I should preface this story by saying that I should have spoken up, but I was in shock at the lack of shock around me.
In the last meeting with a fellowship cohort, there was some time for small talk in the beginning of the session. We talked about the weather and traffic and a number of other trivial things. Just before we were getting into serious business, one of the members of the cohort began talking about her dog, and the brief dialog went a little something like this:
“We just got a new dog and he isn’t quite adjusted to the snow.”
“Aww, poor thing. What kind of dog is it?”
“Oh, he’s a coonhound from Mississippi. He’s just the cutest thing!”
*my jaw drops*
“Aww, how nice!” “Too cute!”
*I begin to shoot angry yet blank stares at everyone lauding the notion of a cute coonhound*
I could not put into words how baffled and offended I was in this moment. First, there HAS TO be a proper name for the dog. There just has to! (Apparently this is the proper name *sigh*). Second, she bought a coonhound…from MISSISSIPPI. Does no one else see anything wrong with this picture?
I did some background research to make sure I wasn’t crazy. Sometimes terms get confused (like the time I was talking about the Watergate scandal and Deep Throat and one of my students thought it was a porno). Apparently there is dissension amongst authorities as to the origin of the dog’s name, although it is billed as one of the few “All-American” breeds. Some sources attribute the name to the dog’s historic 19th century function of chasing down raccoons. Others list the dog as a descendant of those used to track runaway slaves.
Given that the derogatory use of the term “coon” for blacks is derived from the word “raccoon” and the dog is a close relative of the bloodhound (well known for their use in tracking runaway slaves), it is not an illogical leap that this particular breed of dog could have gotten its name for its use of tracking down slaves. Or it could be that the dog actually got its name from its raccoon-hunting functions, after the end of slavery. If so, someone should have had the good sense to name the dog something else, and not doing so is yet another example of institutionalized privilege.
In this situation I’m going to err on the side of offended. The idea of a coonhound leaves a bad taste in my mouth, kind of like the idea of calling a ribbed tank top a “wifebeater” does for many feminists and women’s rights activists. The fact that said coonhound was from Mississippi made it that much worse. But this is just another example of the legacies of slavery and race in this country and the strange and unexpected ways that they come to light!
by Portia Allen-Kyle