America’s Ban(d) of Thugs

During a recent pseudo-political circus gathering for a certain comically precarious presidential candidate, a familiar face took the stage to show support for the Republican nominee. Like many other conservative politicians vying for a seat at his illustrious table might have done, Sarah Palin lauded Trump and displayed her resentment for the various protesting individuals and groups throughout the campaign trail.

Before I address the primary concern of this article, I would be remiss if I didn’t state the following:  Protesters are American citizens. Protestors are American citizens with legitimate concerns.

One would think that someone who aspires to preside over American citizens would respect the Constitution with the resolve to support his fellow citizens—or at the very least, hear about their concerns while performing some degree of simulated sympathy. President Barak Obama has exhibited such excellence in responding to protests. However, the importance of having a president with character and integrity, who encourages freedom of speech with the foreknowledge that such freedoms can be used against him/her, is a discussion for another article.

This article is about the words uttered from the mouth of Sarah Palin, many right-wing conservatives, certain liberals, and even self-proclaimed independents. Palin described the  protesting at Trump’s gatherings as “petty, punkass, little thuggery stuff that’s been going on… quote un-quote protesters.” Palin’s adjective of choice was “thuggery.” Root word thug.

The term “thug” has been thrown around frequently over the past 5 years. It was the term used to justify the six lead bullets (at least) that were unloaded into eighteen-year-old Michael Brown’s body in Ferguson Missouri. It was the term used to defend George Zimmerman’s righteous fear for his life at the image of a sixteen-year-old Trayvon Martin. It was the word used to describe the cocky nature of a Stanford University graduate, founder of a charity for low income communities, and Super bowl winning cornerback Richard Sherman. The term was thrown around as Cam Newton dabbed throughout his 15-1 season. The list of thug usage literally goes on and on.

Google thug. Read the definition. Ask yourself does that definition consistent with the behavior or characteristics of the people I previously mentioned. The term is defined as “a violent person; especially a criminal.”

My mother has often described the game of football as a violent one, but of all the “violent criminals” on the field, Cam Newton is a thug? As for Trayvon Martin, much of the conversation that surrounded me was speculation centered on whether or not he was a “good kid.” Shouldn’t the character of the person who disobeyed police orders to cease pursuit of the suspect young man be the one facing moral trial? Where in Richard Sherman’s resume can you find any violence or criminal activity?  At Donald Trump rallies who is being assaulted, and who is perpetuating the violence? Isn’t it the front-running Republican presidential candidate that urged his faithful followers to “knock them out,” offering to pay the legal fees of anyone who might commit a crime against these protesters? America, either we know the answers to these questions, or we don’t want to know the answers. Clearly the current usage of “thug” doesn’t match the meaning. Thug has evolved. It has become a term used exclusively for black people, to describe…to describe what exactly?

Since as far back as I can remember, the early 90s, anger and violence has been strategically stitched to the fabric of African American DNA. Black people have been portrayed as inherently mischievous, aggressive, violent creatures. I was reminded of this as I listened to George Zimmerman describe the terrifying aggressive beast that would attack him. How he feared for his life. Martin, Detective Serino said, “has no criminal record whatsoever. Good kid. Mild-mannered kid.”In his possession, Serino said, “we found a can of iced tea and a bag of Skittles and about $40 in cash. Not a goon.”

Yet Zimmerman feared for HIS life. It’s the same fear that choked Eric Garner to death and beat Rodney King. It’s that same fear that compels people to “make America great again” at all costs. Growing up I learned to keep my mouth shut, be polite, and do whatever I can to “get home safely,” when dealing with law enforcement, because, as long as my skin is dark, I will always look like a thug, a criminal, a violent being to some people. Thug is terrorist. Thug is illegal immigrant. Thug is kike. Thug is nigger. One can not use the word “thuggery” except out of hatred.

Beyond the racially-charged underpinnings of the recent usage of thug, Palin’s comment irritated me for a more important reason. Whether or not you agree with politicians, professors, or peers, if the concerns that you have and the ideologies you are willing to rally for as an American are labeled as “petty” by the individuals who seek to govern you, with no doubt, you should have cause for concern. The issues that are important to you—that govern your freedom, your family, and your very survival are far from petty. Opening your mouth and protesting for these rights cannot and should not make you a “thug.”

While I’m tempted to blame Donald Trump for rousing and resurrecting an angry 21st century Confederate army across the country, and while I am more angry at Ben Carson for joining this army than I am at Sarah Palin, I know that Trump is obviously not the sole source of racism in America. I also know that his supporters aren’t the only people getting angry. I know that Americans are unhappy. We are tweeting, speaking, protesting, and most importantly voting, because we have a long way to go to Make America Great Again (for everyone).


By: Joshua Nwosu

Twitter: @kenteclark

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