TAKOMA PARK — Washington, D.C. resident Carolivia Herron, clad all in purple, carefully leans into the microphone at Takoma Radio. One moment the 71-year-old Howard University professor praises the 17th-century writer John Milton; at another, she laments the loss two years earlier to gun violence of young local rapper Douglas Brooks, known by his stage name “Swipey.”
Unfortunately, this year is a dubious one for Herron, as it marks the 20th anniversary of her children’s book “Nappy Hair” being banned by New York City Public Schools.
The ban occurred in 1998, after a white teacher taught the book to her third-grade class. Although the students enjoyed the book, protests broke out, as some considered the book racially insensitive. According to Herron, the majority of parents who complained about the book did not have children in the class.
“They felt a white teacher had no business teaching about black hair,” said Herron. “Because the word nappy had been used as an insult in their families, but it was never used that way in mine.”
The book itself is an uplifting story, telling African American girls to take pride in their natural hair. Nappy Hair is written entirely in call and response form, giving the book a unique rhythm, and paying tribute to African American traditions.
“It’s an important issue for black girls and women that many other people don’t understand. People who say ‘everyone wants to change their hair’ … have no idea what black woman go through when it comes to their hair,” said Herron. “It’s hours of time, lots of money, and, for many people, self-esteem troubles. They don’t believe they can get a job if their hair is in a natural state.”