Today, Richard Sherman remarked that “thug” is the new, more acceptable way to call a Black man the “n-word.” He’s absolutely right.
Following what can only be called the most unnecessary scandal of 2014, the NFL superstar finally addressed his critics in the most direct way as possible. He told them the truth, a truth that will cause backlash, fear, and denial.
In 2014, it’s no longer acceptable to call a person of color the “n-word.” But privileged oppressors are inventive in how they oppress. They conjure and exploit uneven representations of marginalized populations, and pander these caricatures to the unsuspecting. When we, people of color included, hear “thug,” we see an ignorant African American man. We assume this man has no education, lacks politeness, and is praised for his criminal record in the ghetto from which he hails.
The thug does not enjoy our sympathy because he inherently does not deserve it. He is rabid and reckless; prone to attack the innocent. He is unrelenting in his pursuit of vices and crime, and that is why it is morally, socially, and politically acceptable to stop-and-frisk him.
He does not deserve introspection or contextual analysis. He is not a victim of systemic oppression or poverty. He is not given credit for the challenges that he faces, because he is the sole cause of all of his obstacles. His history is denied as isolated and incidental.
He is guilty until proven innocent, if he is ever deemed innocent at all. He is guilty of dressing inappropriately, of speaking inappropriately, of behaving inappropriately.
He is not an individual, he is an act before an audience whose belief in him permeates through centuries. He is a generational symbol; his father, doused in clown point, had exaggerated facial features, and shucked and jived for amusement. And now, his son, coalescing in this new era, dons baggy jeans, grills, and guns.
This is Richard Sherman. This is Trayvon Martin. This is Jordan Davis. These thugs are forced to represent 44 million African Americans.
African Americans are regularly denied a context, the Richard Sherman “incident” being the most recent example. The NFL star who just saved the day, brought his team into the rung of glory in a emotional testosterone-driven sport, gave an on-field interview in the midst of celebration. But he was supposed to remain calm and collected. He didn’t, and now he’s a thug.
He’s a thug with a degree from Stanford. But affirmative action is to thank for that.
As African Americans, our males especially, we are forced to assimilate, but very rarely are we accepted. Our application for acceptance can be readily denied if we break even one rule. Showing emotion is one. Being vocal is another.
I don’t know much about football. I watch the Super Bowl every year, but I can’t tell you the difference between a linebacker vs. a running back … or whatever. But I can tell you that sports, in general, arouse emotions. Emotions fueled by adrenaline and supported by victory. An emotional response is human.
Richard Sherman was showing his humanity, his pure being, his core personhood as designed by nature. But the emotions of the racists who chastise him for daring to break outside of the prison in which they placed him, are not natural. Racist emotions are self-taught, self-supported, and self-sustained. They are measured reactions meant to remind everyone of the ultimate place of the Black being; one of mongrel subservience.
Richard Sherman reminded all of us the truth behind the guise of progress.
In today’s world, the “n-word” is no longer acceptable. Of course, this is a debate within itself, but for the purposes of this post and the situation it relates to, the “n-word” is inappropriate. New words are being formed to replace the historical ugliness the “n-word” evokes. “Thug” is one of them.
The uncomfortable beauty behind progress is that it enables us to generate new words with the same connotations. Words that are easily recognizable and carry meanings that vary from person to person. For some, thug is acceptable, ceremonial even. For others, its a way to further marginalize an already marginalized community of people. The Richard Sherman fiasco is a testament to this.
Hidden language takes many shapes, but the feelings are still the same. The anger, frustration, humiliation associated with diction are not happy accidents that occur sporadically. They are responses to a historical view that many would like to believe is over.
Welcome to the 21st century.