Tuesday, April 10, 2007
The Pursuit of Nappyness
or Much Hairdo About Nothing.
Funny how an innocuous phrase that, heretofore, was an apt description of the uncombed black head is now the latest in a long list of politically incorrect phrases that require "skin privilege" before being bandied about. Being of "red bone" genetic makeup like another famous Black-Indian mixture, "nappy" was a word I heard quite often as child in the 1970s when my hair seemed to defy both convention and combing, much like Will Smith's son in his last attempt for Oscar glory. For those not in-the-know, "nappy" was and is black folks' terminology for uncombed (or unmanageable) hair.
"Nappy," however, was a fluid word whose usage could also range from playground taunting ("your head's so nappy, it's unbe-weaveable!") to affirmation of African authenticity. It's also inspired some great Black music from the ribald Funkadelic tune, "Nappy Dugout" (referring to nappiness south of one's navel) to the famous musical number in Spike Lee's sophomore outing, which brilliantly and humorously managed to sum up 400 years of black identification issues and race-class struggles under white supremacy into a five minute interlude that would make Louis Jordan or Cab Calloway proud. My non-Greek Letter organization black friends and I always referred to it as the "Kappas Vs. Deltas" song in college.
Then there's the word "ho" (or "hoe," if your slang spellings were taught to you by Dan Quayle). Unfortunately, it seems as if you can't even get on MTV, VH1 or BET without peppering your conversation with the word as a synonym for "black female." The usage of the word in popular music has probably helped garden tool sales to remain brisk at Home Depot. Even my favorite band, Fishbone, is about to release their next album with a cut titled "Let Dem Ho's Fight."
Which brings us to the latest non-event that's been ginned up to seem more significant than it really it is by our brain dead media, which continues to prove my military hero Admiral Rickover correct that "Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people." So, allow me to be small-minded for a moment like America's media and consider one Mr. Don Imus. I say "non-event" because such conversations go on daily, hourly, on radio stations all over America from the orifices of potty-mouthed shock jocks and comedians. Why Imus, and not Howard Stern, Opie and Anthony, Carlos Mencia, or a host of others?
Imus and his staff have said much worse in terms of race-bating humor, and black writer and commentator Ishmael Reed has been calling for the heads of Don Imus and his staff for years while mainstream journalists, black and Caucasian, have virtually ignored Reed. Reed, of course, isn't part of the sycophantic journalist crowd of Beltway Butt-kissers that feign critiques of sitting administrations and national figures while simultaneously buck-dancing for nearness to Pharaoh. Why is Imus now ripe to be trotted out to the village square to be pilloried? Well, on the left, now that liberal media's darling, Barack Obama has been designated the new Black Messiah, no white figure on radio or TV will be allowed to utter anything even remotely hinting at racial sideswiping (regardless as to the distinction of whether the remark is an intelligent criticism, or just redneck roughhousing). On the conservative side, Fox News and Republicans see an opportunity to draw blood from someone perceived to be liberal and anti-Bush (although Imus, by his own admission, is a registered Republican) and receive payback for all the white male Republicans, from Trent Lott to George Allen, that shot themselves figuratively in the foot with their own racial slip-ups.
Sadly, I've just come to accept the cognitive dissonance that passes for "intelligence" among black "leaders," and that black American thought, from the Armstrong Williams of the right to the Michael Eric Dysons of the left, will continue to be (to paraphrase an old Seinfeld episode) unreal and unspectacular.
Don Imus is (rightly) criticized for unwarranted insults against hard-working young, black female college students, yet black journalists and so-called leaders give a pass to all sorts of cultural pollution and degeneracy in the name of "modern black culture," "keepin' it real," "street cred'," or "hip hop/youth culture." Like Voltaire's alleged motto, I am against politicians, media, or any other "activists," black or white, attempting to curb free speech; but what's sauce for a guy's whose goose is cooked, is gravy for the gander that panders. The black mayor of D.C. rails against circuit court decisions upholding private citizens' Second Amendment rights of legal gun ownership, yet sees no need to crack down on black thugs that use illegally obtained weapons to terrorize other innocent poor unarmed blacks. Black leaders, conservative and liberal, rail against the evils of "big boxes." Wal-Mart, and "white corporations" for their alleged economic sins, and then expect said entities to magically open shop and create jobs from thin air in impoverished areas without regard to (fair or unfair) racial criticism, government regulation, market pressures, and wage demands. In other words, protected speech for protected classes.
A further irony is seeing Mr. Imus being trotted out to answer for his racial sins before, of all people, the modern-day jack leg, Al Sharpton. The Axis of Evil that terrorizes the intelligent modern black mind is public school education, welfare state regulation and politics, and most of all, organized religion. Mr. Sharpton is hardly the clean glass to put beside the dirty glass, considering his history of slander and his chocolate-coated, Father Coughlinesque anti-Jew rants. Of course, since the mainstream media has already elected Sharpton as the modern, Bizarro heir apparent to the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., gone are any attempts at holding ALL Americans, black or white, to a universally applied standard of justice, decency, and civility.
Two words of advice for Mr. Imus : Satellite Radio. It helped Howard Stern to turn his trashy rants into big cash. It can do the same for you, too!
"Only in America ... "
Finally, there is the question of exactly when is it ever appropriate (or inappropriate) for a white commentator, writer, or artist to appropriate black lingo, history or images? Whether it's the generally lowbrow (and low-IQ) culture of pop media such as Don Imus, or the more intellectual pursuits of white Pulitzer Prize-winning novelists, is there some hard and fast set of rules that creative Caucasoids are supposed to always consult before attempting to put pad to pen, or mouth to microphone? Why does Spielberg take on the mantle of the New Lord Jim for adapting a black feminist novel, but Oprah Winfrey and Quincy Jones are revered for stage interpretations of the same work? Is it okay for all sorts of lyrical sewage to spill forth from the mouth of black hip hop artists, or will become the Day the Universe Stands Still when Justin Timberlake or Eminem utters the unutterable?
As a side note, the inspiration for the pun headline reminds me of an interview with Mr. Robert O. Carr, CEO of Heartland Payment Systems, in yesterday's Wall Street Journal ("Share The Wealth," by Joann S. Lublin). My favorite film critic, Armond White of the New York Press, considered Will Smith's last magnum opus too much of an urban fantasy, an African-American appropriation of the quintessential Horatio Alger mythology.
Although I won't deny that racial problems are an undecurrent at any corporate entity (the magnitude and flow of the undercurrent depends upon the company and its leadership), there are some business people who don't see the marketplace as an excuse to grind others into the ground. Mr. Carr believes that corporate success for his company in 2007 entails cutting the salaries and bonuses of top executives, giving free lunches (fresh salads) to employees to encourage weight loss, and sets a base pay of $15 for call center employees. What amused me about this corporate generosity was that it was not inspired by the CEO of Costco or Starbucks, but Ayn Rand!
Personally, even as a libertarian, I find Ayn Rand and her tomes to be monumentally insufferable; but, hey, if Mr. Carr can find wealth and happiness from reading the overwrought Atlas Shrugged---and even more, spread the wealth around to his employees---then who am I to complain?