Nappy Hair Controversy
If you're black, or if you have close friends who are black, you are familiar with the
term "nappy hair". Many blacks have nappy hair, and they describe it that
way! Even some white folks have nappy hair. This book, "Nappy Hair",
is by a critically acclaimed black author. The book celebrates the differences and
unique attributes of black people. Yet, when white teacher Ruth Sherman read this
book to her third-graders she was pilloried by black and Hispanic community members who
had not read the book.
|April 4, 2007:
became the latest victim of racial over-sensitivity.
See the Imus story at the bottom of this post.
Ruth Ann Sherman. Age 27, white, 3rd grade teacher.
P.S. 75 in the Bushwick neighborhood, mostly black and Hispanic. Part of school
her kids about accepting racial differences, as well as accepting their own unique racial
traits. Used critically acclaimed children's book in her lesson plan.
September 1998 Ms. Sherman commenced her well-planned lesson in racial tolerance and
acceptance. Her 3rd graders loved it. By late November 1998 misinformed
members of the community demanded her ouster by the school board.
Hair" - about a little girl with the "nappiest, the most screwed up, squeezed
up, knotted up" hair. Critically acclaimed as an excellent childrens' book both
for (a) black children for teaching about self-acceptance; and (b) all children (and
adults!) for teaching acceptance of racial differences.
Herron, age 52, black. Associate professor of English at Chico State University in
California. Holds a Ph.D. in comparative literature from the University of
Pennsylvania. Dr. Herron thinks Ms. Sherman's use of the book was perfectly
appropriate and consistent with her own goals for the book.
In the Beginning:
Ms. Ruth Sherman wanted to teach her 3rd graders about self-acceptance and acceptance of
racial differences. She used the widely acclaimed book "Nappy Hair",
narrating it and acting it out in front of her class, to the delight of her young
The entire exercise was intended to prepare the 3rd graders for a new group method of
learning to read. Said Sherman "In order to do that successfully, the kids have
to like each other and respect each other. That was the whole point of the lesson,
for them to realize and appreciate the differences in each of us". (Bergen
One of the childrens parents happened upon several photocopied pages from
"Nappy Hair" in her childs folder, and - without bothering to read the
book itself - duplicated the pages, including a not-too-complimentary note about the
"white teacher" who had been teaching presumably demeaning, racist stereotypes
to their black and Hispanic kids. The parent distributed this package of misinformation
throughout the neighborhood to many families who did not even have children in Ms.
According to the Washington Post, Sherman said "The first I knew of the problem was
when this parent came into my room and said she was surprised she didn't see a white [Ku
Klux Klan] hood on my desk".
A racial imbroglio ensued. Neighborhood residents - mostly NOT parents of Ms.
Sherman's students - inundated the school with demands for her resignation for allegedly
teaching derogatory racial stereotypes to the 3rd graders.
The school board convened a public meeting on Monday, November 23, 1998 at which residents
of the Bushwick neighborhood, mostly black and Hispanic, hurled racial epithets and
profanities at Ms. Sherman as well as verbally and physically threatening her.
One of the more printable terms they called her was "cracker".
Ruth Sherman was not even allowed to speak by the angry mob. The principal was not
allowed to speak. When the school librarian tried to show the crowd favorable
reviews for the book she was shouted down. One woman shouted at Sherman "You
better watch out!" Sherman asked if she was threatening her. The woman replied
that it was no threat, it was a promise.
Ruth Sherman had to be spirited out a back way from the meeting by school officials who
were afraid for her safety.
The outraged parents had two things in common: (1) They had not read
"Nappy Hair", and (2) They were not parents of Ms. Sherman's
students. But they had read the flyer and the note about "the white
teacher" that had been distributed throughout the neighborhood.
School board officials mounted an investigation and within 24 hours determined that Ms.
Sherman was completely innocent of any wrongdoing. They asked Ms. Sherman to stay
with her 3rd grade class at P.S. 75, with additional security. She declined,
extremely troubled by the image of going to and from school under guard, and teaching
As a good teacher, the idealistic 27 year old teacher feels badly for her former
students. Sherman said: "The poor children must be so confused right
now. Everything I tried to teach them about getting along and togetherness has been thrown
right out the window."
Some of her former students wept; both the students and their parents implored Ms. Sherman
to stay. She could not: "I don't want to teach in an area where people in the
community think they can come out and threaten a teacher", she said, referring to the
outraged community members who did not have children in her class.
Ms. Sherman has transferred to another school in Queens, where the parents welcomed her
with open arms.
Herron: Author of 'Nappy Hair'. "The idea that this is a racist
book is ridiculous! This book is a wonderful celebration of nappy, African-American
hair." Dr. Herron says that her inspiration for the book was the teasing story
her uncle used to tell her about herself and her hair, beginning when she was 5 yrs.
old. The uncle told her she had the "kinkiest, most screwed-up, squeezed-up,
knotted-up, tangled-up hair". Herron intended the book as an affirmation of
unique black characteristics.
|April 4, 2007:
became the latest victim of racial over-sensitivity.
See the Imus story at the bottom of this post.
Isoke T. Nia:
The book "Nappy Hair" was recommended to hundreds of teachers by Ms. Isoke T.
Nia, the black director of research and development at the Teacher's College Reading and
Writing Project at Columbia University. Ms. Nia is quoted as saying "There are
things that blacks say in their homes about their hair, and this [book] is bringing it to
the public. I'm surprised, astonished, and appalled. A line from the book says
a lock of the child's hair is the only perfect circle. What's so bad about
E. R. Shipp: Black
editorial writer for the New York Daily News, Ms. E. R. Shipp, said about the
pseudo-controversy: "Bah, humbug! Nappy hair has adorned my proud head
for decades. Pride, of course, was not always associated with tightly curled,
non-permed or processed hair. Neither dark skin nor nappy hair was cherished when I
was an eighth-grader who wanted desperately to have my classmates say I was at least
lighter-complexioned than Mary Alice Baker. She wanted the same at my expense. ...
But most black adults I know got over this silliness or grew up immune to it in the years
that followed the Black Power Movement and its James Brown anthem "Say It Loud (I'm
Black And I'm Proud)."
The News Stories:
teacher over 'Nappy Hair' book (AP, via
Boston Globe 11/25/98 - dead)
"A white teacher who gave an acclaimed children's book called ''Nappy Hair'' to
mostly black and Hispanic third-graders was removed from teaching yesterday, after parents
complained and threatened her.
"The teacher, Ruth Sherman, 27, was transferred after a school meeting Monday night.
"The book is about a girl with the ''nappiest, fuzziest, the most screwed up,
squeezed up, knotted up'' hair. It generally received rave reviews.
" ''The idea that it is a racist book is ridiculous,' said the author,
Carolivia Herron, who believes the book should be used to teach racial diversity.
'This book is a wonderful celebration of nappy, African-American hair.'
[Teachers union spokesman Ron] Davis said parents at the meeting threatened Sherman,
shouting things like, 'Watch out!' and 'We're going to get you!' He said he believed
the parents had not read the entire book, but had seen only a few pages or heard the
title. Davis said the book 'was meant to encourage appreciation of our cultural diversity
and ethnic uniqueness.' " (Associated Press, via Boston Globe, 11/25/98)
Teacher in book flap weighs
return to class (Bergen Record 11/27/98)
" 'I don't want to teach in an area where people in the community think they can come
out and threaten a teacher,' Ruth Sherman said Wednesday, after school officials
said she could return to work at P.S. 75 despite the controversy. The 27-year-old
teacher, who is white, said she will make her decision before a Monday morning meeting at
District 32 offices in Brooklyn. Under the union contract, teachers can request a transfer
if they have been threatened.
"A Brooklyn teacher is trying to decide whether she wants to continue working at a
school where she says dozens of residents screamed racial epithets at her for using a book
called 'Nappy Hair'." Teacher Ruth Sherman understandably feels vilified and
victimized for attempting to help both white and black students understand and accept
unique attributes of black people. The book in question, "Nappy Hair", is
a critically acclaimed children's book by a black author.
"Sherman said school officials had to sneak her out of the school after one woman
lunged at her and threatened: 'You'd just better watch it.'
"The critically acclaimed children's book at the center of the flap was written by
black author Carolivia Herron, an associate English professor at California State
University, Chico. The author, reached in California, said the teacher used the book
exactly as she had intended: to celebrate racial diversity and teach children to be proud
of who they are." (Associated Press, via the Bergen Record, 11/27/98)
Teacher threatened over Nappy Hair
book requests transfer (FoxNews, AP 11/30/98 - dead link)
"A white teacher accused of racial insensitivity for reading a book titled 'Nappy
Hair' to her black and Hispanic pupils requested a transfer out of her Brooklyn school
district, saying she fears for her life. 'I can't take the fear and wondering every
day what might happen', Ruth Sherman said. (Associated Press 11/30/98, via FoxNews,
by Judie Glave)
Story Hour Didn't Have a Happy
Ending (dead link; Washington Post 12/03/98)
"[3rd grade teacher Ruth]
Sherman's troubles began right away last September  with 'Nappy Hair', a book
written by an author born in the District [of Columbia]. Sherman chose the story
because she thought it would change her students' lives. She regaled her class with
the story of a little black girl with 'the nappiest, fuzziest, the most screwed up,
squeezed up, knotted hair'. She said they loved it so much 'they clamored for copies
to carry with them'. An eager new teacher, she made some.
"Two months later, just before Thanksgiving break, a parent found a pack of pages
from 'Nappy Hair' in her daughter's folder. The title did not make her happy,
according to Board of Education spokesman J.D. LaRock, who explained that she and some
other parents at the predominantly black and Hispanic school interpreted 'Nappy Hair' as a
racial slur." (Washington Post 12/03/98, page A03, by Liz Leyden)
sad, predictable story (The Bergen Record 12/06/98)
"It was such a sad story.
It spoke volumes about the state of race relations in America. It happened in
Brooklyn, in a public school in a black and Hispanic neighborhood, Brunswick. A
third-grade class has a new teacher. Her name was Ruth Sherman. She was white,
27 years old, 6 feet tall, and brimming with enthusiasm.
"She assigned a book for her class to read. The title was 'Nappy Hair'.
It told the story of a little black girl with curly hair, African-American
hair." A student's mother who briefly looked over a few copied pages from the
book that her daughter had been given to read became incensed. She made leaflets of
the pages, and included an uncomplimentary note about the 'white teacher' who was teaching
negative racial stereotypes. She distributed these flyers to the Bushwick community,
many of whom were not parents of students in Ms. Sherman's 3rd grade class. (Bergen
Record 12/06/98, by James Ahearn)
A Bitter Lesson in Bushwick (NY Post
Editorial - dead)
"Brooklyn teacher Ruth Sherman
has just learned an old lesson the hard way: When bad people are intent on provoking
racial conflict, what matters to them is not the content of your character, but the color
of your skin.
"Sherman is the now-suspended PS 75 teacher who shared a book called 'Nappy Hair'
with her students in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick. Sherman's intent was to
use the book to stimulate an interest in reading among her class of mostly black and
Latino third-graders by using a book whose avowed purpose is to get kids to celebrate
'diversity' and 'multiculturalism'. For her pains she got death threats, was thrown
out of her classroom, suspended from her job, and branded a racist." (New York
[former link *http://www.nypost.com/editorial/7890.htm]
Intimidated Teacher Welcomed at Queens School (NY Daily News
"Dogged by two weeks of
controversy over her use of the book 'Nappy Hair' in a Brooklyn school, teacher Ruth
Sherman yesterday smiled as she described her first day at a Queens school. 'It was
beautiful, it was marvelous', Sherman said of her morning at Public School 131 in Jamaica
"Sherman, who requested a transfer from PS 75 in Bushwick, Brooklyn, after several
parents threatened her for using the book, spent yesterday buying supplies and meeting her
new class of second-graders. 'She was nice to us, she likes the children', said
Muhammad Rahman, 7, a student in Sherman's spelling class. 'Maybe she could go with
us to a trip tomorrow because she is really good'.
"Parents with children at the multi-ethnic school welcomed the new teacher and said
the 'Nappy Hair' controversy that drove her out of Bushwick was unnecessary."
(New York Daily News 12/08/98, by Martin Mbugua)
Protesters are the Racists (New York Daily News 12/21/98)
"The controversy reveals more about the protesters than the book. They are
racists who say that, even if the book isn't so bad, how dare a white teacher read it to
"That they [the Bushwick residents] were way out of line and even farther off-base
should be evident to anyone this side of a coma. But that so many people could react
so hysterically on the basis of so little information is alarming.
"How many people actually read 'Nappy Hair' before yelling that this delightful
children's book was racially derogatory? Or before insisting that for any white
teacher to read it to a black child is the equivalent of singing the turn-of-the-century
song 'Pickaninny Paradise?' " (Opinion by nationally known black author Ms.
E.R. Shipp; NY Daily News 12/21/98)
END of the
Don Imus Non-Controversy
Shock jock? Don Imus? That 67 year old middle-of-the-road talk show
guy? That gives real shock jocks like Howard Stern a bad name!
The first time I ever heard old man Imus referred to as a "shock jock" was after
the whole, silly nappy headed ho' non-controversy.
On his show on
Wed., April 4, 2007 Imus was discussing the athletic prowess of the Rutgers' women's
basketball team, many of whom happen to be black. (You don't say!)
If you happened to hear the exchange live, you might have thought the whole thing was
rather benign, almost like Imus was trying to compliment the Rutgers women's basketball
team for their toughness while at the same time doing a very bad imitation of the
language of hip-hop and gansta rap.
Here's the exchange between Imus and
producer Bernard McGuirk:
IMUS: "That's some
rough girls from Rutgers. Man, they got tattoos
MCGUIRK (interrupting): "Some
IMUS (picking up the 'ho' theme):
"That's some nappy-headed hos there, I'm going to tell you
Of course, hip-hop "artists" use much more vile, offensive, and violent
"lyrics" in referring to black women.
And the two leading racial charlatans who led the hue and cry to get Imus fired are none
other than Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.
Al Sharpton has a lot of nerve criticizing Imus when Sharpton himself has never apologized
for inventing the fictitious rape of Tawana Brawley, thus impugning the reputations of
lots of innocent people. Sharpton may also be the only black man in the U.S. in
2007 who has his own naps straightened.
Jesse "Just Me" Jackson who insulted New York's substantial Jewish population by
referring to the city as "Hymie Town". Jesse "Its All About Me"
Jackson who has been investigated by the IRS more times than the Mob for his, um,
questionable use of the funds he extorts from corporate America.
Do you detect a BIG credibility gap here?
As for the women of the Rutgers basketball team, who are no doubt fine young women, I find
it difficult to believe that none of them have ever referred to each other as either
having nappy hair, or as a "ho", or perhaps even as both.
Those of you in the "white" world who actually have close relationships with any
black folks already know all about the word "nappy". It refers to the
tightly curled, kinky hair that many blacks have. Big deal.
And those of you who have the bad taste to listen to hip-hop and gangsta rap have
undoubtedly heard not only "ho" used to describe black women, but a lot worse.
-- Tim Fay, Editor
P.S. Also be sure to read the near-tragic
story of school teacher Ruth Ann Sherman (above) to get a full
appreciation how crazed the racial dialog in this country has become.