Thug is the new N-Word

Black Students Integrate Little Rock's Central High School

There are certain words you’re not allowed to say on TV. And there’s at least one that we white people aren’t allowed to say at all, ever. Unless you want everyone to know for sure you’re a bigot.

This is the word of lynchings and bombed out black churches. It’s the word invoked over centuries of castrations, rapes, torture, and enslavement. It’s a word so heinous, so degrading, that if we’re forced to mention it at all, it’s best to call it the N-Word.

Despite the vileness of this word, we white folks sure do have a tough time giving it up. We’re so addicted to it that we’ve come up with a way to keep saying it, all the while pretending that we’d never even think it.

Well, this is a wake up call. Let all my white brothers and sisters take notice: When you call black men thugs, I know what you’re really saying. Everybody does.

Racism is so embedded in our culture, I’m sure many folks who are throwing around the word thug honestly don’t consciously realize what they’re doing. But if ignorance was ever an excuse, it’s not anymore. Now you know: When you say thug, it’s just a socially acceptable way of saying the N-Word.

What does it mean to be called a thug? Malech Thomas, a youth minister in Baltimore, puts it this way:

“How it made me feel as a black man? Carl Stokes said it best: It’s almost as if they just called me a nigger. Really. That’s really what it is, they wanted to say nigger, they wanted to say animal, so thug is a nice political translation of nigger.”

My fellow white Americans: Wake. Up. Is this who we want to be?

Depending on our age, most of us are aware of how fiercely many white Americans resisted the 20th-century Civil Rights movement. From our vantage point in 2015, we like to imagine that we are on the right side of history. We want to believe that we support Martin Luther King’s work for justice, peace, and reconciliation. Right?

That’s straight up delusion as long as we’re out there calling black folks thugs. We’re no friends of Martin King when we blame those experiencing police brutality for their own murders. We’re not on the side of justice when we choose to write off an entire generation of black men as unworthy of breath. 

That’s what happens when we use that word. We dismiss black men as being subhuman, without reason or morality. We ignore the cry of thousands of our brothers and sisters in the streets, looking for justice in the only way that seems to have any effect. We cut off the conversation and call in the riot police, because those people are just thugs.

If we ever want to see justice and peace in America, if we ever want to break the cycle of hatred and violence that grips our nation’s soul, we can no longer put off this conversation. We have no choice but to stop silencing and marginalizing our black brothers and sisters. We have to really listen, and absorb what we’re hearing. Until we do this, we will carry inside us the fear, guilt, and hatred of 400 years.

Are you willing to go there?

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