A “thug” (1810) is someone who is violent with little regard for the law. Like “savage” and “terrorist”, it has become highly racialized, especially since 2009. It has been called the new N-word.
Think like a White racist:
- savages = Native American men;
- terrorists = Muslim men;
- thugs = Black American men.
White Americans use these words to stereotype the men of an out-group as dangerous and naturally violent, as lacking morals and empathy. Whites then use that as an excuse to act in just that way towards them: violent, no empathy, no morals. Drones, police brutality, genocide.
You can see how racialized the word “thug” has become in 2015. Here is how many web pages use the following phrases according to Google:
- 497,000 “black thugs”
- 88,700 “Latino thugs” + “Hispanic thugs”
- 87,100 “white thugs”
- 8,520 “Asian thugs”
- 3,440 “ray rice is a thug”
- 6 “charlie sheen is a thug”
Even though Sheen has a much longer history of violence against women and his name appears on twice as many web pages.
White mass killers:
- 0 “dylan klebold was a thug”
- 0 “the tsarnaev brothers were thugs”
- 0 “james holmes was a thug”
- 1 “tim mcveigh was a thug”
- 1 “adam lanza was a thug”
Famous White criminals:
- 0 “ted kaczynski was a thug”
- 0 “john wayne gacy was a thug”
- 1 “john dillinger was a thug”
- 1 “ted bundy was a thug”
- 3 “lucky luciano was a thug”
- 4 “jesse james was a thug”
- 4 “charles manson was a thug”
- 5 “bill the kid was a thug”
- 5 “bonnie and clyde were thugs”
- 10 “john gotti was a thug”
- 3,630 “al capone was a thug”
Fictional White criminals:
- 0 “don corleone was a thug”
- 0 “walter white was a thug”
- 6 “tony soprano was a thug”
Unarmed Blacks killed by the police or neighbourhood watch:
- 7,320 “eric garner was a thug”
- 8,650 “oscar grant was a thug”
- 26,200 “trayvon martin was a thug”
- 45,200 “michael brown was a thug”
The New York Times said that Michael Brown was “no angel”. It said the same of fellow thug Al Capone.
- 1810: The Thugs are a band of highwaymen in India who rob and kill. The word enters the English language.
- 1839: After British colonial authorities crack down on the Thugs, the word gains the more general meaning of “ruffian, cutthroat, violent lowbrow”.
- 1959: The phrase “black thugs” appears in written English. “Negro thugs” and “colored thugs” (or even “coloured thugs”) never do.
- late 1960s: The phrase “black thugs” catches on as Republicans in the US push “law and order” as a racist dog whistle issue to divide the working class. It is part of their Southern Strategy.
- 1990s: The phrase “black thugs” becomes yet more common as gangsta rap pushes the image of Black men as thugs.
But “thug” only puts a name to something White Americans have been thinking since the 1870s: Black men as naturally heartless and violent – the Black Brute stereotype. The stereotype underpinned lynching, Jim Crow and the Klan. Now it underpins racial profiling, police brutality and mass incarceration. Even in the 2010s, you cannot make sense of White American thought and behaviour without it.
– Abagond, 2015.
- Welcome to Black History Month 2015!
- The term “terrorist”
- The N-word
- The Black Brute stereotype
- The Southern strategy
- gangsta rap
- not “thugs”
- respectability politics
- Why do Whites hate, demonize, fear and look down on Blacks?