The Case Against “Coon”

Joshua Adams
3 min readApr 6, 2022

The term “coon” (short for racoon) stems from American slavery. Traversing from plantations to pop culture, it is based on white society’s idea of Black intellectual inferiority.

When this charge is levied within the Black community of the present day, it’s an accusation that the person is performing anti-Black stereotypes for white people. It has become less about intelligence or being inarticulate, it’s more that the person being called a coon is assumed to be beholden to the white gaze — what white people think about Black people — and are performing minstrelsy for the pleasure of (not only, but especially) white people by mirroring their antiblack attitudes. If you are a coon, you basically sold your soul to the (white) devil.

Every group has its own in-group dynamics of accepting and rejecting members of the community. These dynamics change over time, as I surmise that there is a generational divide in how Black people use “coon” (for example, I’d have to imagine that Black Baby Boomers use the term exponentially more than Gen Z). But as a community, I want to make the case that we should bury the term “coon.” My main points (which are linked) are that it’s a type of shaming that doesn’t change anything and that it prevents us from having deeper, substantive discourse about both the survival and the thriving of the Black community.

To put it bluntly, calling someone a “coon” does less corrective work than Nelson’s (The Simpsons) “ha ha” and point. It’s a weird mix of plain ridicule and virtue signaling. I think the better option is to argue the merits. Target what the person is saying or doing, and explain why it is wrong or detrimental to the Black community.

To give an example, on even given day, you may see people in Black social media spaces can call Nikole Hannah-Jones and Candace Owens — two women who could not have more divergent politics, careers, agendas, etc. In fact, there is a subset within the Black community who think that other Black people engaging in any politics (Democrat, Republican, etc.) is performing coonery.

My point here is that “coon” is castigation that flattens different ideas about what serves the Black community best. Behind it is often the assumption that what is best for the community and what people within it perceive as best are self-evident…

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Joshua Adams

Joshua Adams is a writer from Chicago. UVA & USC. Assistant Professor at Columbia College Chicago. Twitter: @ProfJoshuaA