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.

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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.

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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.”

Cheerios Graces Superbowl With Interracial Family’s Return

Sunday’s Super Bowl is here!  If you can’t decide between the Seahawks and the Broncos then you’re probably one of millions of Americans that tune in to the big game to see the commercials.  The Super Bowl is the single biggest draw for advertisers all year.  With a $4 million price tag for every 30 seconds, all the advertisers are going to want the biggest bang for their buck.  Cheerios is making their first Super Bowl ad debut in the 48 year history of the game.

This spot, entitled Gracie is a follow up starring the interracial family from this summer’s spot, discussed right here on smntks.  So when General Mills finally decides to pony up the $133,000 per second for an ad on the big day, they choose to feature a family that created more controversy than any other Cheerios pitchman.  What gives?

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What gives is that Gracie and her interracial TV Mom and Pop turn out to be good business.  When Gracie first appeared in the summer, trolls tweeted out a host of hateful comments about the ad and interracial families in general.  That would have been  a sad end to the story, but haters weren’t the only ones that took to the web.

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Many more thousands of people weighed in with their support for the positive representation of interracial families.  Cheerios themselves celebrates We are the 15% , a real world group formed in support of families like Gracie’s own fictitious folks.  Social media and mainstream talk also weighed in to support what is increasingly a portion of the continuum of normal families in America.  The moral of this story?  The changing face of America has a place and space in mainstream media.

Gracie’s return to the airwaves should come as no surprise to her many supporters.  What is more interesting is that General Mills is willing to put 4 million cheerios front and center  Super Bowl Sunday to bet on the mass appeal of a multiracial household.    Running the ad on the biggest day of the year tells us that when all was said and done in the summer, customers responded positively to the representation of interracial families.

Is the Gracie series racist?  No. True, they are leveraging public support to improve their brand, but that’s all about green, not just black and white.  So Sunday, pour out a little salsa for Cheerios’ fan favorite fam.  And General Mills, since it’s working so well to show families stereotype free, maybe you could stop with the cool-ed up Nelly-Bee…or did you mean to play both sides?

We Ain’t What We Ought to Be

Today is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech.  The 50 years since that famous speech stand today as a measuring stick to place blackness in America against.  To paraphrase MLK himself, it’s 50 years later and the negro is still not free.  Now I can hear you shouting “Black President !” from here, and I’ve seen Obama hanging around, so I know lots has changed. Even with all the change, the needle for black people–and poor people– that the civil rights activists fought so hard to move seems to point to the same old numbers.

By every metric of social well being , blacks lag behind their white counterparts.  While civil rights gave legal rights to blacks that were long overdue, the last 50 years has witnessed the slow erosion of these gains.  Stop and Frisk, Stand Your Ground, and the Supreme Court’s decision on the Voting Rights act all remind us that racism lives on in the heart of the American justice system, while discriminatory financial and educational policies bring the fight to our homes and schools.

What about in the fantastical world of mainstream media?   Surely the media does a much better job of representation now, right?  Well……
In 1963 there was not one network show–and there were only major networks and no cable, young ones– that starred or featured a character of color.  Films, much the same.  This is not to say that people of color were excluded from media.  Of course westerns like Bonanza and Gunsmoke filled screens with feathered savages,  and there were more than a couple of black entertainers popular that year.  The racist show Amos and Andy, cancelled years earlier still ran in syndication in over 50 markets.  Whatever popular representations of race there were by and large were would not be acceptable by today’s standards….right?
Fast forward 50 years.  We have handfuls of big blacks filling up our screens, and incidentally draining our pockets.  Beyonce and Jay Z are the reigning king and queen of a kingdom full of rappers, runners and ratchet weave wearers.  We even have some young white ladies who I refuse to name here doing their best to play out their own tilted image of what it is to be black.
There’s no doubt that there are hundreds more black characters in media today, but just as in 1963, media representations show blacks as lazy and crazy, violent and vixenish.  When we fight mainstream media for representation, we can’t stop with appropriate quantity.  Quality matters.  High visibility celebs who push a self-centered materialistic life, and images that reinforce the worst of classic stereotypes aren’t progress.
MLK’s I have a dream speech resonates so strongly all these years later because still we strive to be a better more perfect union.  Until the words that echo off the water of the mall are the same that make up the stories on our screens, we still have the fight in front of us. As the old saying goes, we ain’t what we used to be, but we ain’t what we ought to be.  Lets not take another 50 years to get there.