As 2pac might stylize it: all eyez are on Baltimore.
If you haven’t heard about the unrest in Baltimore yet, not to worry my friends. There are many places for you to acquaint yourself with basic facts on this story.
This isn’t one of them.
If you have an interest in this situation and have some working knowledge, I make an earnest, humble recommendation to allow me a moment of your time. There might even be a timeshare in it for you at a very nice price.
It is being posited by some, accepted as fact by others, that using the word “thug” to describe rioters, violent protesters, looters, arsonists, criminals in action – whatever you want to call it – is analogous to the word “nigger”; a socially acceptable veneer in which racism can be transmitted without conscious detection. It’s the parental advisory, edited for TV version. It might not be explicit, but make no mistake the real word in the thought – the semantic meaning – is nigger.
I am here to tell you that is a specious premise worthy of overall practical disregard.
Language is fluid and the understanding of words can change over time. There becomes a point when society deems a word to have permanently altered, it’s original meaning considered old fashioned, or after long enough archaic. This is a gradual process that must involve a consensus of people who have a thorough knowledge and application of language. If the change comes absent of this it becomes an informal meaning, slang, esoteric or auxiliary.
The point in time where we as a society alter the use of thug to imply racial epithet simply is not here. This concept is being put forth by a handful of people, none of whom have any special authority to deem such a thing.
For starters, thug is a common word in our discourse used to describe, well thugs. American and foreign English news media outlets with a sufficient amount of credibility regularly or readily use the word thug to describe a violent person of any demographic. Let us focus on print media as it is devoid of subconscious triggers and is not affected by the voice or sight of the communicator which may affect interpretation.
Within the past month alone there are examples of the media referring to non African American groups as disparate as ISIS, Russian gangsters, aging British football hooligans, Mexican drug cartel members, The Black Joke rioters of 1863 NYC and Gambino crime family associates as thugs.
This established and commonly accepted use of the word is not negated by a few people who wish to hijack it’s meaning.
I think it is worth noting that I do believe there are people who say thugs in public when referring to blacks who in private might just as easily say niggers instead, though this is hardly a reason to call Oxford.
If this argument is used to attempt to substantiate the supposition, it is society and good people acquiescing to the desires and whim of nefarious bigots. It also is a convenient, expedient polemic to launch against those who say it can’t inherently have tangible proof of not being true.
The irony is that I think the embracing of the word thug by young ethnic minorities adds to this idea. Ask the average rap fan under 25 to name you a dozen references of the word thug in rap for a million dollars in under 30 seconds and you better get that person’s social security number.
Of specific influence in this phenomenon is 2pac, the man whose song title I borrowed in this piece and who I am quoting in the intro. This is a black icon, on par with people under 40 with as much status, esteem and legend than any other prominent black figure in American history. Yes, even those guys.
Pac talked about “Thug Life” and even permanently emblazoned it on his stomach in case he forgot it. To his credit, he did have a thoughtful, compelling exposition for embracing it.
To the superficial or casual listener, 2pac might not have seemed particularly or exceptionally intellectual or thoughtful over any other “conscious” hip hop artist of the time, however the truth becomes clear through his interviews.
2pac had an amazing grasp of abstract ideas and could whittle down a subject to it’s simplest, most critical elements. Any rapper can make a witty commentary on social issues in a song, but 2pac had a deep understanding of them not widely seen in hip hop. He also had a knack for getting his point across with an abundance of charisma. As he succinctly articulates here, this is what Thug Life means to him:
“The Hate U Gave Little Infants Fucks Everybody. Meaning: what you feed us as seeds, blows up in your face.”
The inference of those two statements is considerable and poignant. To him Thug Life is the inevitable outcome of purposeful generational inequality. It is a statement on how there are those who thought blacks could be marginalized and put on the fringe without consequence to those outside the community. It doesn’t speak to morality, it speaks to desperation. It’s not proactively implemented it is an inevitable involuntary action, not random but by design. Perpetuating this to ensure it happens as, has happened time again in American history, will ensure this consequence is felt by all. Pac would point to Baltimore as exhibit A right now.
I could easily go more in depth analyzing it. To have such condensed semantic value is not common.
I believe 2pac’s influence and legacy in both the black and white communities creates a narrow avenue where a segment of blacks and their bigots coexist. In other words, if you venerate someone so associated with the word thug and make rampant use of it in music you are commonly associated with, then it seems logical to outsiders you self identify as a thug. It inadvertently influenced how bigots could attack blacks by providing racial venom to a word with no historical or previous contemporary specific connection to black Americans.
Because of 2pac the confusion becomes plausible. It’s a bigot’s dream; a seemingly masochistic group which takes pride and pleasure in being thugs, something universally understood as being negative and morally wrong. Free refills for everyone because not only can I call you nigger with impunity, you love it. Few things can satisfy more than validation.
Here’s the bottom line. Are there those who use thug as code for nigger? Yes? Is it mainstream, endemic or otherwise able to be confused or even perceived as such in it’s regular context in every day situations by the average person? Without question that answer is no.
Focusing on the value of this word denies full exploration to the underlying issue of disharmony in race relations and discrimination, especially in light of it’s blandness. Let’s not supply a minority of racists ammo in which to lob pathetic racial attacks, which given the apparent modernity of our existence, should have been eradicated long ago.
Start a dialogue with people if you question their use of the word thug in relation to black people. Don’t make assumptions which when put under scrutiny are untenable.
Our language is not a Wikipedia entry anyone can just edit as they please. Willful overlooking of the facts constitutes race baiting. Thug has an accepted and thoroughly established non racial association, period, end of story, print it up.
Sometimes a twinkle in her eyes is just a twinkle in her eye and sometimes a thug is just a thug.