less racially divisive society if only I can learn not to bother you with the circumstances and consequences of my oppression? Your need to live free of discomfort is more important than my need to be heard? And what exactly am I getting out of this? The right to be called a "nappyheaded ho" on national radio? The right to be gang raped at a lacrosse party? Thanks but no thanks.

But here's what's really bothering me about this whole thing. In the rush to defend the Rutgers women's basketball team, it's clear that they have earned our support precisely because they are not actually "nappyheaded hos." They are not the young woman in the Duke case. That nameless young woman--a single mother, a college dropout, a former exotic dancer, as every article reminds us--didn't deserve our defense. We could be outraged on her behalf. We could rail against the white male privilege run amok. But defend her? No. Her very existence proves what so many black women try so hard to disprove--we are not welfare mothers. We are not video vixens. We are not "nappyheaded hos." But getting yourself raped at party full of white men where you were the sexual entertainment doesn't really prove that does it? So there will be no defense of her, no meetings with her, no rallying around her now that North Carolina has decided she's a liar.

But the Rutgers girls, these girls, are on the Condoleeza Path of Success. They have struggled, worked hard, followed the rules, played the game and it's paying off. They have been trotted out on TV, not a nappy head among them, looking every bit the bright, high achieving women they are. And the implication, at least to my eyes, is that they deserve our protection because they are good girls. What would have happened if they had been less than good?

Maybe this all bothers me because I was placed on the Condoleeza Path of Success early in life. I learned, even though no one ever said these words, that being smart and well-spoken and modest would protect me from many of the degradations that so many black women have to live with every day. And I succeeded. I live with a certain amount of privilege that many many many black women don't have. It's amazing how people's facial expressions and body language change when I introduce myself as Dr. Francis or mention that I'm a college professor. A whole set of assumptions about me get thrown out because of that PhD. But Dr. Francis isn't exactly tattooed on my forehead, is it? I walk around in my brown skin, appearing very much the nappyheaded ho to the Imuses of the world simply because of that brown skin. It's small comfort to think that, apparently, my only defense against that is trying really hard to be Condoleeza.


claire said...

So number one -- will you send this out to get a wider audience (not that many people don't read the blog)? This is excellent and perfect.

The comment that bugs me is the one that says Imus is just being politically incorrect. As if being politically correct -- as you say, just using common decency -- were too staid for the edgy Don Imus.

Alison said...

I wrote in an article on rape one time, "As long as we live in a male dominated society, for women, the dark alley is everywhere." And that's what this post made me think of. As long as the racist-sexist formulation "nappy-headed ho" is considered a legitimate insult, then no brown skinned woman can really be safe. No efforts to prove that you're actually Condoleeza will keep you safe. Hell, Condoleeza herself isn't safe.

Did you say this yesterday?: that some of us should make shirts that say "nappy-headed ho" and wear them, in the spirit of Bitch magazine and cunt and other reclaimed terms?

Gunfighter said...

I'm going back to read your post in a minute... but can I tell you how I felt when I read your blog header and saw this?:


I knew that, at long last, I had found my people, and that I was not alone.



Lori said...

Hmm,"What would have happened if they been less than good?" Great question.

Personally, I think the bottom line is, no matter how often we perm, relax, hot-comb, dye our hair various shades of blonde and no matter how chaste we are (or appear to be), we (Black women) are never going to be quite right or good enough.

Also, some of us are perfectly "happy to be nappy." Imagine that (smile).

Heather said...

Sorry for this being completely off topic. I'm gathering e-mails for a Lowcountry Blogger meet up. Would you mind dropping me a line? Thank you.