Bugs Bunny: Racist Rabbit Or Misunderstood Mammal?

I gotta admit that this topic is off the beaten path for RWN, but my curiosity about a phrase Bugs Bunny regularly uses got the best of me.

It all started when I aped Bugs Bunny and said, “what a maroon” in reference to Congressman James Moran in The 2nd Annual Twenty Most Annoying Liberals In The United States — The 2003 Edition. Well, someone who is apparently unfamiliar with Bugs Bunny wrote me and asked if that was a typo.

That spurred me on to Dictionary.com where I looked the word up. What I found left me scratching my head. Of course, when Bugs Bunny uses the phrase, “what a maroon,” he’s basically saying, “what a goof” or “what an idiot”. But when I started looking at definitions of “maroon”, there were basically 4 definitions of the word. There was…

“To put ashore on a deserted island or coast and intentionally abandon.”

That’s certainly not it.

“A brownish or dull red of any description, esp. of a scarlet cast rather than approaching crimson or purple.”

I don’t think Bugs is trying to say that they’re a “brownish or dull red”.

“An explosive shell.”

That one doesn’t fit either. Which only leaves…

“A fugitive Black slave in the West Indies in the 17th and 18th centuries. A descendant of such a slave. In the West Indies and Guiana, a fugitive slave, or a free negro, living in the mountains.”

Interestingly enough, that one is the only one that seems like it could fit. But Bugs couldn’t be insulting Elmer Fudd or Porky Pig by referring to them as a slave could he?

So I think that maybe I have the wrong word. But no, I managed to find the word used on the Looney Tunes website…

“6. Please do NOT discuss committing crimes of any sort – unless you are a complete maroon! And even then – do NOT discuss!

So yeah, I do have the right word. But, Bugs Bunny calling someone a slave? What could explain that? Well, you do have to keep in mind that Bugs Bunny debuted back in 1938 and as Wikipedia points out

“Cartoons from the 1930s and later often feature characters in blackface as well as other racial caricatures”.

So is it entirely possible that Bugs Bunny means “fugitive slave” when he says “maroon”. Yeah, I think it is.

But of course, there could be some other explanation. Maybe maroon is some sort of strange corruption of “moron” or perhaps maroon is some forgotten bit of slang that didn’t make into the dictionary. In any case, I’m actually interested enough to want to know the answer.

So someone enlighten me; is Bugs Bunny a racist rabbit or a misunderstood mammal?

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