Monday, February 05, 2007

Some Thoughts on Race

Last week, I really wanted to talk about race. It started when I saw a YouTube video from someone who subscribed to someone else only because the person was black and he didn't have any black subscriptions. He made some comments that sounded racist; again, I may be a little sensitive on the subject.

And then I heard another term discussed. It is a word for a Cajun, and I am not sure I should type it here. Anyway, it turns out that the word is probably "derived from the continental French word 'connasse,' which he contended meant 'stupid person' or 'a prostitute without health papers' (dirty prostitute)." (Wikipedia) Now, I have known some Cajuns and I thought they did not have a problem with the word. Now, it turns out, that perhaps this word is an ethnic slur.

I heard, well, people in the office were discussing a national talk show guy that was saying that this is definitely a racist word, and educated individuals know this. You know, I consider myself sort of educated (as educated as you can get in Georgia), and I had no idea. Now the first part of the word, "coon-" is only part of the word. I figured it was like "coonskin cap" or "coon dog". I know the word by itself is highly offensive, if you are talking about a human being. I actually know people who hunt for 'coon, and call it that. Not raccoon, but 'coon. Would it hurt to just say the whole word, fellas?

You know, with a word like the N-word, everybody knows it is offensive, and you feel its offense in your gut. This other word I had no idea, and now that I know, I will not use it. Not that I used it before, really, because most people from Louisiana don't travel to Georgia. And frankly, Georgians like talking about themselves.

An African-American was the coach for the Superbowl winning Colts. Well, since I don't follow football very closely, I would not have known. I actually thought Art Shell was the coach of a Superbowl winning team (the old Oakland Raiders, not the new Oakland Raiders), but he wasn't. He was just a popular coach.

I know this will not sound enlightened, but I don't think that having high-profile coaches who are African-American (or political candidates for that matter) succeed advances us as a society. If you think about personal advancement, I think it is more important that the mid-manager down the hall who happens to be African-American is given the opportunity to succeed. There are a heck of a lot more mid-managers than there are presidential candidates of professional football coaches.

Looking at this from a purely money-making perspective (business), it makes sense that workplaces are diverse. I worked for an organization that was almost all female, and I tell you, we could have used a few more men in the place. It would have made working there more enjoyable, and we probably would have gotten more different viewpoints. I think the point of a diverse work group is that, more often than not, different views are brought to the table. Is that an over-simplification? Yes. But I have heard some black friends tell me, "Leesa, you just would not understand because you are not black." When I was young, that would piss me off, but now that I have matured, I can sort of understand. There are certain experiences that I will never have. I have been discriminated against in the past, but you know, the discrimination was much more localized than what black people in Georgia still face today. For instance, some feel that if a black man is lazy, it is because he is black, but if a white man is lazy, it is the individual's character flaw.

Now I don't know of that Cajun name is an ethnic slur. It bothers me that I did not have an inkling about it, though. This is a post without a real point – at least that can be summarized in a pithy statement at the end of a one-page blog.

All I can do is my part – to continue to understand my friends, and to voice my concerns when friends say things that can be hurtful. By the way, I don't normally pick battles with strangers – I have far less leverage, and frankly, I have found that you can't really change anyone anyway. But at least your friends will listen to your thoughts.

By the way, I learned that the first African-American head coach was Fritz Pollard (1921 Akron, 1925 Hammond). I always thought it was Art Shell.


Prata said...

You've never heard a black called a coon before? Yeah, that's not a nice word. It's as offensive as Alabama Porch Monkey, nigger, or anything els you can think of...kike anyone? Gook...chink? *blinkles*

Nigger however, is not necessarily offensive, blacks call each other nigger all the time. Just because they don't say the "er" doesn't mean it isn't the same word. Blacks have learned to cope with that racist term.

One funny viewpoint from Boondocks (an animated series based on a black comic strip), "I know stuff about white people too. Like when they talk, they say the WHOLE....WOOORD. Like. This. They take time out the study. And they arrest you." --Riley

Sadly, this is exactly what some blacks think. And really, I'm sorry but this is a bone I have to pick constantly. Blacks here in the states can not assume they are African-American. If you can't directly trace someone back to Africa, then please don't hide behind political correctness. You're black. I know white people that are African-American. Most blacks here in the states are just black. Period. No one in your family has dual citizenship or is here on a work visa and you happen to have been born here. Get over yourselves. Hell, in fact, let me address one little side not please. This isn't any different than an entire generation of negros (some people take offense to this word, I have no idea why..again get over yourselves) taking credit for things that happened to _some_ people, like water hoses and dogs. I'm fairly certain most of the people you know didn't and don't know anyone that was actually hit with the hose or had german shepards chewing on them. Sorry, I just had to get that off my chest. I'm part black too, and I'm offended if someone calls me African American. Of course, I'm also offended if I'm called nigger, or chink, or cracker, or mi dang, or any other racial thing that happens to fall into my mix of races. Why that is now the politically correct term to refer to someone that is obviously black, I have no idea.

Prata said...

Oh..and first! ^_^

Leesa said...

prata: two points (1) Coon is highly offensive and by trying not to write it as it relates to calling black people, you have misunderstood me. I was less clear than I could have been. The word that I was referring to here was "coonass." And the "coon-" part of the word does not derive from the word that is an ethnic slur to blacks. (2) Regarding "African-American," when I was growing up, "black" was the word used and I am comfortable with that word. Many of my black friends who are around my age are similarly comfortable with this. When I was in middle school, I knew a black man who called himself "colored." He grew up with that word and used it.

LarryLilly said...

For 18 years, when i worked in the oil industry, I worked with both Cajuns, a stronger type called Ragin Cajuns and lastly, coonasses. There is a difference, and the people that identify themselves as a coonass say so with pride. To some however, it is used the same as when one black will call another black the N word, like "Hey, N, whats up". So between themselves its OK, but if a non N says it, watch out.

But history of Louisiana is how the two types became known. Rural, areas of south west Louisiana were not Arcadians, they did not have as much french blood (as told to me by a few coon-asses).

When you know someone identifies themselves as a coonass, then generally you can call them that, but mainly, its best to just call them friend.

Ian Lidster said...

A nice and enlightened piece, Leesa. Terminology is a tough one. It came up a while ago around here that certain terms applied to Native Canadians were derisive, so therefore we should no longer accept such a reference as Squaw. Fair enough, but there is a town outside of Vancouver called Squamish (very near to Whistler where the Olympics are to be in 2010) and the town fathers were outraged by any suggestions the town's name should change. Meanwhile, I like your point that the more high profile African Americans assume positions of prominence, the more that will be accepted as normal, and all elements of society will benefit.

Shadowdog said...

I don't use racial slurs in personal speaking or writing. The biggest influance on me on this was Richard Pryor. His standup movie where he explained why he was no longer going to use the N word came along when I was at an impressionable age and his reasoning has stuck with me. Not that I was using it before, but it used to irritate me that some people were allowed to use it and others weren't and I used to get caught up in super logical arguments (you can rationalize anything if you get superlogical about it but that still doesn't make it appropriate). But after dwelling on Pryor's thoughts this issue has never bothered or irritated me since.

Because I'm not comfortable writing or saying these offensive words, I was recently confronted with what to do in Miserable People because there was a situation where a black character encountered racist morons. It wouldn't be realistic for them to not use the words, but I totally didn't want to write the words. So I struggled with this until I finally figured out what should have been the obvious solution:

"Why are you naked?" The larger man asked laughing, following that with a racial slur.

Problem solved.

Prata said...

Ah hah! Oh I see I see Leesa..that makes much more sense now. *blinkles* Maybe I was on some dope lol. After re-reading that with your insight..I feel like..oh..yah..that makes sense..*blinkles*

My grandmother on my mom's side used to call me colored. "My two grand kids are colored" It never bothered me, but just was weird to hear lol.

Edge said...

Interesting ... in some ways I think race has become more important to African Americans than it has to Caucasians. This is from a sports blog:

"Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith are the first two black head coaches into the Super Bowl, to which Shannon Sharpe said 'Well Done'. I am pretty sure White Guys can’t say that sort of thing. Race cheering is generally frowned upon from Whitey."

I would have had to respond, "Hey, two whitey quartebacks were in the Superbowl." Ya, Shannon Sharpe made a racist remark and no one cared.

As far as the comment about, "You just don't understand," well maybe I don't, but when was the last time you were enslaved or stopped from going to a public school because of your race. Ya, who doesn't understand?

Point is, all that race stuff is an angry holdover taught by angry people. Besides, Hispanics are going to be the majority in this country soon enough.


Video X said...

I never heard that coonass word before! Sometimes, I am so out of the loop...but I don't mind so much. It's a nice place to be...I suppose.

I work with all would be nice to have some women around. Funny how people tend to think (I am generalizing here, so I know there are cases where this may be incorrect...although I doubt it) that women are so gossipy and that it must be nice to work with men and not have to listen to that nonsense. I have to say, men can be HORRIBLY GOSSIPY!!! Haha. Multiple times, I have had to tell men I work with to please keep their gossip from me. I really don't want to hear about which men washed their hands in the bathroom and who didn't.

Yes...definitely can't change anyone.

Leesa said...

larry: I will remove coonass from my vocabulary as it seems to be more touchy than it has been before.

ian: there are hard issues with what to call whom.

shadow: good thoughts.

prata: good, thought I was trying to be clear, but sometimes I leave stuff out.

edge/Jef: You said, "race has become more important to African Americans than it has to Caucasians." Racism is more subtle now, and it still exists. White people sometimes think "What is the big deal" because we are less affected by racial issues.

VX: I actually want to know which men don't wash their hands in the bathroom so I can refrain from shaking hands with them.

Video X said...

hahah well Leesa...I thought that at first...the problem comes when it's someone I might not have a choice in shaking hands with. I'd rather not be stuck freaking out because I have to shake hands with the president when I know he didn't wash his hands last potty break. I just don't want to know. Plus...I'd then have to trust that the tattlers were not just lying about their own hand-washing. Basically, I found it just induced more paranoia for me! Maybe you should start a poll at work! ;) In general, I now just avoid as many people as I can...and wash my hands frequently.

Video X said...

Uh...I meant the president of a company...

GW Mush said...

Hi Leesa,

I do believe that hiring african american coaches in the NFL is important. The reason why is that the billionaires that hire these black coaches are the same people, and type of people, that run corporations that set the policy to hire african american & female mid level managers in their corporations.
If these billionaires arent hiring black NFL coaches, im sure they dont want to set company policy to hire black mid level managers in their companies either.
::pinches Leesa's tushie:::

jj mollo said...

I had a nanny who called herself "colored", and I always like the word because I liked her. It seemed more interesting than just plain white. I like it when people can say anything they want but still be decent in their actions. This political correctness gets on my nerves.

It seems to me that white racists have been getting more and more subtle in their verbal racism, because they have to. The result is that black people inspect your language more and more carefully to see if you're a racist. I have, myself, been called a racist by a black person for whom I felt nothing but affection, simply because of misperceived speech. No room for error. If you want to be friends with people, you just have to let a lot of stuff go. I wish we could just assume that other folks are all right until proven otherwise.

When I was in New Orleans years ago, I never got the slightest indication that "Cajun" was pejorative in any way, and I was always led to believe that it was short for Accadian, in reference to the French people exiled from "Nova Scotia" after the French and Indian War.

Leesa said...

VX: I read about a poll, done at an Altanta Braves game (or games). According to eye-witness accounts, about 33% of women and 66% of men do not wash their hands after using the restroom.

gw: I never thought about it that way.

jj mollo: if by "cajun" you mean coonass, then some think it is a racial slur. Again, news to me.