Growing up, I was taunted and traumatized by words like coconut and Oreo. For those not in the know, calling someone coconut (or Oreo or pineapple or apple) is a way that brown, black, and red folks often respond to other brown, black and red folks that, in their opinion, "act white." The connotation is that a coconut (which I keep writing as cocunt....which is a vagina shared by Siamese twins) is an individual that is brown or black on the outside and white on the inside. --(Asian kids that acted white were pineapples, Native kids that acted white were apples--most likely Macintosh as I don't know many Green indigenous folks so Granny Smith just wouldn't work in the same way, and if someone called me Honey Crisp I would probably have been delighted and gave him a kiss).
Now for most of us that grew up being called one of these variation, the experience was traumatizing and the impetus for the taunting had little to do with us "acting white." It had everything to do with the the anti-intellectualism that has been ingrained in many of our communities, so, for example, when my Mother moved us from Duluth, MN to a black neighborhood in Kansas City, MO, my brother and I were attacked as "coconuts and Oreos," because of our northern English (we were also called "proper," by kids in the hood...which would make me cry)--and also because of the fact that the reading book that I had in 2nd grade was the one that they were using in the 5th grade in Missouri. There are many things I love dearly about the South but the public education system is not one of them. Attitudes toward education in many working class and poor people of color neighborhoods are forgivable as inherited relics of Jim Crow and slavery. Just like many relics, though, the reverence for perception versus the honoring of truth causes all kinds of fucked up situations. Someone pass me an Oreo, I need some comfort food.
Today, however, despite my own experience with being labeled a coconut, after reading an article on the Huffington Post concerning former NPR commentator Juan Williams (who was fired from NPR) making a statement in an Op-Ed for The Hill newspaper calling for the defunding of NPR, I posted the article on Facebook and in my comments on the article I referred to Juan Williams as a coconut. I would like to revise and extend my remarks.
My old high school pal Lara Christley sent me an email asking me if I meant that Juan was brown on the outside, white on the inside. I realized when I got her email that I did mean exactly that but, at the same time, not exactly that at all. What I really meant to say is that Juan Williams is brown on the outside and Republican on the inside. The fact that I conflated whiteness with Republicanism, for me, is one dimensional and problematic in that I know fierce fierce fierce white folks that want not a damn thing to do with Republican politics or the fucked up legacy of ultra conservatism in this country. Yet, while examining my use of the word, I found that I was still comfortable with my word choice.
Ain't that a contradiction.
In my mind, and this I stand behind, Republicans and Republican values AS THEY EXIST TODAY, are what have and continue to drive us directly towards our own doom. Those values and the policies that they have spawned have almost exclusively been championed by white folks and have only been implemented by white folks in power. There has not now nor ever been a majority people of color in any state or federal legislature, and never has there been a critical number of people of color in any of the decision making bodies of the Republican Party or in the various right wing think tanks that have developed the pro-military, anti-choice, anti-democracy, pro-business, anti-working folks, racist, heterosexist, hateful policies that have largely dictated the direction of this country since 1981.
There have been idiotic brown folks that have somehow been so self-hating that they have happily drunk the GOP and fundamentalist Christian Kool-Aid and taken up causes and values that are antithetical to their own well being, insults to their ancestors, and deadly to their progeny, but thank God those crazies have rarely had a national platform to spout their idiocy and give the GOP "examples" of the diversity that they claim exists under their "big tent." Juan Williams, though, does have a national platform and has used it in a way that betrays his own history and throws his own (our) community under the bus....then happily backs up over it.
I am not having it.
I wish there was another word that I had at hand that could communicate my complete and utter disgust with Juan Williams, his statement, and his politics. I wish the word that I chose and used did not lump all white folks into a monolith and perhaps communicate the idea that I believe that all white folks are evil. I obviously do not...I, unlike Juan Williams, am not self hating. If my own Mother was any whiter, you would be able to see the sunlight reflecting off of her skin in deep space. But I can not, will not, and shall not tolerate any person of color that willfully turns his or her back on her community for personal gain. And in the grand lexicon of the people of color experience I can think of no word or phrase, no form of condemnation, and no manner of rejection that is more direct or more final than labeling an individual one of those words that I once so despised (and still do when used against a child whose only sin is that he or she has managed to achieve some level of education in a country and educational system specifically designed to assist them in failing) when hurled at me while playing double dutch.
As a child, the worst insult you could hurl at another black person was coconut. Today, I am making a decision to revive that word but with a new meaning. NO LONGER does coconut mean a black or brown person that "acts white." A coconut is an individual so fucked up and so willing to dismantle the very few (and let's be real, when talking about NPR, very flawed) vehicles for communication and democracy that have not been completely corrupted by corporate America that he or she is willing to walk away from justice and into the arms of the same people that would happily string their ass up, light them on fire and have lunch...if only it were still legal to do so.
In Juan Williams' case...if you crack his ass open....you won't find white skin....you will find Fox News and Rupert's Murdoch's Bitch stamped in place of his spine.