Category: Race

Mathews: “Thug” is the new n-word: the criminalization of Richard Sherman

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By Alan Bean

Joseph Mathews is a writer and public speaker who is currently working on his doctorate in urban youth culture and education at Columbia University.  I met Joseph at an organizing meeting at Friendship West Baptist Church in Dallas in 2007.  When he learned that I had been the first outsider to organize in Jena, Louisiana, he asked if he could visit the community with me.  He was interested in shooting a documentary.  When he met some of the Jena 6 defendants it took him about ten seconds to get them rapping.  In the picture to the left, Joseph is filming their impromptu performance.

My response to the Richard Sherman post-game rant differs from Joseph’s.  For one thing, I have followed Michael Crabtree’s career since he played at Texas Tech and didn’t like hearing his talents impugned.  To me, Sherman sounded more like a professional wrestler than a football player.  Moreover, he was giving full, uncut expression to the hyper-competitive aspect of American athletics that has always repelled me.

But my first thought was, “Oh, no, the haters are going to have a field day with this.”  Which, of course, they did.

Joseph identifies with Sherman at a much deeper level than I do because he shares so much of Sherman’s experience.  Growing up as a gifted athlete who initially struggled academically, Joseph has experienced prejudice and rejection firsthand.

When we were driving out of Jena after the big rally in September of 2007, Joseph kept saying, “Doc, could you slow down just a little bit?”

When I explained that we were just a couple of ticks over the speed limit, he said, “Doc, how many times have you been pulled over by the police?”

“Two or three times,” I replied.

“And why did they pull you over?” he asked

“Because I was way over the speed limit,” I admitted.  “How many times have you been pulled over?”

“Thirty three times,” Joseph stated flatly, “and it is almost always for nothing.”

This deeply divergent life experience influences perception at a basic level.

Joseph Mathews is right: in the vernacular lexicon, “thug” has replaced the n-word.  No one is going to call you a racist for characterizing Richard Sherman as a thug.  As this interview clearly demonstrates, Sherman is a well-spoken, highly educated young man.  He also grew up on the mean streets of Compton, New Jersey, and those streets will be with him to the day he dies.

Thug is the New “N” Word: The Criminalization of Richard Sherman and Black Youth

by Joseph Mathews
Thug – a tough and violent man; a criminal
It wasn’t five minutes after I posted my thoughts on Facebook that many of my white childhood Facebook friends went in on me about him. Their comments were so full of hate I had to rewind my TiVo to make sure that I had not missed something, like him shooting or stabbing another player. As I began reminiscing about what it was like to be black and playing sports while growing up in Oklahoma, this country’s most conservative and what many would argue one of the most racist states in America, my memories were haunting. I have seen more than my share of young black males killed, incarcerated, discriminated against, harassed and criminalized in the name of being a thug, including myself. And the comments being made on my page represented the larger narrative going on simultaneously around the country and the feeling of many people in very low and high places.

Man! Richard I wish you would have told them that you graduated 2nd in your class from a high school in Compton and went to Stanford where you graduated with a 3.9 GPA! I wish you would have told them you were working on your Masters Degree! I wish you would have told them that you were not a thug but a hero to your hood because despite the odds, you accomplished your dreams! This is what I was thinking they should have had him saying as I sat in front of my TV and watched the Beats by Dre Head Phones commercial that set the stage for what was about to transpire around the country. During the NFC championship game between the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers, as the reporter on the commercial said to him “what do you think of being known as a thug around the league?” I shook my head as he just put his head phones on, because I knew what was coming. NFL defensive back Richard Sherman’s character was about to be assassinated, he was about to become the latest victim of the dreaded New N-Word “Thug”.

The racist venom reached a fever pitch after he gave the post-game interview. I watched as negative comment after negative comment poured in – every last one of them questioning his character and calling him every name in the book, stopping just short of calling him the “N” word. But the foundation had already been laid. They could not get away with calling him a no good “N”, but they could get away with calling him a no good “Thug” which was the word of choice being used to characterize him nationally. Unlike the painful racially charged N-Word, which carries much historical baggage, the usage of the “T” word is not publicly frowned upon at all nor is it politically incorrect, and in many cases its used to justify the mistreatment and criminalization of black youth.
This guilt by characterization and classification mindset has been at the center of many recent racial controversies that have resulted in those who committed acts of violence against unarmed black youth being free to walk away, because in death the victim’s character was put on trial, and in life they were all found guilty of being thugs, which in the court of public opinion is punishable by death. You see, no one really cares about what happens to kids that are not fully viewed as human beings, who are guilty of something. But I think it would be an insult to the intelligence of those who now know Richard Sherman’s background and continue to call him a thug. Because I truly believe that they realize he is not a thug. They know exactly what they are saying and where their hearts truly are. They understand very well that people are treated like they are viewed, and that historically the practice of stripping away young black male’s humanity, through giving them names that automatically cast a shadow of guilt and suspicion over them, makes them more susceptible to harassment and discriminatory practices. Now that the word thug has taken on a new meaning, white folks who continue to call black kids thugs, and young men like Richard Sherman thugs, are really saying we don’t care how smart and educated you are, how much money you make, or how great you are at doing something we love, we still hate you and you’re still a “N”. We’ll just change the n-word to “thug”.

The indiscriminate labeling of black males as thugs has created an atmosphere of disdain and insensitivity and has made them targets of crime with very slim chances that they will get justice, compassion and least of all protection under the law. In the name of neutralizing so-called thugs, police have been allowed to shoot and kill unarmed black men like Oscar Grant and trigger happy citizens have been allowed to get away with with murdering unarmed children like Trayvon Martin.

The reality is that most people who subscribe to this white supremacist ideology don’t believe that Richard Sherman is a thug, but they do want him to be guilty of something because that would reinforce the negative raciest stereotypes of young black males that they hold onto to feel better about themselves. Richard Sherman is not guilty of being a thug. He is guilty of being something much more dangerous. He’s guilty of making certain white people uncomfortable. He is young, black, rich, educated, and cocky, feels he is the best, and is the best at what he does. But worst of all he is not afraid to let the world know. That is why in many ways Richard Sherman simultaneously represents the American dream and the American nightmare. He has the bravado, drive, and leadership abilities that are often touted as quintessentially American, BUT one of America’s greatest fears is for one of its black athlete’s (i.e. Mohamed Ali, Jim Brown, Paul Robeson ) to use their influence and platform to speak out against injustice and inequality. Richard Sherman has the potential to be that athlete. If they neutralize him with the “T” word before he recognizes his true potential then their fears will be put to rest — for now. So be careful not to think too much of yourself or you might be the next “N” Word, I mean thug.

A house divided still

By Alan Bean

Stephen Spielberg’s “Lincoln” pulled in $34 million over the Thanksgiving weekend, third best behind the new Twilight and James Bond movies.  When I saw the film over the weekend, the audience  applauded as the credits rolled–something you don’t see very often.

The film,  loosely based on Doris Kearns-Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals, is relentlessly historical.  Lincoln is portrayed as a bucolic Christ figure, but Spielberg stops short of turning The Great Emancipator into a comfortable citizen of the 21st Century.   Constitutional equality applied to Negroes, said Lincoln; that meant abolishing the slave trade in every corner of the Union and little else. (more…)

DEA agent told not to enforce drug laws in white areas

Posted by Pierre Berastain

From Colorlines:

Meet Matthew Fogg, a former U.S. Marshal whose exploits led him to be nicknamed “Batman.” When he noticed that all of his team’s drug raids were in black areas, he suggested doing the same in the suburbs.

“If we were locking up everybody, white and black, for doing the same drugs they would’ve done the same thing with prohibition, they would’ve outlawed it,” Fogg says in the video produced by Brave New Films. “If it were an equal enforcement opportunity we wouldn’t be sitting here anyway.”

Lies, Damn Lies, and . . .

By Alan Bean

Like they say, you can prove anything with statistics.  I got an email this morning pointing out the ten American cities with the highest rates of poverty all have Democratic mayors.

Here’s the list:

1. Detroit , MI              32.5%
2. Buffalo , NY               29.9% poverty rate
3. Cincinnati , OH         27.8%
4. Cleveland , OH         27.0%
5. Miami , FL                26.9%
6. St. Louis , MO           26.8%
7. El Paso , TX              26.4%
8. Milwaukee , WI         26.2%
9. Philadelphia , PA        25.1%
10. Newark , NJ             24.2%

And the moral of that is:

It is the poor who habitually elect Democrats yet they are still POOR!

You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.

You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.

You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.

You cannot lift the wage earner up by pulling the wage payer down.

You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.

You cannot build character and courage by taking away people’s initiative and independence.

You cannot help people permanently by doing for them, what they could and should do for themselves.”

I have seen similar lists of American cities on racist websites.  There, the moral is that many poor cities have black mayors which shows that black people are incompetent.

Now let’s consider the opposite indicator: the ten American cities with the largest concentration of high net worth individuals.  These happen to be:

  1. New York (currently the mayor is independent, but NY historically favors Democrats)
  2. Los Angeles (Democratic mayor)
  3. Chicago (Democrat)
  4. Washington, D.C. (Democrat)
  5. San Francisco (Democrat)
  6. Philadelphia (Democrat)
  7. Boston (Democrat)
  8. Houston (Democrat)
  9. Detroit (Democrat)
  10. San Jose (Democrat)

How do we account for the fact that the American cities with the highest rates of poverty and the highest net worth individuals tend to have Democratic mayors?  (Detroit, by the way, makes both lists because it’s economy, after several years of free fall, recovered remarkably last year with the rebirth of the auto industry.)

There are two reasons. (more…)

Denton County to Pay Over Half Million Dollars in Discrimination Suit

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Cary Piel

By Pierre R. Berastain

“I understand why people hung people from trees…[I] want to go home and put on my white pointy hat.”  Those are the alleged words Denton County felony Prosecutor Cary Piel told his black co-worker Nadiya Williams-Boldware who sued in federal court and was awarded over half million dollars for the discriminatory incident.

After being called a troublemaker by a co-worker, dismissed by her boss—the supervisor happened to be Cary Piel’s wife— and turned away by the Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division, Boldware took her complaints to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.  The story can be found here.

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Susan Piel

After the verdict—on Monday, June 22, 2012—Denton County District Attorney Paul Johnson fired the four prosecutors who cost the county the hefty $510,000 penalty: Susan Peil, Cary Peil, John Renz, and Ryan Calvert.  Calvert is Cary Peil’s brother-in-law, and Renza was Peil’s partner in court.  Read more about the firings here.

Super PAC ad exploits white ignorance of black church

By Alan Bean

I frequently tell audiences how our family was virtually excommunicated from polite society when we questioned a corrupt drug bust in Tulia, Texas.  I write about this bewildering experience in my book, Taking out the Trash in Tulia, Texas.  In the eyes of respectable, church-going folk, we were just flat wrong.  From this mainstream perspective, our stand looked crazy, illogical, and possibly even demonic.

Moral perception involves a subtle interplay between personal experience and community narrative, the value-laden stories we grow up listening to.  The Horatio Alger, rags-to-riches story is a classic example of a value-laden story; so is the story of Rosa Parks, the Black seamstress who refused to give up her seat on the bus.  Community narratives are the stories that define a culture.  If you are part of the culture, you hear the stories. 

Both personal experience and community narrative vary tremendously from culture to culture.  In Black communities, for instance, children grow up hearing stories about the need to persevere in the face of prejudice and rejection.  Personal experiences are interpreted through a narrative lens fashioned by this community narrative.  “Oh, so that’s what daddy was talking about,” we tell ourselves.

In White culture, community narrative tends to validate authority figures and the social status quo.  “Police officers are there to protect you, Johnny,” White parents tell their children, “so you shouldn’t be afraid of them.  I know that gun looks scary, but he will only use it on the bad guys.”  In general, personal experience bears out this expectation.

You hear very different stories in Black and Latino communities.  Authority figures aren’t demonized in the moral narratives that circulate in minority communities, but they are viewed with a measure of suspicion.  You don’t always call the police when something bad goes down on the street; innocent people might get hurt.  And when a family member is facing trial no one expects equal justice.  Personal experience tends to validate this community narrative.

One consequence of being excommunicated from Tulia’s respectable white community was spending a lot of time with Black and Latino residents.  On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was in Albuquerque witnessing a debate between Asa Hutchison of the Drug Enforcement Administration and New Mexico governor Garry Johnson.  We were primarily there to talk to both sides about what was happening in Tulia.

The planes hit the Twin Towers just as we were packing for our return trip and we listened to updates on public radio all the way back to Tulia.  In the van with me were several members of Tulia’s black community, most of them associated with the Church of Christ.  They were appalled by events in Manhattan, but they weren’t surprised.  In fact, they wondered why it had taken so long.  A simple phrase was repeatedly endlessly, “America’s chickens are coming home to roost.”

I thought of that road trip seven years later when Jeremiah’s incendiary rhetoric played a central role in the electoral campaign between John McCain and Barack Obama.  “No, no, no,” Wright roared, “Not ‘God bless America.  “God damn America.”

When I first saw the clip of Reverend Wright in full cry I was reminded of Billy Graham’s remark that if God didn’t punish America He would have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.  Wasn’t Jeremiah Wright saying much the same thing?

Yes and no.  When Billy Graham suggested that the wrath of God would soon fall on America he was speaking out of the moral narrative he grew up hearing in Baptist circles in North Carolina.  Like ancient Israel, America is called to be a chosen people, a city set upon a hill.  But we will only be blessed insofar as we remain faithful to our calling.  Our tolerance for lewd music, R-rated movies, gambling and general debauchery is a rejection of our Godly birthright and will inevitably lead to divine judgment.

Jeremiah Wright was thinking of a different community narrative when he delivered his infamous sermon in the wake of 9-11.  America flatters itself as a beacon of democracy, but we prop up tin pot dictators in to enhance the profits of multinational corporations even if it spells untold suffering for millions of people.  Did we think God would turn a blind eye to such cruel hypocrisy forever?

Graham and Wright applied the same Deuteronomic logic to very different facts.  One was lionized for speaking hard truths; the other was demonized as an anti-American racist.  Until you step into a Black barber shop and ask the brothers for their take. 

From the dominant White perspective (liberal and conservative) Jeremiah Wright was talking crazy.  How could anyone be so insensitive in the wake of the worst national disaster in recent memory? 

This explains why a super PAC funded by TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts plans to use the president’s historic ties to Jeremiah Wright to bring about ‘The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama’.   The assumption is that Wright’s “God Damn America” rhetoric is so extreme that White Democrats will dissociate from the president while Black America will be silenced. 

If this ad airs (and since a prototype has been leaked to the media, there is a chance it may not) Black America will not take it lying down.  Instead, attempts will be made to humanize Reverend Wright by placing his remarks in social and historical context.  

I hope the ad envisioned in the prototype never materializes; but if it does, the moral divide separating Black and White America will be more apparent than it has been since the halcyon days of the Civil Rights Movement.