Black people began being caricatured during slavery. Slave masters characterized Black people as slow, lazy and stupid. They made fun of them and dehumanized them further by comparing them to animals and depicting them with exaggerated, unattractive features.
The raccoon was one such animal. The comparison is believed to have began because, in the night, darker Black people could only be seen by their big eyes. This evolved into Black Face and Minstrel Show performances, which were well-attended and very lucrative well into the 1900s.
Raccoon was shortened to “coon” and became one of the most insulting words you could use to describe a Black person. Being called a “coon” is just as bad and, in some ways worse, than being called the N-word.
Today, it has become less common for Whites and others to use this word as an insult hurled toward Black people. It is much more commonly a word that Blacks use to insult each other.
Although the word started out meaning something else, it has come to be an insult Black people use to describe Black people who knowingly allow themselves to be used in narrow, stereotypical ways for the entertainment or appeasement of White people. It is also used by Black people to describe Black people who show no sense of Black consciousness or interest in supporting efforts to achieve equality for Black people. “Opporcoonists” are people who knowingly accept and arguably seek to make a “coon” of themselves.
“Opporcoonities”, therefore, are the moments seized by opporcoonists to behave according to stereotype or to ignore obvious injustice to appease White people.
Substitute “White people” for any majority influence and the definition expands.
Anyone can be an opporcoonist. Anyone can seize an opporcoonity.
Black people. Women. People of color. Politicians. Organizational leaders. Even HR.
The horror stories that we’re hearing surrounding #MeToo and #TimesUp shows HR has been seizing opporcoonities for quite some time. We’ve been playing ourselves and abandoning our principles for that coveted seat at the table. Our reason for existing it to protect the business by advocating for people thru fair pay and fair practices.
We’ve allowed that to be compromised by ignoring injustices to get and keep power. We are letting ourselves be used in narrow, stereotypical ways. We show no sense of consciousness or desire to work real, lasting for improvements. We are catering to bad leaders who lack vision and decency and refuse to move the organization and its people forward.
It needs to stop.
Coon is an ugly, hateful word that should not be used to describe anyone ever. So is opporcoonist. So is opporcoonity. I’m not encouraging the use of these words or the continuation of these trends.
I want it all to stop.
I want HR professionals to constantly and continuously step up and advocate for what’s right in the organization’s they serve. If they are unwilling or unable do that, I want them to leave the HR profession altogether. If they are willing and able but the organization will not allow it, I want them to leave that organization.
I want all people to step up and advocate for fairness and inclusion and equity in our world. If people are unwilling or unable to do that, I want them to sit down and be quiet to allow those who are willing and able to bring about change. If people find other people and organizations are unwilling or unable to do that, I want them to stop supporting and engaging with those people and organizations.
I want love, light and goodness to prevail.
I want opporcoonity to die so true opportunity can live and thrive.