Letters to the Museum

Questions Regarding the Coon Caricature

I'm writing an essay on the coon caricature. Your website provided a wealth of information and I first want to thank you for providing exhaustive research on the subject.

My thesis (and this will be a very short paper - between 2 and 3 pages) focuses on the shifting use of the word coon. As shown by your research, "coons were increasingly identified with young, urban Blacks who disrespected Whites." Today, however, that does not seem to be the case. Using pop culture references and various media, I plan to show that today, coon is used to refer to the exact opposite of its original target: docile, subservient Blacks who are often deemed "sellouts" by their poorer, urban counterparts. Further, I plan to demonstrate that the shifting usage of the word coon highlights the inter-class conflict among African Americans. This demonstration, however, rests on the assumption that, at one point or another in history, whites were not the only ones calling poor, urban Blacks coons; that affluent Blacks also felt this way about their lower-class brothers and sisters.

I was wondering if you could steer me in the proper direction for research: books, magazines, music, films, interviews; anything will suffice and I will be greatly appreciative. Any of your own commentary is welcome as well.

In 2004, Nas, a multiplatinum-selling rapper, released a song called "Coon Picnic," in which he called out individuals he felt were race traitors. The song reflected the sentiments of many African Americans who casually refer to the Colin Powells, Condoleeza Rices, and Clarence Thomases of today as coons, sellouts, and race traitors. Between today and the early 20th century, I hope to connect the link and illuminate just exactly when urban Blacks "took back" the word coon.

Thank you for your time. Sincerely,

Lawrence Crockett

-- March 7, 2007


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