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February 2, 2007

Coonass Controversy

As you may have heard by now, new Alabama football coach Nick Saban has gotten himself into a little bit of trouble after using the word "coonass" to refer to a man of Cajun heritage in an off-the-record but still-taped chat with Miami media (Deadspin). One of the reasons that the incident has aroused attention—even though the word appears to be on the lighter end of the slur spectrum— is because it (intentionally or not [Wikipedia]) combines the words "coon," which is a pretty derogatory term for black people, with "ass," which can also be a somewhat mean word. Confusion over the nature of the term has led to two separate government incidents in which a black person complained after misconstruing the nature of the insult.

In 1997, a jury awarded $120,000 to a black Department of Energy employee based in DC who brought a racial harassment suit against a Cajun DOE employee who gave her (and other white employees) an "Honorary Coon Ass" certificate to commemorate a training session he hosted in Texas. (You can read more about it here.)

In 1992, chief of Seattle's ferry system was docked two days pay after a black co-worker complained that he used the term "a real coon's ass" in a conversation. The chief was describing a Cajun friend from Louisiana.

While many Cajuns find the term to be derogatory, others have claimed it as their own. As James Carville said once on Crossfire, "I am not a redneck, I am a coon-ass. And damn proud to be a coon-ass."

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- Media
- posted on Feb 13, 07
Leo Jackson

Coon-ass Controversy--Not in my house. I was born and raised in in southeast Louisiana. I spent two summers working on a Carnival touring towns in the Acadian section of south Louisiana and I spent my first year in college as a "Ragin Cajun" at the University of Southwesterm La. in Lafayette, La. That means I'm qualified to say that "Coon-ass" has absolutely nothing to do with a person's race, creed, color, sex, age, etc. It's simply a popular term given to a small but special group of Cajuns that have thick tissue web growing between their toes. It enables them to walk in shallow, muddy bottom swamps without sinking when they gather crawfish and to outswim alligators when taking a bath in a bayou on Saturday nights. I bet you a quarter James Carville will retract his self proclamation for being a coon-ass if he showed his bare feet on a Sunday morning Meet The Press show. Court rulings that coon-ass is a racial slur, well we all know how perfect our legal system is, right O.J.? How do I know the true reference of coon-ass? Well, I was a Louisiana boy with dark complexion due to my part Cherokee/Choctaw American Indian heritage and was nick-named "Coon-ass" by my Mississippi College baseball team-mates after I put on my spikes the first time in the team dressing room. The nick-name stuck with me throughout my college playing days during the early 1960's. I was proud of my special breed of people designation and I've never worn flip flops.

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