Notes on thuggery

All the outraged people screaming about the NFL Seattle Seahawk’s cornerback Richard Sherman should watch a professional hockey game sometime. Lots of white “goons” beating each other bloody is just good sport or “Canada’s game.” When the African-American athlete shoots his mouth off, he’s a “thug” or a N—.

By SAM SMITH*

Undernews (Jan. 23) – I’d like to cut a deal with Richard Sherman. I won’t compete for his gig if he doesn’t compete for mine.

After a controversial, robust interview following the NFC championship game, Sherman offered some additional thoughts. Reports Travis Waldron in the liberal Think Progress:

Richard Sherman on Wednesday said that the only thing that he regretted about his fiery post-game interview after the NFC Championship on Sunday was that it distracted the media and fans from the play of his teammates and the victory he’d earned.

But that wasn’t all that bothered him. So, too, did the fact that so many fans and media figures were quick to brand him a “thug.”

“The only reason it bothers me is because it seems like it’s the accepted way of calling somebody the N-word nowadays,” Sherman said during a press conference in Seattle. “It’s like everybody else said the N-word and then they say thug.”

The day after the interview, the word “thug” was used some 625 times on television, more than it had been used on any single day in the past three years, according to a Deadspin analysis. And most of it was used with the same connotation that racist terms like the n-word would have been used once. Sherman is too loud. Too boisterous. Too…black.

Some of the people who hear this won’t be convinced. Some of them, especially the people who skipped right past “thug” and went all the way, won’t care to be convinced. To those people, nothing Sherman says or does will be enough. But good for Sherman for laying it plain, because there are plenty who should listen to his words and learn from them.

I suspect that Sherman has now made thug an unacceptable word in the responsible liberal community. It used to take decades for words to ebb and flow but now all you need is one good post game interview.

And while it is true that thug has become a common reference to a type of black in street and rap culture, it is also true that it has other uses in the English language. For example, I searched for thug in our index of published works and didn’t get more than ten percent through when I came up with these examples:

Richard Bardnett writing about Albert Camus’ The Stranger: “Meursault encounters Raymond Sintés, his neighbor, and a local thug (pimp), within their building. “

A letter to the Review: “As they say in the intelligence community: Any thug can commit murder. It takes a professional to stage a believable suicide and it takes a real artist to create a credible fatal accident.

Salem Pax, Baghdad Blog – Remember the days when every time you hear an Iraqi talk on TV you had to remember that they are talking with a Mukhabarat minder looking at them noting every word? We are back to that place. You have to be careful about what you say about al-Sadir. Their hands reach every where and you don’t want to be on their shit list. Everybody, even the GC, is very careful how they formulate their sentences and how they describe Sadir’s militias. They are thugs, thugs, thugs. There you have it.

Henry CK Lieu, Asia Times – As American independence fighters learned two centuries ago, popular resistance, melting into the populace like fish in water, could not be contained by British occupational forces without slaughtering innocent civilians. British burnings of American churches with civilians locked inside for sympathizing with the independence struggle failed to stop the insurgents. British general Thomas Cage, in the Battle of Bunker Hill, by labeling the independence movement a loose collection of thugs and tax evaders, much like the way US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld labeled the Iraqi resistance “a handful of thugs,” only highlighted the incompetence of his command by his failure to recognize reality, violating the first rule of successful war-making.

Peter Sloan Eident
 – The commanding officer of the Vigilant didn’t want his men to force the Lithuanian sailor back, so he took the next logical step; he allowed Soviet thugs on board. The Commies chased Simas around the ship like a bunch of Keystone Cops without the comedy, caught him, beat him, and dragged him back to his beloved country.

Sam Smith
 – In rhetoric, analysis and approach, bear in mind that we’re often not dealing with ideology or policy, but with mean people, thugs and thieves. Stop harping on Glenn Beck. You’re only helping to build his base. Follow Samuel Goldwyn’s advice and “don’t even ignore him.” The more he becomes the issue the less important real issues become.”

Jeremy Scahill, AlterNet – Triple Canopy, a Chicago company now based in Virginia. It may not have Blackwater’s thuggish reputation…

Then we have examples from those arcane sources called dictionaries  – places one used to go to find a word’s meaning. A few examples:

Google: A violent person, esp. a criminal.. .a member of a religious organization of robbers and assassins in India. Devotees of the goddess Kali, the Thugs waylaid and strangled their victims, usually travelers, in a ritually prescribed manner. They were suppressed by the British in the 1830s.

Merriam Webster: A brutal ruffian or assassin

Urban Dictionary – As Tupac defined it, a thug is someone who is going through struggles, has gone through struggles, and continues to live day by day with nothing for them. That person is a thug. and the life they are living is the thug life. A thug is NOT a gangster

And finally this from Slim Thug (or now, perhaps, Slim XXX), being interviewed on CNN:

Host: When you think thug, Slim Thug, give me what your defi-… I got the Tupac definition, His is just, you know, a person going through struggles, has gone through struggles and continue to live day-by-day. You know, you know, just trying to make it. When you think of a thug for you, Slim Thug, you think what?

Slim Thug: I think the same thing, man because, like, really, I’m a big ‘pac fan. I probably got thug off of him, you know, growing up listening to him. And that’s where I was, uh, introduced to that. That’s probably where my name came from. So, I feel the same way that he felt, coming from nothing to something.

Sherman was justified for being upset with the term used against him, but it would stll be nice to remember that football players, network TV and liberal web sites don’t get to define our words and that thug is still a pretty good way to characterized Chris Christie.

*Veteran Washington journalist Sam Smith is editor of Undernews, the online report of the Progressive Review. He now lives in Maine.

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