JWR Jeff JacobyBen WattenbergRoger Simon
Mona CharenLinda Chavez

Paul Greenberg Larry ElderJonathan S. Tobin
Thomas SowellMUGGERWalter Williams
Don FederCal Thomas
Political Cartoons
Left, Right & Center

Jewish World Review /Dec. 9,1998 /20 Kislev 5759

Mona Charen

Mona Charen

Nappy Hair and
other racial slurs

WHAT WOULD MOTIVATE a young white woman to teach in a public school in Brooklyn, N.Y., that is predominantly black and Hispanic? Wouldn't you guess idealism ---- a desire to help the less fortunate? Why else endure poor facilities, unsafe streets and disengaged parents?

Ruth Sherman's history suggests a young woman with a big heart. Even as a college student, she took time to tutor some of the children in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn in reading. Their scores improved.

But when, two weeks ago, the black parents of children in her third-grade class got wind that she had read the kids a book called Nappy Hair, the condemnation was swift and unthinking, and the benefit of the doubt nowhere to be found. Parents were outraged and demanded that Sherman be removed from the classroom. She was, though the administration later claimed that this was only for her own protection. At a public meeting to discuss the controversy, Sherman was threatened by several parents -- including the mother of one of the children she had tutored in reading.

Nappy Hair, as everyone knows by now (but the parents couldn't trouble themselves to find out), is the work of a black classics scholar named Carolivia Herron. She uses the image of untamable hair as a metaphor for the strength of black people in the face of adversity. Any black teacher could have taught the book with impunity. But Sherman is white and, it must be added, blond ---- which was probably her principal offense.

In a story explaining the controversy, one of the networks offered pictures of shampoo advertisements featuring flowing, shiny Caucasian hair. This is the American standard of beauty, went the explanation, and blacks feel excluded from it.

This is profoundly silly ---- the mark of people with too much time on their hands and not enough true trouble to offer perspective. In the first place, most white people manage to muddle through life without gorgeous flowing locks too. It is a tiny minority who are blessed with lovely hair. And if we're comparing racial traits, whites could waste time, if they chose, whining about the injustice of blacks having nicer skin (skin that, for example, ages much less noticeably than white skin).

What this reveals is that some black people live life on a hair trigger ---- looking for signs of "racial insensitivity" and pouncing on every purported instance. The trouble is, in this case, they insulted and drove away a dedicated teacher who was doing nothing but trying to persuade her charges to believe in and like themselves just the way they are.

The parents who were so quick to denounce the use of Nappy Hair -- a book recommended by black educators around the nation by the way -- without having read it are the same parents who cannot be bothered to show up at parent/teacher meetings or interest themselves in the poor academic performance of their local school. Only 1 percent of students at PS 131 is reading at grade level. But there have been no emergency community meetings called to discuss that.

Teaching these children to read is far, far more important to their future success than anything else they are doing in third grade. The parents are teaching their kids all of the wrong lessons by reacting only to perceived slights by whites instead of working on themselves. The best thing for the self-esteem of these poor children would be a rigorous curriculum, firm discipline and parentally enforced high expectations. It isn't racism that is keeping them poor and isolated; it is the failure to work hard at learning.

Carolivia Herron, now a professor at California State University at Chico, reminisced for The New York Times of her own introduction to great books. She recalled telling a librarian, at age 12, of her desire to read Milton and being led down the "beautiful, beautiful marble stairs in the Carnegie Library." Her imagination was fired by the beauty of the library as well as by the poetry she devoured. The students at PS 131 would be far better off with more trips to the library and less trumped-up indignation about hair.


12/07/98: Stranger in a strange land
12/02/98: Dangerous ground
11/30/98: Involuntary fatherhood?
11/24/98: Lies, damned lies, and sex lies
11/18/98: Another victory for cowardice
11/16/98: Separatism plus welfarism equals a dead end
11/10/98: Did conservatism lose campaign '98?
11/06/98: Democrat venality, Republican timidity
11/04/98: Are girls being shortchanged?
11/02/98: Believe the children?
10/28/98: What 'Measure 58' would do
10/26/98: The officers are bailing out
10/20/98: Using Matthew Shepard's murder
10/19/98: The school voucher that saved a family
10/14/98: Are powerful women different?
10/09/98: Can just sex be impeachable?
10/07/98: Repeal Miranda
10/02/98: Understanding the polls
10/01/98: What school texts teach about marriage
9/28/98: Fear of choice
9/23/98: A fork in the road: Bubba's fate and ours
9/18/98: Christianity and the Holocaust
9/16/98: The national dirty joke
9/11/98: Are we in crisis?
9/09/98: Does Burton's sin let Clinton off the hook?
9/07/98: Liar's Poker
9/01/98: One, two, three
8/28/98: Fat and folly
8/25/98: When homework is a dirty word
8/21/98: The unravelling
8/18/98: The wages of dishonesty
8/17/98: Sex, honor and the presidency
8/12/98: Pro-choice extremist
8/10/98: Switch illuminates biology's role
8/05/98: The presumption of innocence and the American way
8/03/98: An American hero
7/29/98: Lock up those who need psychiatric care
7/24/98: Making the military more like us
7/22/98: The 'Net sex hoax... and us
7/20/98: Disappointed by Cosbys
7/15/98: Feelings, not morality, rule
7/10/98: Guns as the solution?
7/8/98: Teacher preacher
7/6/98: The China behind the headlines
7/1/98: What is the First Amendment for?
6/26/98: The Republican city
6/24/98: Poison pen
6/22/98: Clinton: inventing his own reality?
6/16/98: Senator mom?
6/12/98: Wisconsin: a trail blazer?
6/9/98: These girls say no to sex, yes to excellence
6/5/98: Lewinsky's ex-lawyer would feel right at home as Springer guest
6/2/98: English? Si; Republican? No!
5/29/98: The truth about women and work
5/27/98: Romance in the '90s
5/25/98:Taxing smokers for fun and profit
5/19/98: China's friend in the White House
5/15/98: Look out feminists: here comes the true backlash
5/12/98: The war process?
5/8/98: Where's daddy?
5/5/98: The joys of boys
5/1/98: Republicans move on education reform
4/28/98: Reagan was right
4/24/98: The key to Pol Pot
4/21/98: The patriot's channel
4/19/98: Child-care day can't replace mom
4/15/98: Tax time
4/10/98: Armey states obvious, gets clobbered
4/7/98: A nation complacent?
4/1/98: Bill Clinton's African adventure
3/27/98: Understanding Arkansas
3/24/98: Jerry Springer's America
3/20/98: A small step for persecuted minorities
3/17/98: Skeletons in every closet?
3/13/98: Clinton's idea of a fine judge
3/10/98: Better than nothing?
3/6/98: Of fingernails and freedom
3/3/98: Read JWR! :0)
2/27/98: Dumb and Dumber
2/24/98: Reagan reduced poverty more than Clinton
2/20/98: Rally Round the United Nations?
2/17/98: In Denial
2/13/98: Reconsidering Theism
2/10/98: Waiting for the facts?
2/8/98: Cat got the GOP's tongue?
2/2/98: Does America care about immorality?
1/30/98: How to judge Clinton's denials
1/27/98: What If It's Just the Sex?
1/23/98: Bill Clinton, Acting Guilty
1/20/98: Arafat and the Holocaust Museum
1/16/98: Child Care or Feminist Agenda?
1/13/98: What We Really Think of Abortion
1/9/98: The Dead Era of Budget Deficits Rises Again?
1/6/98: "Understandable" Murder and Child Custody
1/2/98: Majoring in Sex
12/30/97: The Spirit of Kwanzaa
12/26/97: Food fights (Games children play)
12/23/97: Does Clinton's race panel listen to facts?
12/19/97: Welcome to the Judgeocracy, where the law school elite overrules majority rule
12/16/97: Do America's Jews support Netanyahu?

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.