Let’s talk about race



December 6, 2019 - 5:03 PM

Prejudice is everywhere, and we have all experienced it in one way or another. We may have been discriminated against due to our religious beliefs, a handicap or our age. And, many of us have experienced it living in a small town. As we know, some people wrongly view people from a small town, regardless of their race, as “dumb hicks.” This is a type of prejudice that we can all relate to. However, we cannot all relate to prejudice and racism due to the color of our skin. 

Racial issues are difficult to discuss, but it is vital that we talk about it as a community as well as within our families. The issue with “Coon Creek” is a good opportunity for us to discuss the bigger issue of prejudice and racism and take action. 

I frequently hear people say “I’m not prejudiced,” however, in reality, all of us have prejudices. It is important to understand the difference between prejudice and racism as they are different. 

Prejudice is a negative opinion that isn’t based on our actual experience. For example, the dumb hick stereotype is a form of prejudice. Racism is different from prejudice because it is acting on that stereotype and treating people of another race differently and believing one race is better than another. 

Prejudice comes from a lack of exposure to a certain group of people. Our society, both in Allen County and across the nation is still somewhat segregated, so many Caucasians have limited first-hand experience of life in the African American, Hispanic, Asian and other ethnic communities. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t do more to solve the problem, and yes, it is a problem. 

Allen County is predominantly white so it is harder to have meaningful contact with people of other races. This makes it important for us to be intentional about trying to learn about and appreciate other cultures and races. I’ve been blessed to be part of the Hispanic culture through my wife’s family. The truth is that it has been hard for me to stay connected with other cultures when living with a lack of diversity in Allen County.

So, what’s the solution? I certainly do not have the perfect solution for myself and others. I know it starts with making intentional efforts to learn about and spend time with those of other races. Here are a few ideas: go to a Mexican fiesta in Chanute or Kansas City. They’re a lot of fun and allow you to see how this beautiful culture maintains its heritage. Spend time with people of other races when you can. Read books or articles about other races and cultures. 

Regarding “Coon Creek”, using a racial slur such as the n-word or “coon” is vastly different from suggesting that everyone from a small town is a dumb hick. I admit I did not know the history of the word coon until I researched it for this article. Others may also not know the history of the word. This may be why some people have supported keeping the name “Coon Creek” and don’t think this issue is a big deal. 

The derogatory term coon started during slavery at the same time the n-word was used. Coon was used to describe African Americans as “lazy, stupid, inarticulate, buffoons”. It was also used to describe African Americans as “subhuman creatures good for nothing more than eating watermelons, stealing chickens, and butchering the English language.” This term originally came from the word “barracoon” which is a cage that held African Americans during slavery. It is one of the most insulting racial slurs. 

Most people have always believed the name “Coon Creek” is simply named after racoons. We now know the original name was “Small Creek” and it changed to “Coon Creek” around 1900 when a large number of African Americans moved to Iola and lived around the creek. So, this issue is simple: The name “Coon Creek” did not come from racoons, but instead came from the racial slur which is derogatory and therefore, must be changed. 

Changing this name is one step we can take as a community to show we no longer tolerate racism. We can all also take steps in our own lives to break down prejudicial stereotypes by learning and appreciating those who don’t share our same skin color.