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Black bishop says Twitter suspended him for ‘hateful conduct’

Bishop Talbert Swan, the leader of the Church of God in Christ’s Nova Scotia jurisdiction, addresses a summit of the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 21, 2018. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

NOTE: This story includes terms that may be considered offensive.

(RNS) — An African-American bishop of the Church of God in Christ and frequent critic of President Trump said his personal Twitter account has been permanently suspended, apparently for using a racially sensitive term.

Bishop Talbert Swan, a Massachusetts pastor and a Nova Scotia jurisdictional leader for the predominantly black Pentecostal denomination, said he received an email from Twitter on Friday (Aug. 24) informing him of the suspension.

“Your account has been suspended and will not be restored because it was found to be violating Twitter’s Terms of Service, specifically the Twitter Rules against hateful conduct,” the company told him.

Swan, who said he had more than 70,000 followers, suspects the specific cause of the suspension is his use of the word “coon,” a term the website etymonline.com says is sometimes used as an insult about a black person. The word in this sense stems from the word “barracoon” and is based on the Portuguese word “barraca” that refers to an enclosure for slaves who were transported in West Africa, Cuba and Brazil.

But Swan says the meaning of the word depends on the context.

“I think Twitter needs to be educated culturally to understand that when black people use that term they mean it in the context of someone who’s African-American that they consider to be a traitor or a sellout or someone who is speaking or doing things that is not in the best interest of the African-American community,” he said. “And, in my instance, those who parrot alt-right, racist ideology.”

On June 2, Swan tweeted in response to a suggestion that he follow someone with whom he disagreed, “No thanks I’m on a no coon diet.”

Last week, more than half a dozen Twitter users noted that they had reported Swan and posted screenshots of responses they had received confirming that @TalbertSwan had violated Twitter’s rules of discourse.

One, @Gerald_Anzano, specifically connected Twitter’s notice of suspension with Swan’s “coon” tweet, adding, “Using God as a shield to promulgate spewing hatred? Expect to be called out.”

Swan, who is president of the NAACP’s Springfield, Mass., chapter, said he first got wind of his suspension from these posts. He calls those users “my detractors”; several describe themselves on Twitter as supporting Trump.

Swan provided Religion News Service with recent tweets from his account that were critical of Trump and the president’s Christian supporters.

“Real Christians don’t make excuses, support, dismiss, or defend pathological lying, sexual deviancy, malignant narcissism, white supremacy & bigotry,” he wrote in an Aug. 19 tweet that received more than 26,000 likes. “I don’t give a hell how many conservative judges you get, you cannot be a Christian & defend @realDonaldTrump. Plain and simple.”

Swan recently used his account to post an open letter criticizing pastors who met with Trump. Swan said he has also complained that liberal Democrats take blacks’ votes for granted. A fan of the Boston Celtics and Pittsburgh Steelers, he also posted his musings about sports.

Twitter did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the matter.

In its email message to Swan, the company wrote, “It is against our rules to promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease.

“Additionally, if we determine that the primary purpose of an account is to incite harm towards others on the basis of these categories, that account may be suspended without prior warning.”

Others questioned Swan’s suspension, including @ReignOfApril, who tweeted: “He’s a COGIC bishop, for goodness sakes.”

Swan himself said he doesn’t understand why the personal Twitter account of conservative radio host Alex Jones was recently suspended for a week for violating rules about inciting violence, while his account appears to have been suspended permanently.

“When you get the president calling a black woman a dog or Roseanne (Barr) calling a black woman a gorilla and they still have their accounts on the forum,” the bishop said, “to say that me making a reference to a coon is the catalyst for a permanent suspension, then you have to question how they enforce their terms of service.”

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.

19 Comments

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  • Unless you live in French-speaking Louisiana where the Acadian refugees were once pejoratively referred to as “Coon asses” from the French word “connasse,” which is itself pejorative, there is only one other meaning for “coon” that does not refer to a raccoon and it’s for black people. I remember long ago being greeted by a racist jerk who said to me, “Happy Martin Luther Coon Day.” I replied in return, that would be Dr. Martin Luther Coon to you. That was the last time we ever spoke.

  • It is in our interest for the media “platforms” to start cleaning up the messaging messes. This dragnet will catch some people on both the left and the right when questionable words, phrases and themes are used. People must learn that there are new “limits” being imposed by the owners of platforms because we errantly let the old “limits” imposed by decency and self-restraint just die of disinterest and inattention. There is nothing good coming from everyone “pushing the envelope” on Twitter, or Facebook, or any other similar service. In fact, so much bad has already come from this that most people are now numb and do not even recognize how depressing and destructive it all really is.

  • My 1st judgment on the English Language: If non-Blacks can’t say the dirty C-word and N-word, then Blacks, like Talbert Swan, can’t either.

    Because, otherwise, the English language itself is Natural Born Racist, as the following proves:

    “It can be assumed that all post-World War I uses by whites [of ‘c**n’] are as a conscious term of racial abuse. Nonetheless, like n*gg*r, which can be found in a non-pejorative sense between black speakers long before the current use of the term as popularised through rap, c**n was also used neutrally up to the 1950s, e.g by Zora Neale Hurston [African-American author who died in 1960] in her book Mules and Men (1935).”

    Ergo: my 2nd judgment on the English Language spoken by both Blacks and non-Blacks: It is racist! So suspend Talbert Swan’s Twitter account already, I don’t care.

    Source: Jonathon Green, “What is the origin of the slur ‘c**n’ (once commonly applied to African Americans)?”, Quora, October 9, 2011.

  • I agree with you to some extent – the internet has allowed for uncivil debate and outright hostility due to the fact that writers can hide behind their computer.
    That being said, I do not want anyone or any AI / program controlling what I can and cannot say.
    I know that there are laws about yelling fire in public; but I am against any attempt to regulate speech; be it hateful, stupid or otherwise.
    I think it becomes a very slippery slope; especially depending on who has the power to set the rules.

  • You may have missed a few.

    https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=coon

    “When used by blacks its describing an uncle Rukus type character.”

    “A black person who is ignorant to white discrimination and unknowingly suffers with self hatred.”

    “A black man who only dates white women or only find white women attractive.”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maine_Coon

    “The Maine Coon is one of the largest domesticated breeds of cat.”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astictopterus_jama

    “Astictopterus jama, the forest hopper or the coon, is a butterfly in the Hesperiidae family.”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psolos_fuligo

    “Psolos fuligo, the dusky partwing or coon, is a butterfly belonging to the family Hesperiidae found in India.”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coön

    In Greek mythology, Coön was the eldest son of Antenor who, like most of his brothers, fought and fell in the Trojan War.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coon_cheese

    COON is the trademark of a cheddar cheese produced by Warrnambool Cheese and Butter company in Australia.

    And, of course, there is the Coon surname:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coon_(surname)

  • I agree with you. As regards your mentioning “hateful”, however, I think context is important. Recently, I described my experience many years ago as a federal poll observer down South. I spelled out the word “n*gg*r” including the ‘i’ and the ‘e’ describing the behavior of a well known racial bigot (an excommunicated Catholic, if I recall) in Louisiana. My comment was not published by Disqus. I still think my use of this *complete* word was appropriate given the context. I think calling a black person a “n*gg*r”, on the other hand, is very much wrong. It’s all about context.

    While platforms set the rules, I think — like you — that political correctness is dangerous. I graduated from a fairly liberal Catholic coed college in 1970, and I don’t remember PC from back then, the Vietnam War notwithstanding. When I witness PC on campuses today, I can only conclude these kids have a lot of “growing up” to do. (And life will make sure they grow up whether they want to or not!)

  • This story is a mess — no doubt about it — and now I have to be careful what I say. But this guy flat-out messed up.

    Full disclosure: I’m COGIC too (and you already know I support Trump). So this guy is worth responding to on SEVERAL unpleasant levels (but I remain fully respectful of his pastoral office, no problem on that).

    First, why is a COGIC bishop publicly using the “C” word at a time when we Blacks are having a ton of trouble eradicating the “N” word from public discourse? “C” is as raw, ugly, and dirty as “N.” It’s KKK talk. Not COGIC talk.

    Second — and sorry for the candor, folks — what in the Crazy Hades is a black COGIC bishop doing using the “C” word against his fellow black Christians, black clergy like himself, merely because of political differences?

  • If non-Blacks can’t say the dirty C-word and N-word

    In the U.S., you are pretty much free to say whatever word you want. Just don’t be surprise if said action leads to a particular result.

  • Talking about “said action lead[ing] to a particular result”; and to confound further “The Phenomenon of Reversed Racism Among Blacks and Whites Alike” – you gotta read between the lines >>>>>

    Here: (1) Ed Brayton, “Poor Coach Dave Can’t Say the N Word”, Dispatches from the Culture Wars, August 29, 2018.

    And here: (2) Ed Brayton, “Shine’s Wife Really Wishes She Could Say the N Word”, Dispatches from the Culture Wars, July 8, 2018.

    (I’m a Dispatches from the Culture Wars reader. Friendly Atheist, too. And ever since Kimberly Winston, RNS’ atheism coverage staffer, quit on them. I really miss her.)

  • You bring up several valid points sir.. However, although I have never attended a COGIC congregation I have noted some things that leave me concerned about what I heard some members teaching. One was that the COGIC was the only true church. Also another is my view that with abortion being the greatest threat to America via God’s righteous judgement. How do so many COGIC members justify voting dem. If they are doing so then are they also demanding change within the dem party to stop the slaughter. I had to leave the dem party over this and other issues and did not vote in the last election. Also I could be wrong but is the Holy Spirit being offended by all these pastors( Swan) speaking out against a duly elected leader with such intensity while ignoring so many issues the dem party has via homo rights and bathroom issues? Finally the 10% tithe is as clear as day in the Bible but from what I hear COGIC does not teach this.

  • So our ongoing conversation continues. Let me ask another sincere inquiry of you.You’ve never really said what you think about “ex-gays” and “ex-trans” (and yes, ex-trans people really do exist.) Take a chance, then, and tell me:

    (1) Do you believe that genuine “ex-LGBTQ” people, really do exist? Could it happen to you?
    (2) Since children younger than 10 are often exposed to the concept of “gay” or “trans” (and sometimes buy into it!), should children younger than 10 also be exposed to the concept of “ex-gay” and “ex-trans”, and THEIR message as well?

  • No and no, because those “ex-whatever” people are simply repressing their innate desires, by bottling them up deep inside, which leads them to lash out at random times and possibly abuse children.

  • Okay, let’s do a little ore Abortion and us COGIC folks. Yeah, that’s kind of delicate.

    We’re supposed to be conservative biblically, but everybody knows that in 2008 and 2012, WE (and the major Black Baptists, and the major Black AME Methodists), mostly voted for Barack Obama, which meant directly voting for Total-Abortion-On-Demand. In 2012, it also meant voting directly for Gay-Marriage.

    (It also meant voting for Planned Parenthood which makes its giant $$$$$ by killing black & brown babies. Even now, the majority of PP abortion facilities are located where? In or near minority neighborhoods. No joke.)

    Now there are some really serious life situations involved in this abortion thing, trust me. No way is it as simple as just voting “For-Or-Against” a president or congressman. Sometimes women seriously feel “trapped”, and the black church really ain’t there for them. That MUST change. But also, we gotta stop compromising, yes.

  • Appreciate the time taken for these answers floy. Thanks again as I believe I have been hit by the judgement of the Lord before and really want to see others spared the terrible experience of going through it.

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