Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Cultural Need For The "Happy To Be Nappy" Slogan

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post explores the cultural ramifications of the African American slogan "Happy to be Nappy". This post includes excerpt from books and online articles, examples of African American children's hair insult rhymes, and videos about the "happy to be nappy" slogan.

This post is presented for cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

"Happy to be nappy" is an African American slogan that promotes acceptance and appreciation of the natural hair texture of many but not all African Americans and other people with Black African ancestry. That slogan, which is also given as "I'm happy to be nappy", has been used as the title of books, articles, and DVDs, and has been featured on t-shirts and other products.

I've not been able to identify who came up with the "happy to be nappy" slogan. Nor have I been able to determine the earliest documented date that it was used. However, author and activist bell hooks, indicated that that slogan predates her 1999 children's book Happy to Be Nappy (Jump at the Sun) which popularized that slogan. In that passage from her 2003 book Rock My Soul: Black People and Self-Esteem, bell hooks explains why that slogan was created:
...”When the issue of self-esteem was raised in relation to black people, it just assumed that racism was the primary factor creating low self-esteem. Consequently, when black public figures, most of whom were male at that time, began to address the issue of self-esteem, they focused on the impact of racism as a force that crippled our self-esteem.

Militant antiracist political struggles placed the issue of self-esteem for black people on the agenda. And it took the form of primarily discussing the need for positive images. The slogan “black is beautiful” was popularized in an effort to undo the negative racist iconography and representations of blackness that had been an accepted norm in visual culture. Natural hairstyles were offered to counter the negative stereotype that one could only be beautiful if one’s hair was straight and not kinky. “Happy to be nappy” was also a popular slogan among militant black liberation groups."
Source: Rock My Soul: Black People and Self-Esteem, bell hooks, [Google Books], page 2.
A video of bell hooks' Happy To Be Nappy book is showcased as video example #1 below.

I'm not sure which "militant black liberation groups" used that saying or when. For what it's worth, from 1967-1969 I was a member of the Black cultural nationalist group, Committee For Unified Newark (CFUN). Members of that organization which was headed by Amiri Baraka for some of that time and subsequently chanted a number of slogans such as "It's nation time!" and "We are an African people. And while almost all the women and men in that group wore afros, I don't recall ever hearing or reading the slogan "happy to be nappy".

Numerous online articles and blog posts have been written about Black people's attitudes about our hair. In a 2012 artice entitled "Nappy Hair – The Other “N” Word?" Dianne Shaddock wrote
"There’s more than one derogatory n-word in the English language. While “nappy” may not be quite as inflammatory as the other word, it still conjures up pain for too many African Americans...

Consider yourself fortunate if you grew up with a loving adult telling you that your natural hair was beautiful, and that kinky hair was to be admired. Unfortunately, too many black girls and boys have heard the term “nappy” in a different light; it’s hurled as an insult. As a result, it’s practically considered a fighting word for many.

When it comes out of the mouths of non-black people, it’s even worse. Don Imus called an entire women’s basketball team “nappy headed” and was swiftly fired from his radio show. An elementary school teacher read the book Nappy Hair to her class as a way to teach pride to her mostly minority students. A controversy ensued and the teacher ended up having to transfer to another school due to the negative publicity."
Click for information about Carolivia Herron's 1998 book Nappy Hair.

Here's a link for "Young Black Nappy"'s Facebook page u

"Young Black Nappy shared a link [about a photography exhibition about Black hair:
November 16, 2014.
“I’m talking about how difficult is it to be a woman of color and be accepted as beautiful in terms of our hair... It’s less about a divisive body of work, where I’m criticizing hair that’s a certain way. It’s more or less about embracing that hair comes in all textures and curl patterns and can be worn in any way. Black hair is a multiplicity of things.” - Artist Nakeya Brown via For Harriet

Note: I've been collecting examples of African American playground rhymes since 1985. I've found very few references to hair in those rhymes. Excluding the "bald head" references* in "Yo mama, yo daddy, yo bald headed granny" and in "Fudge Fudge Call The Judge" rhymes, and the mention of a baby with a curl in the latter rhymes, and excluding the mention of a girl with "strawberry curls" in the "My Boyfriend's Name Is" rhymes, I've only come across three examples of Black children's rhymes that mention hair. And those examples can clearly be considered taunting (insult) rhymes. Here are those examples:

*Read my comment after Example #2 about hair length preferences in the United States.

Example #1:
My husband actually taught my daughter's a song that he remembered as a child in the late 60s/early 70s.

Hey you, over there, with the nappy nappy hair.
My back is achin' my pants too tight, my bootie shakin' from the left to right
M' Gowa, Black Power, yo' mama needs a shower.
Destroy, little boys, soul sister number nine, sock it to me one more time.
Mmm! Mmm! Mmm!
-GUEST,Shamiere, "Children's Street Songs", March 24, 2004
The verse "My back is achin' my pants too tight, my bootie shakin' from the left to right" is found in the now relatively widely known cheer or hand clap rhyme "Bang Bang Choo Choo Train".

"'Gowa" is a folk processed form of the word "Ungawa". That line and the next one are found in a number of African American children's rhymes. But they may be best known now because of their inclusion in the movie Big's version of the rhyme "Down Down Baby".

Example #2:
All: Gaaaytors

Clap two times and and then stomp four times. Repeat this entire sequence two more times.

This cheer starts with the group facing forward. The first time the word "Gaaaytors" [an elongated form of the word "Gators"] is said, the group turns to their right while clapping two times and stomping four times. The second time, the group turns to the back. The third time the group turns to their left. And the fourth time the group turns to face the front again.

While the group is facing the front the first soloist says a two line rhyming verse. Neither the group nor the soloist steps during that recitation.

Soloist: Gator’s aint wid it
So Homewood betta quit it

[Return to the "Gators “chorus” and begin doing the step moves again. Ideally, the next soloist would chant another verse with the same pattern and with the same theme. The chorus is always chanted after each verse.

Here are three other verses that the contributor of this cheer chanted for me:

Homewood betta chill out
cause I’ll put their tracks out [tracks= hair weaves]

Homewood betta chill out
before Sha’ona come and lay ‘em out
Homewood betta laugh and cheer
But they can’t really got no hair

{Sha’ona said she learned this from hearing the cheerleaders do this in 2006]
-Sha'ona (African American girl, Fort Pitt Elementary School, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, collected by Azizi Powell, 2007
This is an example of a confrontational (insult) foot stomping cheer that is chanted by the cheerleaders associated with that children's community based football team. "Foot stomping cheers" is my term for these cheers to distinguish them from mainstream cheerleader cheers.

The Garfield Gators" is the name of children's football teams which are based in the Garfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. That neighborhood is predominately Black. One of the Gators' arch rivals -in football and otherwise -is "Homewood", a nereby Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania neighborhood that is also predominately Black.

Notice that it's considered an insult to say that a girl has no hair. The hair preference in the United States for females is
not just for straight or moderately curly hair, but also for long straight or moderately curly hair. That aesthetic preference results in the billon dollar hair industry for hair weaves and wigs. And, given the strong preference for and strong desire for long hair, I believe that references to "baldheaded granny" and "bald headed baby" in playground rhymes are meant to be insults and not just statements of facts. For example, here's an example that was posted to "Those clapping songs" on 03/04/05 by bratzdan78:

"hot shot baby
chicken and gravy
here comes a lady
with a bald head baby
*point to other person* THATS YOU"

Example #3:
bald-head scallywag, ain't got no hair in da back
gelled up weaved up, yo hair is messed up.
perm and relaxer, you betta ask her
twist and turn, it's gonna burn.
-no name given, "How many of you can recall...Old School Chants", Jul 15 2010
"Perm [permanent] and relaxer" refers to ways to straighten tightly curled [nappy, kinky] hair using chemical products. Often those products burn.

These three videos were produced to counteract negative socialization about Black people's hair and help Black females in particular, but also Black males' accept and celebrate our hair. These examples are given in no particular order.

Example #1:Happy to Be Nappy


Scott Nagatani, Published on Aug 17, 2014

This video is a children's book, Happy to Be Nappy, set to music.
This is the bell hooks book that is mentioned earlier in this post. Chris Raschka is the book's illustrator.

Example #2: Happy to be Nappy / Sankofa Kids

Sankofa Kids, Published on Jun 4, 2012

Happy to be Nappy by Aset Brathwaite [no longer accessible]
Here's that poem/affirmation as given in the sub-titles from this video:

They twist, join together and sometimes do what they want to do.

They’re not dreadful so don’t call them DREADS.

Of course they are long and grow really fast

When my mommy ties them up they always last.

I don’t need a comb or brush just catus never grease or moose* [

I love my natural hair and that’s what I choose.

What’s that?

Ohhhhhhh they are tight curls some call them naps.

I’m so amazed my hair can do that.

It’s cool to be free and to be ME!

*moose = mouse
..."Hair mousse adds volume to hair and often provides both conditioning and hold, without any clumps or build-up. It is a hairstyling product which works by using synthetic resins to coat the hairs, and assist the hair in taking shape [3]. Hair mousse is purple while in the can and turns an off-white color upon coming in contact with the air."
My guess is that the reference in this affirmation to "catus" means a type of natural oil from catus plants.

Example #3: Happy To Be Nappy! Natural Hairstyles

JahGydes, Uploaded on Oct 24, 2008

celebration of black hair, sistahs don't be ashamed of your hair, be happy to be nappy! one love

Other self-esteem videos:
I really love my hair – Sesame Street 2010

I Love My Beautiful Brown Skin by Sankofa Kids


I Love My Beautiful Brown Skin by Sankofa Kids [not the same video as given above]
Pancocojams posts about the rhymes and cheers that are mentioned in this post can be found by putting that title in the internal search engine or by clicking the "children's rhymes and cheers"
tag below.

Also, click for a pancocojams post about
'Good Hair & Bad Hair (Black Attitudes About Our Hair)"
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