Thug / Life: When Keeping It Wrong Gets Real

Here’s that word again: thug.  You’ll remember that we talked about Seattle Seahawk’s Richard Sherman’s public skewering just a couple of weeks ago.  After a bragtastic post-game interview the twitter verse and TV were positivly abuzz with the word thug.

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 There was some debate, some finger pointing and–most coherent of all–Richard Sherman’s own thoughtful analysis that the word thug has come to stand in for the n word as acceptable hate speech against black men.

thug timeline

To his point, a Google search of the word reports a sharp uptick in its use  in the last two decades.  Before you blame all that on hip hop, I’m pretty sure Fox news analysts who called Richard Sherman a thug aren’t bumping TuPac on the ride home.

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This week the word thug is on trial–literally–in the case of Florida v. Michael Dunn.  Dunn is charged with shooting into a car of 4 teens, killing 17 year-old Jordan Davis.  He is defending himself with an affirmative defense, claiming he shot the teen in self-defense under Florida’s  abominable controversial Stand Your Ground law.

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Rhonda Rouer testified in a Florida courtroom on Saturday in the trial of her fiancé.  Rouer testified that when she and Dunn pulled into the convenience store parking lot next to the victims’ Durango, he said to her, “I hate that thug music,” in reference to the music the teens were playing.  Lest you think this was an isolated “thug” and nothing should be made of it, consider this quote from Dunn himself:

The jail is full of blacks and they all act like thugs…. This may sound a bit radical, but if more people would arm themselves and kill these fucking idiots when they’re threatening you, eventually they may take the hint and change their behavior.

Dunn wrote those words from a jail cell where he sat charged with second-degree murder for killing a young boy whom he referred to as a thug just seconds before shooting him.

Sit with that irony for a second.

Words create the world around us.  Words are the material that we use to build societies.  Words like good, bad, man, woman, us and them set the boundaries of our culture, and help us decide what is worth doing and what isn’t, who deserves our compassion and who doesn’t.  Words matter.

Thug.  Trap.  Hood.  Gangsta.  Brute.  Beast.  Nigger.  These words are a chain tying men of African decent to centuries of oppression.  These words are used not in ignorance but presicely because they come packed with meaning, hate in four letters, a reminder of the persistence of racial prejudice and a time when such words were weapons wielded by lynch mobs.

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Now the words are on the stand.  They come out of Rhonda’s mouth and in four letters point an accusing finger at the only the threat in the parking lot that night:  Dunn’s own racism.  Before Dunn had any interaction with the four young boys in the truck next to him, he had called them thugs– the last word in a coded chain of hate words going back to this country’s worst hours.  In other times, a man might have chosen a rope, or a whip, but Dunn chose a gun, and decided  who would live and who would die.

121126064123_Michael Dunn in court

He was a grown man with a deadly weapon.  According to Dunn’s own testimony the boys turned down their music when he asked, but when he heard swearing a few moments later he stated “I wasn’t asking for any more favors.”  He decided the punishment for noise was death, then claimed stand your ground justified his actions.

Jordan-DavisIt’s 2014, not 1814, so we free people of all races have to make sure our imperfect union does what it can to realize the dream of all men and women being created equal and where we have the right to life, liberty and loud music if we choose.  Just like those men before him, we must hold Michael Dunn accountable for the racism and violence he visited on his victims.   Let’s pray the jury makes that gun toting thug aware of the weight of words with a simple “guilty.”

Susan X Jane

Susan Jane thinks a lot about media and race…a lot. She teaches Communications at Wheelock College, writes and speaks about media…and race... and generally encourages everyone she meets to think about the way media shapes their sense of self and their ideas and beliefs about the world. If you're reading this, she wants you to think about it too. Want to talk about it? Let's go.

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