The word “thug” has no place at the highest levels of American politics. It’s coded racism.
Tell President Obama and Baltimore's Mayor: Never use "thug" again. It unfairly mischaracterizes Black communities and harms the youth.
That's what Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called some Freddie Gray protestors during a press conference last Monday night. She uttered it twice. This word was repeated by President Barack Obama the very next day. (1, 2)
Last year NFL player Richard Sherman made waves by saying that the word “thug” bothers him because “it’s the accepted way of calling someone the N-word nowadays.” (3) And Baltimore City Council member Carl Stokes agrees. He delivered a powerful response when asked on CNN if it was appropriate to use the word:
“No, it’s not the right word to call our children ‘thugs.' These are children who have been set aside, marginalized, who have not been engaged by us. No, we don't have to call them 'thugs' ... [You might as well] just call them niggers." (4)
"Thug" is an ugly word that reinforces a culture and a language that doesn’t value Black life — that doesn’t see us as human. It’s easier to kill someone when you don’t see them as a person, but rather deem them "a thug.”
Such language has no place at the highest levels of American politics - coming out of the mouths of our President and the Mayor of one of our largest cities. And that's why, after a massive public outcry, Mayor Rawlings-Blake has already started to walk back on her use of the word. She issued two tweets conveying regret. (5) But now she and President Obama need to take the word off the table for good.
Demand that President Obama and Baltimore Mayor Rawlings-Blake apologize for smearing the #BaltimoreUprisers as "thugs." And ask them to commit to never using the word again.
Do we believe that President Obama and Mayor Rawlings-Blake don't care about their Black constituents? Not for a second. But when they repeat "thug," they give media talking heads and other politicians permission to use the word. And this includes those who care about broken windows more than they care about broken Black spines.
These are the same individuals who only pay attention to Black communities devastated by years of economic and policing injustice when they can exploit the situation to push their own agenda. They'll cherry-pick their use of "thug," using it against Black communities, but never to describe violent police officers.
When President Obama and Baltimore's Mayor use the word, they embolden those who don't have the best interests of Black people at heart. Add your name right away.
There are already those in media who refuse to use the word. The debate is beginning to shift on whether "thug" is appropriate to utter on air.
While all eyes are on Baltimore, we must seize this moment to take back the narrative. Black people have been denigrated for far too long as "thugs." If President Obama takes a stand against this harmful word, it will set a game-changing precedent. This is our moment to give American culture and language an important push in the right direction.
Thanks and peace,
—Arisha, Rashad, Matt, and Bhavik for the ColorOfChange team
- "Baltimore mayor under pressure after 'space to destroy' remark", The Guardian, April 28, 2015.
- "Obama: 'No excuse' for Baltimore riots", The Hill, April 28, 2015.
- "Richard Sherman: Thug Is Now 'The Accepted Way Of Calling Somebody The N-Word'", The Huffington Post, 01-22-2014.
- "Baltimore official battles CNN host: Just call rioters ‘n*****s’ if you’re going to call them thugs", RawStory, April 28, 2015.
- "Mayor Rawlings-Blake clarifies use of word 'thug'", AOL, April 29, 2015.