Definition of a thug

Maria Scruggs

Dear Editor,

Within the last couple of weeks President Obama and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake took some heat for their use of the word “thug” in describing some of the actions of individuals who chose to make a mockery out of the protests centered on the murder of Freddie Gray.

Many conservative news outlets and even liberal journalist such as Don Lemon attempted to somehow take President Obama’s and Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s use of the word as insensitive to the cause and struggle of those who chose to use Gray’s death as an opportunity to exercise their free will to burn buildings, loot business and throw bricks at police.

Through the rhetoric, I caught the real issue of another black man was dead in what appeared to be unjustifiably at the hands of law enforcement officers.

However, because it is imperative that I place my own emotional intelligence in check, and be slow to anger, I took a deep breath and took a little time to research the word “thug” just in case in my quest to understand the plight of my ancestors I had somehow missed the fact that somewhere in our history white supremacists used the word to describe black people in a degrading or demeaning manner.

My research revealed that the word “thug” originates from the Hindu word “thuggie.” Thuggies were groups of criminals who went around robbing tourists. Well it certainly appeared to me that President Obama and Mayor Rawlings-Blake had used the word in the context for which it was derived.

There were groups of people who used the death of Gray to burn buildings, loot stores for Nike tennis shoes, and assault law enforcement officers. I would say those actions, as described in multiple media accounts, could be classified thuggery.

However, just as I was about to bring my research to a close, up pops the urban dictionary. The source gave Tupac the credit for defining the word “thug.” Tupac’s lyrics established the definition of a thug as the following: “You haven’t had it good your whole life, and you intend to change that, and get out of the ghetto if that’s where you are, you’re what’s right, you don’t take s… from anyone, and stand up for your friends and don’t let them take s… from anyone!”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry!

While there are many of us who support the gangsta rap movement as a movement that afforded many of our young talented musicians to become millionaires in addition to finding an avenue to express themselves, there are also many of us who struggle with the fact that this is the same movement that has loudly and boldly proclaimed that black women as bitches are whores

I am keenly aware that Tupac’s gangsta rap made some social commentary; I do not believe that his definition of the word “thug” has somehow transcended the generations and now is representative of the struggle of many black folks.

During the same time President Obama and Mayor Rawlings-Blake was swirling there were also many references to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s definition of riots as the voice of the voiceless. I truly believe in the early 1960s that the weight of racism was too much for many people and as a result riots did provide an outlet for black people to express their frustration at the social and economic issues that plagues them.

However, I am not convinced it was people who felt voiceless who torched and destroyed their own neighborhoods. Like President Obama and Mayor Rawlings-Blake said, those were thugs who took advantage of a bad situation to steal shoes and destroy many of the institutions black people depended on in Baltimore.

I am also of the belief that the very moment some of those same behaviors are targeted toward some of the same individuals talking about the insensitivity it is my guess that many would retort back to describing the individuals as thugs and more times than not, names or descriptions of people would be a lot worse than the word “thug”!

Once again my prayer for our community is that we not allow the flavor of the day to distract us from our cause! President Obama was absolutely correct in his stand for the use of the word. The individuals who brought destruction to Baltimore have made the goal of addressing this very complex issue much more difficult to achieve.

While Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed the “riot” as the language of the “unheard” in the 1960s, I am of the belief that the criminal actions displayed in Baltimore last month have made the ability for the community to focus on concrete solutions to address the complex issues in an agency with a history of paying out billions of dollars for law enforcement misconduct much more difficult.

There are really folks in our community whom believe when black people act illegally and/or immorally, we should not call them out. I believe the criminals call it “snitchn’”! Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you choose to look at the matter, I am not one of those black people!

I believe as a community when folks do things to dishonor or disrespect our heritage as queens and kings, they should be called out!

Maria L. Scruggs

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