Jill Lepore: “It has taken me a long time and years of advice from my editor to learn how to put together an essay that does what I want it to do and that says what I mean. I have always been curious about the origins of things: how did this come to be? But how to deliver an answer to that question in an essay that a magazine reader would want to read, that I learned from my editor. I had a bat. I could swing it. I have a pretty good eye. Everything else—where to stand in the box, when to shift my weight to my front foot, whether to roll my wrists, which pitches to swing at, how to place the ball, when to bunt—good lord, I’m still trying to learn those things from him.”

John Tottenham: “To receive posthumous acclaim, one has to die first. How inconvenient. I must put that on my to-do list.”

Hari Kunzru on the prime minister: “Theresa May strikes me as the kind of Tory who has read too much Trollope and not enough of anything else. It might be nice to give her a book that shows England from an outsider’s perspective, perhaps Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners. Or something by Victor Serge, though that would just be trolling. I think the president might benefit from a basic civics textbook, something with large print.”

How many books will you read before you die? Choose wisely.

As further evidence of the linguistic strangeness of “Black Twitter,” I present the word “coon.” In America, this deeply offensive slur was once used interchangeably with the N-word. Alex Haley writes in The Autobiography of Malcolm X:

In the summertime, at night, in addition to all the other things we did, some of us boys would slip out down the road, or across the pastures, and go “cooning” watermelons. White people always associated watermelons with Negroes, and they sometimes called Negroes “coons” among all the other names, and so stealing watermelons became “cooning” them.

When Theodore Roosevelt invited Booker T. Washington to the White House, the president was called a “coon-flavoured miscegenationist” by white southerners. And as Randall Kennedy reminds us:

In Mississippi in 1964, during a successful gubernatorial campaign, Paul Johnson repeatedly joked that the acronym NAACP stood for “Niggers, Apes, Alligators, Coons, and Possums.”

These days the word is rarely used outside the black community, where it serves as an instrument of social critique or, less charitably, a weapon wielded by a marginalised group against itself (as a form of linguistic black-on-black violence).


A “coon”, in this context, is a black person who harms his or her community by playing to traditional stereotypes or by a slavish desire to appeal to “white” tastes and conform to mainstream society. As with the N-word, many who use the term are aware of its history, specifically as it relates to vaudeville and representations of black people on stage and screen. But many are not, and it is disheartening to see racist slurs given new life by the culpably ignorant.

[see also: “What’s it like to have a name that’s also a racial epithet?”]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s