An Open Letter Regarding Jawn Murray

[Editor's Note: I received this letter written to VP of AOL Black Voices Tariq Muhammad regarding Jawn Murray's offensive Twitter rant. The author, Regina Hamilton, requested it be published here.]

Hello Mr. Tariq Muhammad,

My name is Regina Hamilton and I am writing concerning the recent derogatory comments one of your reporters, a Mr. Jawn Murray, made on twitter, seemingly about black women. I am writing, not only about these disparaging comments, but also about the so-called apology that Mr. Murray posted on Youtube. I watched the entirety of the posted apology, and while I applaud his efforts at trying to assuage the hurt feelings and offended sensibilities of some of his fan base by speaking, I am simultaneously outraged that Mr. Murray thinks he can denigrate black women and then reduce his culpability by claiming he was merely “making a joke.”

I find it interesting that in the defense of Tyler Perry, a director, producer, and writer who has been known to consistently reproduce certain derogatory stereotypes of black women, that Mr. Murray finds it necessary to take up this same black woman-hating discourse. What does being “nappy-headed” and “militant” have to do with having distaste for either Mr. Perry or the comments made by Mr. Murray? I don’t understand the connection, and in Mr. Murray’s apology video I would have liked an explanation of this random juxtaposition between “nappy-headedness,” “militancy,” and a supposed assault on Tyler Perry. There are innumerable critics of Mr. Perry’s work and they include people from many different races (and with many different hairstyles). What is it about women (black or otherwise) with an opinion that causes such harsh and hurtful responses? Why is it that no matter our academic standing or credentials for social critique, we are assumed to be excessively critical to a level that needs regulation by men or society at large? The fact of the matter is that it is our right to critique the images of black women that are appropriated by the modern media and to have those critiques taken seriously whether we are “militant” or “nappy-headed” or not.

Let’s unpack the term “nappy-headed” for a second. Aside, from simply gesturing toward the “militancy” or anti-mainstream nature of black women who choose to wear their hair naturally (meaning that the hair is not chemically straightened and/or straightened using heat), the invocation of “naps” or nappy-headedness hearkens to a time when “nappy-headed” was just one of the many different derogatory terms used against black people. Black hair was “nappy,” meaning unnaturally curly, coarse, unruly and hard to manage, in other words not white hair. Nappy hair was (is?) one more corporeal signifier that allowed for a reading of “coloredness” and therefore the state of being “less than” onto a specifically black body. This is a discourse of racial hierarchy, one of many discourses that started with the advent and proliferation of slavery and racial prejudice through these United States.

There are many things that are problematic with Mr. Murray’s tweets and subsequent apology video. The first, and I think more hurtful, thing is that Mr. Murray, as a black man (STILL) thinks it is funny to propagate certain discourses about black women. I put Mr. Murray’s comments in the same category that I put Don Imus’ “nappy-headed ho” comments about the Rutgers Women’s Basketball team, in fact, since Mr. Murray is a member of the same race as the women he is maligning and also wears his hair in a natural style, his comments are all the more hurtful. Mr. Murray is a well-known (well, sort of) black commentator on black culture, news and entertainment. He is afforded a voice and there are people who will believe in the veracity of what he says, joke or not. It’s a shame that Mr. Murray uses his voice to take shots at many of the people who have supported his career in its varying facets over the years. It is also very sad that Mr. Murray does not seem to understand or care that he is being instrumental in bringing certain negative stereotypes about black women into the present and future, while continuing to propagate raced, classed and gendered discourses that map “otherness” onto black female bodies.

Regina Hamilton is a 24 year old graduate student and culture critic. She believes in the power of words and the consequences of using them unwisely. Lift your voice, but remember the systems of control that we all have to operate within. Illuminate these systems of control and try not to propagate them.

Tariq Muhammad of AOL Black Voices has issued an official statement. View it here.

The Tom Joyner Morning Show has yet to respond to our request for comment. Contact Reach Media at (972) 789-1058 or Maiya Hollie

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