COON: Pejorative term to describe behavior that is seen as unbecoming of African-Americans. -Urban Dictionary
Recently, I was charged with coonery. This notion made me consider a number of factors within my performance work that may contribute to this view. I do not deny coonery. I have found that, as a form, performance practitioners often engage in behavior which exaggerates personal physical attributes (coonery) to great visual effect. Nudity, masochism and slapstick have all figured prominently in the performance 'canon' and I find it interesting that my inclusion of these kinds sensational techniques is relegated to such restrictive interpretations. But, it's my job to give thoughtful comments about my work considered review. In thinking about 'the coon', 'the sambo', 'the mammy' and/or 'the sapphire' I recognize myself in all of these forms. My normal facial expressions read fairly stereotypically- I've got a broad flat nose, a toothy grin (with gap), the whites of my eyes are a bright white and my hair is a nappy mass radiating all directions. And this is my default state. I hadn't thought to consider the formal attributes of my appearance and how they might affect the performances I elect to be a part of, but all this coon-talk brings these elements into sharp focus. And so, I 've come up with a listing that any black performance artist might want to use as a reference as to avoid the coon-stamp. I myself have elected to ignore and accept these rules of engagement in equal measure. I encourage my colleagues to do the same.
- Do not smile.
- Facial expressions should not vary more than 10% from a relaxed/resting position.
- Do not include bright colors of any kind (especially: RED, YELLOW and GREEN).
- Never include an umbrella in a performance work.
- Gloves and bow ties are similarly banned.
- Skin must not be darker than a brown paper bag.
- (Women) Hair must not be radiating from the head, unless you are Esperanza Spalding (or bear a close resemblance).
- (Men) There must be no consorting with whitewomen in the performance space.
- You are not to use any element of popular culture that is/was inspired by black folk art traditions (examples include: Jazz, rock and roll, hip hop, steer wrestling, pencil sharpeners, percussive dance, ironing boards etc.).
- In fact, avoid using self-identified black performers of any kind (unless you can use 20+ black performers for any single project. It's black, just abstracted.)
(Much love, always.)