Category: racial profiling

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.

Most White Americans are down with racial profiling

By Alan Bean

The reaction to the George Zimmerman verdict shows that most white Americans are down with racial profiling.

The upshot of this verdict is that white folks can stalk and confront young black males without justification and shoot them dead if they choose to defend themselves.   This might not be laudable behavior; in fact, it might be downright tacky.  But it isn’t illegal.

Technically, the reverse is true: young black males can stalk and confront white folks and shoot them dead if they resist . . . but, as a practical matter, stand-your-ground logic only works for real Americans. (more…)

At Mexican Border, Four in Five Drug Busts Involve American Citizens

ImagePosted by  Pierre Berastain

“Three out of four people found with drugs by the border agency are U.S. citizens, the data show. Looked at another way, when the immigration status is known, four out of five busts—which may include multiple people—involve a U.S. citizen.”

Amidst the accusations of people like Governor Brewer and Sheriff Apaio that undocumented immigrants are dangerous criminals responsible for smuggling millions of dollars worth of drugs , this article brings a new and fresh perspective.

At Mexican Border, Four in Five Drug Busts Involve American Citizens

by 

The public’s view of a typical Mexican drug smuggler might not include U.S. Naval Academy grad Todd Britton-Harr, who was caught at a Border Patrol checkpoint in south Texas in December 2010 hauling a trailer with 1,100 pounds of marijuana.

Nor would someone like Laura Lynn Farris leap to mind. Border Patrol agents stopped the 52-year-old woman at a border checkpoint 15 miles south of the west Texas town of Alpine in February 2011 with 162 pounds of marijuana hidden under dirty blankets in laundry baskets. (more…)

Probing the subtleties of white racial bias

By Alan Bean

I came across two columns this morning making the case that white people can be riddled with racial bias without feeling any particular ill will toward racial minorities.

In a guest column in the New York Times, Ta-Nehisi Coates uses a grotesque incident of racial profiling involving academy award-winning actor Forest Whitaker as his jumping off point.  The deli employee who accused Whitaker of shop lifting, and frisked him on the spot, claims to be a “good person” without a single racist bone in his body.  Coates doesn’t argue with this self-assessment, but disputes the assumption that racism necessarily involves a conscious dislike of a particular racial group.

In modern America we believe racism to be the property of the uniquely villainous and morally deformed, the ideology of trolls, gorgons and orcs. We believe this even when we are actually being racist. In 1957, neighbors in Levittown, Pa., uniting under the flag of segregation, wrote: “As moral, religious and law-abiding citizens, we feel that we are unprejudiced and undiscriminating in our wish to keep our community a closed community.” (more…)

ICE officials say they were just doing their jobs

By Alan Bean

Two Latino parents were arrested in Detroit on Tuesday morning as they dropped their children off at school.  Immigrant rights groups are outraged.  Officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) say they were simply following procedures.

Although Latino voters gave Barack Obama his margin of victory in 2012, more undocumented residents have been deported under his watch than under any previous administration.  Obama won because Latino voters perceived, correctly, that the situation would have deteriorated even further had Mitt Romney become president.

Were the ICE officials who arrested two men in front of their children following standard procedures?  Probably.  The Obama administration is ostensibly focusing on deporting criminals while going easy on undocumented residents with close family ties in America.  Unfortunately, as the article below makes clear, entering the country without documentation is now a federal crime even, as is often the case, the primary reason for entering the United States was to be re-united with young children.

If you were deported as an “illegal alien” while your citizen child remained in the United States, what would you do?

Nothing?  Perhaps, but if you didn’t do everything in your power to get back with your child you would lose my respect (and Jesus wouldn’t be impressed either). (more…)

Can I get a little sympathy for Joe Arpaio?

Sheriff Joe Arpaio

By Alan Bean

There is an Alice in Wonderland quality about the civil trial of Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio.     Racial profiling is illegal and Sheriff Joe insists that his boys would never target a resident of Maricopa County on the basis of national origin or skin color.  On the other hand, it is widely considered to be okay to keep non-white Mexican nationals out of the United States because, well, they’re not like us and, if we let too many of them in, we won’t be like us for much longer.

The cries for help that Joe Arpaio’s office received from white residents clearly reflect “keep America white” sentiments, and “America’s toughest Sheriff” enthusiastically responded to these messages, but, he insists, without committing the dreaded sin of racial profiling.

It isn’t just the ALCU and MALDEF that have problems with Sheriff Joe; the Department of Justice is also concerned about his tactics.

Let’s get this straight.  The federal government, represented by the Department of Homeland Security, entered into a 287(g) agreement according to which 160 deputies, working for a man widely deplored as an insufferable racist, were deputized as immigration agents with the authority to sweep into the heavily Latino sections of town and arrest people who looked like they might be undocumented.

Now the federal government, represented by the Department of Justice, is upset because Joe and his posse were overstepping their mandate.  Please explain how deputized border cops (racist or otherwise) can locate people who are in the country illegally without resorting to the crudest kind of racial profiling?

We aren’t talking about routine traffic stops here; we’re talking about white people complaining about “wetbacks”; we’re talking about dozens of immigration agents (paid by the sheriff’s department) sweeping into a suspicious neighborhood and arresting everybody brown person in sight.  The government says you can do this as long as you don’t resort to racially profiling.

I’m sorry, but I can understand why Sheriff Arpaio might get a little confused.  One branch of the federal government is begging him to flush out the Mexicans while another posse of federales takes him to task for racial profiling.

When we say that America’s immigration policy is broken, this is precisely what we are talking about.  Our Jekyll and Hyde government reflects the fractured contradictions within the national psyche.  Heaven help the poor journalists and jurists charged with making sense of of this mess; it’s beyond my feeble powers.

Arpaio Takes the Stand in Racial Profiling Lawsuit

New America Media, News Report, Valeria Fernández

PHOENIX, Ariz. – Word spread like wildfire in the North Phoenix neighborhood: Sheriff Joe Arpaio was coming to do an immigration sweep. His agency had received a letter circulated by a member of an immigration restrictionist group that was signed by eight businesses complaining about day laborers in the area.  (more…)