Joe Oliver, the most vocal defender of Trayvon Martin’s shooter, has been pushing back against charges of racism leveled against George Zimmerman by defending his use of racially coded language as nothing more than misinterpretations.
An audio clip of a recorded 911 call placed by Zimmerman on the night of the shooting seems to show Zimmerman using the racially-charged word “coon” to describe Trayvon Martin. There has been some disagreement over whether the word in question really is “coon,” but Oliver appeared on MSNBC on Monday and told Chris Matthews that even if Zimmerman did use the word, it was not a display of racism because the term is actually not negative at all:
That’s a term I listened to over and over on there and to me, it’s a matter of interpretation of whether he’s saying ‘coon’ or ‘goon.’ There are a lot of parts of this country where people proudly call themselves ‘coon asses,’ in Louisiana in particular.
A quick Google search indicates that the term ‘coonass’ is used as an insult, and usually directed towards white Cajuns in areas in and around Louisiana. When University of Alabama football head coach Nick Saban used the word in an off-the-cuff anecdote in 2007, it triggered national news coverage and led to a public apology. That all seems to be a far cry from Oliver’s claim that it’s used proudly amongst black youth in Sanford, Florida.
Yesterday, ThinkProgress reported that Oliver believes the word that Zimmerman used was “goon,” and he defended the use of that as well, citing his teenage daughter when saying that “goon” is used as a term of endearment in local high schools.