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…)