Thug You!

OK, let’s do the good news first.

Jackie has written the best piece I’ve seen exploring the ramifications of last week’s “no fans” baseball game. Go read it now, so you can tell everyone you were following her before she got her Pulitzer.

Moving on to the bad news.

There’s been a hell of a lot of discussion of the word “thug” lately. Too much discussion–it’s drowning out the voices of the people trying to solve the real problems affecting this country.

The claim is that “thug” is “inherently racist”. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. That’s beside the point. It’s also beside the point whether all the discussion is a deliberate effort to sidetrack the national conversation. The point is that groups of people are using legitimate political protests as a cover for illegal activities.

Here in the Bay Area, we’ve seen it happen during almost every protest in the last half-dozen years, and now it’s spreading across the country.

Complaining about the racism of the word “thug” is simply a distraction from the real issues. Whether the discussion is about police brutality, the unequal distribution of wealth, or bicycle rights, the question of whether “thug” is inherently racist, incidentally racist, or not racist at all is precisely as relevant as discussing whether the sky is blue or gray.

Are the people who show up at your protest planning to smash windows and steal whatever they can get their hands on part of your movement?

If they’re not, don’t waste your time complaining about what anyone calls them. Concentrate on your issue. And concentrate on making sure they don’t show up at your next protest so they don’t dilute your message.

If they are part of your movement, you need to rethink your position. As things stand, they’re not advancing your cause, whatever it is. Either get rid of them and pursue peaceful protest, or go in the other direction, declare yourselves–and them–revolutions devoted to the violent overthrow of the government. But shit or get off the pot; sitting there on the throne isn’t going to accomplish anything.

And if you’re not part of the movement, and you’re just objecting to the word “thug”, you’re not helping anyone. Shut the hell up, so we can all get on with trying to solve the real problems.

11 thoughts on “Thug You!

  1. This whole “thug” business has irritated me to no end, and you’ve explained why. The word’s been used for generations, and I agree–there are other issues. Tweetable.


          • You mean you didn’t get the memo?

            Expletives are inherently offensive to anyone who hasn’t listened to a conversation on an elementary school playground. After all, they might be overheard by a child, who will be psychologically scarred by the experience.


          • Not offensive in the same way. This is a somewhat Puritan hangover, whereas the thug usage is the PC thing. When I was teaching, expletives never bothered me. Calling someone a racial or ethnic epithet did. “Thug,” however, did not, and I taught both meanings of “gay.”


  2. Don’t really agree with you on this one. I can’t speak to how much talk there has been about this particular word, but words taking on racist dog-whistle connotations (regardless of their historical use) is part of a real problem facing the country, that is, systemic racism.

    That of course doesn’t mean (a) everyone who uses the word means it that way, or (b) everyone should drop thinking about everything else and fix the words, or (c) fixing the words will fix the racism.

    But words do exist in a larger context and it matters to think about how they are used and how that ties in with other forms of racism.

    It’s a big Internet, we can have conversations about words AND groups of people using protests to behave illegally.

    I’ve been going around recommending this book to everyone, and it’s relevant to the issue. The Everyday Language of White Racism by Jane H. Hill


    • I didn’t want to go there, but it’s not about the Internet. When national media go apeshit over President Obama using the word and making that the story, it’s not about fixing anything. It’s flat out sweeping the rioting, the culture clash, and the centuries of disenfranchisement and racism under the carpet. Period.

      And it doesn’t do any damn good to declare any word off limits. If we crack down on “thug,” people will just find another word to use for “someone I hate doing something I disapprove of”. Hell, it’s started already–today’s Chron had a couple of letters to the editor suggesting new names to use “if we can’t say thug anymore”.

      I don’t disagree with anything you said, but I stand by my position that focusing on the word is irrelevant and obfuscatry. Fix the problem and the word goes away. (Not that it’s that easy, of course.)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for the kind shout-out Casey … and, while I’m delighted to accept a Pulitzer, I’m thinking the closest I will come is if a Lily Pulitzer sundress shows up at the local thrift shop.

    I think you’re right … “thug” has become a flash point for lazy TV pundits who re-worked its definition in a way to best suit their purposes, stir things up, and fill air time. (Deadspin suggests that the re-defining started with sports pundits using it to describe football players’ on-field actions.) Irrelevant fact, per OED, “thug” derives from the Hindi for “thief” and was coined in the early 1800s to describe a Hindu sect of thieves and assassins in India. (I know, I’m making your point by focusing on the word with this idle trivia … sorry.)

    You are right … “Fix the problem and the word goes away.” Let’s get back to solving the real problems at hand.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Set your sights high. And remember: once you win the Pulitzer, your speaking fees alone will cover all the Lily Pulitzer you care to wear.

      Maybe we can short circuit the distraction by demanding that the word “thug” be returned to its roots, and only be applied to assassins acting on religious motives?

      Nah, wouldn’t stop the argument–but at least it would give the press an alternative to “terrorist”.


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