A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post re: Colin Kaepernick and his national anthem protests. (If you missed the article, you can check it out here.) In the article, I asked whether critics are putting form over function when they call Kaepernick un-American. A lot of people left thoughtful comments.
Today I’d like to follow up on that article, but this time with another question: Are Americans mad at Kaepernick because he is failing to observe American protocol, or are Americans mad because we have largely unacknowledged racism?
Let’s jump into this conversation with a picture.
In case you can’t see the screenshot clearly, someone shared an article about Brandon Marshall, a Denver Broncos player who followed Kaepernick’s example and took a knee during the national anthem to protest racial inequality and oppression. The headline reads, “Marshall loses endorsement for protesting anthem.”
Below the post, you can see where several people like/love the fact that Brandon Marshall lost his endorsement, and below that are a couple of comments applauding the decision. I’ve blocked them out because we don’t need to get distracted.
It’s the third comment that we are going to pause on for a moment, because it provides some useful context for many of the divisive stories that have torn across our newspapers and news feeds over the past few months. If you can’t see it, the third commenter – obviously pleased that Brandon Marshall lost his endorsement – typed in:
“Ha ha coon”.
Since “coon” is obviously not a term of endearment, I looked it up to better understand what this commenter was trying to convey. Here are a few of the explanations that popped up:
Source: Racial Slur Database
Coon: Represents blacks. Probably refers to the Portuguese word for slave pens or barracks “baracoons”. Could also have meaning as a shortening of “raccoon”, as raccoons have a tendency to steal. Possibly from Dr. Carleton Coon, who, in the mid-1960’s, theorized that blacks were less evolved than whites.
Coon: a racial slur, used pejoratively to refer to a black person, especially an African-American or Australian Aboriginal
Source: Urban Dictionary
Coon: Insulting term for a black person.
Example: I went to the R&B disco at DeNiro’s last night and I was the only white person there. It was full of coons.
Some of the other definitions I read compared the word “coon” to the term “n*&^%r.” All of the definitions noted that, when applied to people, “coon” is intended as an offensive, race-based insult.
So – now that we all have a better working knowledge of what it means to call someone – or to be called – a coon, let’s sit with that reality for a moment.
What does it mean to you to know that Americans still unabashedly use terms like this?
What does it mean to you to know that Americans still think and vote with this kind of mentality?
What does it mean to you to know that there are no markers for this kind of bias – meaning that Americans with these attitudes could be found anywhere – the pulpit, law enforcement, the classroom – really, anywhere there are people?
And, to the point of this article, how does bold-faced racism impact your perception of Colin Kaepernick, Brandon Marshall, and others that follow their example?
I could write a lot more about this, but I think this is a good place to stop.
If you are not African American (and I am not), just ponder for a moment what America would look like to you if these words and phrases – still in circulation – applied to you or your children. Think about what “white” churches might look like. About what government institutions might look like. About what any power situation where you are unarmed might look like. Would you be afraid? Angry? Passive? Violent? Accepting? Demanding change?
I have not had to know the reality of these scenarios, and I don’t claim to know what it feels like. My guess is that the emotions and responses are as diverse as the people who feel them.
But I think it is important for a moment to try to absorb how comments like the one above would impact you and your world view if they were directed at you or your loved ones. Think again about some of the tense news stories of the summer, this time with the knowledge that this kind of hate speech and hate-thinking continues unabated. Does it change anything for you? Do you think about any of these stories any differently?
I would love to know your thoughts.
Author note: Several days after I originally saw the post captured in the screen shot above, the offensive comment was no longer posted.