Burnett, who is white, begins with a strategy long employed by ‘not racists’:”Look, a black person said it, so I can.”
She states that both Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and President Obama had referred to the “bad actors” as “thugs.”
You can see a flicker of recognition in Stokes’ eyes as the words land on him. This is the look that we people of color get when someone tries this tired old trick on us for the hundredth time in our lives and we’re just done with the niceties. It’s the look of a black man who is dog tired of seeing racism wrapped up in a neat bow and handed to him with a smile.
Why shouldn’t we call them thugs? Well, for one reason, they’re our kids, he points out. Burnett can’t process this. Cue mock exasperation, as Burnett says:
“But how does that justify what they did? I mean, that’s a sense of right and wrong. They know it’s wrong to steal and burn down a CVS and an old person’s home. I mean, come on.”
That’s it for Stokes. He cuts through the subtext in a way that we all really need to start doing as a matter of course, and destroys the argument altogether.
“Come on?” he retorts. “So calling them thugs — just call them n*ggers. Just call them n*ggers.”
“When you say ‘come on,’ come on what?” he added. “You wouldn’t call your a child a thug if they did something which was not what you’d expect them to do.”
Burnett is visibly taken aback by Stokes’ intervention and scrambles for a suitable response:
“I would hope I would call my son a thug if he ever did such a thing,” she shoots back, missing the point entirely.
You can watch the the clip below:
The problem with the term “thugs” is that it has begun to be used only to describe black young men. It is a code word for “n*gger.” It is a term denoting race and class, it is the new word to capture the Scary Black Man. And once someone is a thug, well, who cares what happens to them? This was spelled out brilliantly by Derrick Clifton over at Mic last year when Ferguson was the epicenter of thuggery in America (according to the white media):
There’s even a clear implication that young black murder victims somehow deserved to die because they’re so-called thugs. It’s the logic that belies the online fundraisers for Officer Darren Wilson, with some supportive whites praising him for killing a kid that would’ve “eventually become a problem anyway.”
And it was all because of they way they looked, spoke or dressed — in other words, the color of their skin combined with the clothes they wore. The label even extends to Latino males, many of whom end up enduring similar public scrutiny, should they end up being crime victims or identified as alleged perpetrators, regardless of whether they actually participate in gangs.
And in TIME last year, John McWhorter wrote a piece entitled ‘Let’s not make Thug the new N word’, in which he also railed against the growing trend to use thug to denote poor, black men. He writes:
Whites do not perceive blacks the same way they do whites. As such, thug has quietly been recruited as the salty but suitable way of saying, “There one of them goes again.”
It is time that this veiled method of attributing uniquely scary or aggressive behavior to one racial group is called out wherever it occurs. White people riot all the time. It seldom gets coverage, they are not called ‘thugs,’ and it is never associated with their whiteness. It is right Carl Stokes blew up, and expect to see more of the same until this racist trope is done with.
Featured image via YouTube