Content Note: The subject matter in this post contains images, words, and phrases of racist nature, some of which may be graphic.
Those of African descent have long been ‘othered’…treated as if they aren’t part of the human race…treated as subhuman…or only part human; certainly not deserving of the same rights as everyone else (often read as white people). This othering has resulted in racist caricatures of Blacks. These denigrating caricatures treat Black people in a dehumanizing manner. One such racist caricature is ‘The Coon’:
The coon caricature is one of the most insulting of all anti-black caricatures. The name itself, an abbreviation of raccoon, is dehumanizing. As with Sambo, the coon was portrayed as a lazy, easily frightened, chronically idle, inarticulate, buffoon. The coon differed from the Sambo in subtle but important ways. Sambo was depicted as a perpetual child, not capable of living as an independent adult. The coon acted childish, but he was an adult; albeit a good-for-little adult. Sambo was portrayed as a loyal and contented servant. Indeed, Sambo was offered as a defense for slavery and segregation. How bad could these institutions have been, asked the racialists, if blacks were contented, even happy, being servants? 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. Stated differently, the coon was a Sambo gone bad.
The prototypical movie coon was Stepin Fetchit, the slow-talking, slow-walking, self-demeaning nitwit. It took his character almost a minute to say: “I’se be catchin’ ma feets nah, Boss.” Donald Bogle (1994), a cinema historian, lambasted the coon, as played by Stepin Fetchit and others:
Before its death, the coon developed into the most blatantly degrading of all black stereotypes. The pure coons emerged as no-account niggers, those unreliable, crazy, lazy, subhuman creatures good for nothing more than eating watermelons, stealing chickens, shooting crap, or butchering the English language.
The coon caricature was born during American slavery. Slave masters and overseers often described slaves as “slow,” “lazy,” “wants pushing,” “an eye servant,” and “trifling.”1 The master and the slave operated with different motives: the master desired to obtain from the slave the greatest labor, by any means; the slave desired to do the least labor while avoiding punishment. The slave registered his protest against slavery by running away, and, when that was not possible, by slowing work, doing shoddy work, destroying work tools, and faking illness. Slave masters attributed the slaves’ poor work performance to shiftlessness, stupidity, desire for freedom, and genetic deficiencies.
(read the full article by Dr. David Pilgrim here)