By Dexter Mullins
2:00 PM on 01/05/2011
The word "coon" is stirring up a big debate in South Carolina. The state legislature is considering printing license plates that would read "coon hunters" on the back at the request of the South Carolina Coon Hunters Association. Coon has long been considered a racial slur directed at African Americans.
The association made the request to print the plates last year. David McKee, president of the group, says the word coon shouldn't offend anyone and doesn't understand what the big issue is.
"We've got people from all races that are coon hunters," McKee said. "I've got good friends that are white, and good friends that are black and we're all coon hunters. It's not an issue to us."
The "coon hunters" plate is just one of more than a dozen other specialized plates listed in a bill written by S.C. congressmen Pitts and G.R. Smith that is waiting for a vote on January 11.
McKee says that there are over 5,000 "coon hunters" in the state, and he says there's no telling how many more there are across the country. If the state legislature approves the creation and sale of these specialized plates, the proceeds would go to funding children's raccoon hunting competitions across the state.
"We never think about it as a racial slur," McKee said. "Coon hunting is a recognized sport. If you look in the American Kennel Club, they recognize [the] coon hound as a recognized breed."
A religious specialized plate was proposed by a different group last year, but was faced with tremendous opposition and shot down. A federal judge barred the state from printing the plate, which would have read, "I believe," citing the separation of church and state as the reason.
Wendy Taylor, editor of the SC Black News, says that this type of thing is just "business as usual" in South Carolina and is not surprised that the "coon" plate has slipped through the cracks. "We live in a state that is just full of controversy and controversial remarks and gestures," Taylor said. "They just celebrated the secession in Charleston a week ago. It's just a sad reality in SC that we're even having this conversation."
Taylor said that the SC legislature is notorious for tagging things on to legislation and not being forthcoming about it to the public. South Carolina still displays the Confederate flag despite numerous years of protest.
Dr. Lonnie Randolph, president of the SC NAACP, says he doesn't have an issue with the word because it isn't being used in a racial context. "I don't [think the black community will be upset] in the context that it is being used," Randolph said. "Often the words you use don't reflect the group or the people or the issue that you're speaking of, it's often a reflection of who you are."