To some, the word “coon” is most recognizable as a racial slur. Yet as South Carolina considers issuing specialty plates with “Coon Hunters” written on them, the president of a raccoon hunting organization there says the term is hardly offensive.
“Coon is a word that’s in the dictionary,” David McKee, president of the South Carolina Coon Hunters Association told TPM. “There are national publications about coon hunting.”
True, the dictionary does define coon primarily as an abbreviation for nature’s mischievous bandits. Yet the online version of Merriam-Webster notes the common derogatory connotation as well. The site defines coon like this:
1: raccoon 2: usually offensive : black
Still, McKee says, coon hunting and coonhounds are so widely known that a racist interpretation of the proposed license plate would be totally erroneous.
“It’s an accepted word,” McKee said. “Everybody knows what coon hunting is.”
The specialty license plate is one of over a dozen that the South Carolina State House will consider approving when the legislature reconvenes January 11. Other proposed plates include one bearing the Gadsden Flag slogan and Tea Party rallying cry, “Don’t Tread On Me,” one inscribed with “Second Amendment,” and one with a picture of a largemouth bass.
South Carolina is no stranger to specialty license plate controversy. In 2008, a federal judge barred the state from issuing plates with “I Believe” and a picture of a cross on them, ruling that they violated the separation of church and state.
While some of the plates—such as the Gadsden homage and gun rights proclamation—could be controversial for their political speech, most of the proposals are relatively benign, such as one that would read “I Support Libraries.” For many of the plates, revenue generated by their sale would go to related government services and organizations.
As for the ‘Coon hunters’ plate, proceeds would go toward the South Carolina State Coon Hunters Association Youth Fund to pay for children’s raccoon hunting competitions. McKee said the two-hour long competitions, now in their 16th year, award points for tracking, spotting, and treeing raccoons. Past prizes have included camping, fishing or deer hunting trips, among other things.
“It’s so the kids can have a great time and be outdoors,” McKee said. “It’s enjoyed by all races,” he added.