(Opinion) Back in the late 80's and early 90's, propelled by the so-called conscious rap tenets of KRS One, Poor Righteous Teachers and a slew of other contemporaries of the time, I immersed myself into the teachings and speeches of a great number of great scholars and authors of African descent. Eventually, I was drawn to the musings of several individuals whose viewpoints fell left of center on race from a sociopolitical standpoint. Among my favorites was a book titled The Isis Papers by author Francis Cress Welsing.
With the book, Dr. Cress Welsing describes how the entire system of white supremacy is an evolved state of oppression that was gleaned from the genetic history of Caucasians throughout their evolution. She even went on to describe certain white supremacy codes that are hidden in plain sight, from the Washington Monument in D.C. to the humble little stop sign. From that point on I have consciously and unconsciously been infatuated with deciphering symbols and codes whenever I could. That mission was only heightened with the pursuit of a career in journalism.
Today, the white power establishment in the United States is rife with code words and symbolism. So much so that most of it is transparent to all people of color, but invisible to the majority. However, these old dusty code words and verbal symbols are dusted off, given a fresh coat of paint, and paraded out whenever civil society wants to become uncivil in describing people of color but are restrained from doing so outright.
For example, the phrase inner city first gained wide spread usage in the 1970's to help White Americans pinpoint where crime and heroin were. States’ Rights is another well-worn phrase that many states, mostly in the south, use to describe what they believe is their right to in essence subjugate, abuse and marginalize its Black and Hispanic populations. The word thug is derived from the ancient Sanskrit word "sthagati", which then became "thag"- a Hindi word for swindler and thief. It wasn’t until the early 19th century that the English word thug gained wide spread usage.
The meaning largely remained the same throughout the 20th century and was used to describe rough and tumble gangland muscle that worked for the Capos and Dons of the day. As many in our readership are well aware, the word was high jacked by the Black community after it was popularized by gangster rap music in the early 90's.
Though there’s no way for me to quantify this statement, the term thug has to be the second or third most used word in the rap dictionary in the past 25 years behind the n-word and, maybe the B-word. The late Tupac Shakur's romanticizing of the word took "thug" to a new level with his constant declarations of allegiance to the thug life. Today, a multitude of rappers have usurped the name as a personal moniker as well.
However, when you live in a culture of denial, white supremacy and blanket assumptions, words can be coined by a segment of the population, usurped by another segment of the population, and forced into the greater lexicon whether we like it or not. The "n-word" is a perfect example of this phenomenon.
Speaking of the "n-word", modern society has largely frowned upon its usage in public discourse, although its usage in rap music is more prevalent than ever. Additionally, modern technology has afforded us all the opportunity to witness the things that “fine, upstanding American White folk” say behind the scenes when they believe they are among like-minded individuals.
The recent fraternity flap at University of Oklahoma, Paula Deen’s rant and the drunken rant of Philadelphia Eagles’ wide receiver Riley Cooper at a country music concert are all highly-publicized situations that highlight this. So, what does a fine, upstanding American in the public eye do when he or she wishes to call Black people a racial slur but such speech is frowned upon in public?
They simply come up with another word, and "thug" is the perfect replacement in that it exudes all of the negative and stereotypical aura of the "n-word" with none of the immediately apparent racial baggage that is connected to the "n-word."
But the keen observer will see how it’s all about race. One such observer was Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, who was called a thug and a gangster in mainstream and social media for talking down to Skip Bayless, then for blacking out in a televised interview with Erin Andrews following the Seahawks' NFC Championship victory over the rival San Francisco 49ers in which he went in on former San Fran receiver Michael Crabtree for pushing him in the face following the game.
Sherman responded to the ballooning controversy, and negative diatribes that were showered on his name, in a pre-Super Bowl press conference.
"In fact the word was dropped quite a lot this week, disappointing' to hear so many people use the term. He even went so far as to say it's a more socially acceptable way of calling someone a n--ger."
" 'It seems like it's the accepted way of calling somebody the n-word nowadays. It's like everybody else said the n-word and then they say "thug" and they're like, "Oh, that's fine."
Now, increasingly so, the thug word is thrown around more than ever when Black people are perceived as getting out of line in any context. It was used by various municipal leaders in describing various groups of protesters across the country, groups that, not coincidentally, were Black.
Both Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Chief of Police Anthony Batts threw the term around like candy corn on Halloween. The casual observer may note that these two individuals are Americans of African descent. However, it doesn’t matter what color the cogs in a mechanism are as long as they continue to serve their predetermined mandate. As many have learned since the election of President Barack Obama, Black politicians cease being Black once voted into officer. That goes for public servants as well. Hell, even Obama called these children criminals and thugs.
Again, these people will swear that it has nothing to do with race and that may be because they’re ignorant to code words and dynamics of dog-whistle politics. Were any of the White crowd involved in the Keene, New Hampshire pumpkin riots called thugs? How about those who rioted in Lexington, Kentucky when the University of Kentucky Wildcats were eliminated from the NCAA tournament this year? What about the heavily-armed group of white militia men who pointed loaded weapons at FBI, ATF and local law enforcement at the Cliven Bundy ranch in Nevada back in 2014? Nope!
Yet, when Black people are involved the word is used obsessively and compulsively when describing their actions in the public context.
Baltimore City Councilman Carl Stokes exploded on CNN over the usage of the word and I couldn’t helped but burst out laughing. Not at the circumstance, but at the apparent frank exasperation of Mr. Stokes at its usage.
The conscientious, intelligent, and racially-sensitive populous seem to know exactly what folks are getting at when the word is used. So, to me at least, it also says that those who feign ignorance are callous, dumb and blind as to the words that are coming out of their mouths.
Or perhaps they just don’t give a damn.