With people becoming increasingly “woke,” I’ve witnessed some of the most horrific treatment from black people to other black people with different opinions. I’ve most likely participated in some of it as well. When we really care about something, or feel a personal attachment to it, like our race and experiences as Black people, we tend to get overly zealous. I call it passionate. In this exchange, we end up calling people all types of names. Unfortunately, these names are filled with the very racism that we are angry about in the first place.
Coon! We’ve all heard that word. Most of us have used it AT LEAST once, whether it was online or in person or even in our minds (yes, I took it there lol). Just look at few of the most hated (by black people because I’m sure white folks love them) black people right now:
I have seen these people be called coons all over social media and in the blogs. While some of the things they say may be questionable, and people may wholeheartedly disagree, it is never appropriate or acceptable for us to be calling any black people that. Let’s take a brief look at some history of the word coon.
In the early 1800s minstrel shows and coon songs were popular. They were performed in black face and depicted Black people in stereotypes of no personal morals, promiscuous, ignorant, undignified, and childlike. People loved them! There were songs and shows like “All Coons Look Alike to Me” and “Zip Coon.” Zip Coon, which made fun of free blacks, really popularized the coon stereotype. It was first performed by a man named George Washington Dixon in black face dressing “fancy” in an attempt to have the status of whites, however always remaining undignified. It was also performed by several other white men. Many of us may remember the nursery rhyme, “Do Your Ears Hang Low” or even the rap song “Chain Hang Low” by Jibbs. They have the same melody as Zip Coon (also known as Turkey in the Straw). Coon songs and minstrel shows would use black vernacular as well as perform slave portrayals in black face.
Here’s a video of the song Zip Coon. He starts out singing, “Ole zip coon he’s a learnded skolar,” singing in black vernacular. This song was made to mock our ancestor’s attempts to elevate from the second class, dehumanized status that whites placed us in.
Here’s “Chain Hang Low” by Jibbs. I like this song and don’t think anything is wrong with it. I just wanted to point out Zip Coon sample and how things like coon songs have been interwoven into our culture and still last to this day as we now continue to call each other coons.
There were even black people who wrote coon songs as a means to support themselves and their families. Bob Cole was a composer who gained fame largely by writing coon songs, and he, along with Billy Johnson, produced the first black musical comedy called “A Trip to Coontown.” Bob Cole started the first black production company, and he was from Athens, Georgia. With his work, he was able to move away from the typical minstrel show that was normally on a plantation. Although he also did “coon” shows, he was able to break away at some of the stereotypes, such as watermelon and Jezebels. He was socially involved and spoke out about the way black people were portrayed in coon and minstrel shows and music. It can partly be credited to him publicly speaking against it that caused the decline in its popularity in the early 1900s. Although he participated in the genre, it’s important to note that all throughout the entertainment world, black people have been subjected to demeaning caricatures. In theater and films, these were the early roles available, and even Viola Davis spoke about roles not being available to us when she accepted her Emmy. I do not blame a man for capitalizing off his talents in the best way that he could at the time, and it was remarkable to have a black owned production company in the 1800-1900s!
This is by no means even an in depth history of the word. This is only a minuscule scratch at the very tip of an iceberg. However to simply know the racism and hatred rooted in the word coon, should be enough to stop using it. Even someone who participated in the genre at the time denounced it. As black people, it’s about time we stop using the same language filled with hate and racism, created by the people who enslaved us, to berate one another. Let’s bring an end to the word coon. It’s just never okay.