Why we should stop using slurs like “coon” (and others) to dehumanize other Black people.

We should stop using racial epithets as weapons against other Black people. Various words like “slave”, “coon”, “mammy” and “bedwench” are often wielded against Black people who exhibit or are seen to exhibit White supremacist attitudes. I have weaponized the word “coon” against people who I felt were being “coonish”, ie being anti Black. However, there is a problem with this choice of words. And we justify our usage of such terms, which is also problematic. If people are acting a certain way that is harmful, shouldn’t they be called out? Yes, people should be criticized for what we might refer to as internalized anti-blackness, for sure, but using these slurs doesn’t help.

Our people were enslaved. Their slavehood was based on white supremacy. They were subjected to horrible things. To accuse people of acting like a “slave” as an insult trivializes our ancestors. Many of our ancestors didn’t have the same level of agency we have. They also fought back. Every enslaved person wasn’t completely subjugated. Many people fought back. Slavehood shouldn’t be equated with passivity. When enslaved persons did rise up, they faced all types of violence we can’t comprehend.

The word “bedwench” is uniquely disgusting as it equates Black women, often famous with money, with enslaved black women who were coerced sexually. And then to use that as an insult is a disrespect to every Black woman who was assaulted by a slave-owner. Are people who go out of their way to defend white supremacy equivalent to enslaved women? An enslaved woman who was forced by threat of extreme violence or death? A woman who was the victim of sexual violence had very few options. Resistance meant more violence. And people who resisted were still violated in various grotesque ways. Calling someone a bedwench is essentially using a type of enslaved person who was sexually abused as an insult for Black women who you think aren’t living up to your expectations. Often times, these terms  used for Black women aren’t even outright white supremacists, but are judged by some bs patriarchal standard. 

A “coon” was a caricature created by racist whites. It’s a tool of white supremacy. It’s a false image of what a Black person is. Calling another black person a “coon” is an insult to Black people. Why use white supremacist caricatures as insults. We might as well call Black people N*ggers as insults. 

The coon, although he often worked as a servant, was not happy with his status. He was, simply, too lazy or too cynical to attempt to change his lowly position. Also, by the 1900s, Sambo was identified with older, docile blacks who accepted Jim Crow laws and etiquette; whereas coons were increasingly identified with young, urban blacks who disrespected whites.”

The mammy word also crosses with misogynoir. Musical artist Azalea Banks called Lizzo, another artist, a “mammy”. Lizzo has faced fatphobia & verbal abuse from fans throughout her career.  Lizzo responded by saying, “These people who are saying this are probably the same people who are mad when I am being hypersexual and the mammy trope is actually desexualized. So it can’t both be true. Make it make sense,” Lizzo said. “”I think people are just mad to see a fat Black woman that makes pop music and is happy.”

“The caricature portrayed an obese, coarse, maternal figure. She had great love for her white “family,” but often treated her own family with disdain. Although she had children, sometimes many, she was completely desexualized. She “belonged” to the white family, though it was rarely stated. Unlike Sambo, she was a faithful worker. She had no black friends; the white family was her entire world.”

The trap of these stereotypes is they put Black people in boxes created by white supremacy to demean us. We should be critical and self-critical when it comes to how we move in a white supremacist world. We also owe each other a bit of grace because we didn’t choose to be in a white supremacist world. We also must hold those people accountable for causing harm. Many criticized comedian and actor Bill Cosby when he went on anti-Black rants. Music artist Kanye West got flak for his ahistorical and insensitive comments, and other Black conservative commentators are always being criticized for being footsoldiers for white supremacist propaganda. However, we can do this without insulting our ancestors.  “The ancestors” has become a chic thing to say. If we are gonna invoke them, let’s show them respect by not using racial insults they suffered from as insults to our enemies. 

Sankara L.

About Community Movement Builders (136 Articles)
Community Movement Builders (CMB) is a member-based collective of black people dedicated to being a force for creating sustainable self-determining communities through cooperative economic advancement and collective community organizing. Our mission is rooted in Black love and equity. Grassroots Thinking is our newsletter/community blog about our work and movement activity

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