Futility of “Colorblindness”: Use of the Word “Thug” Is One of Dehumanization When It Crosses the Color Line

In Baltimore on April 27, 2015, the city police closed the Maryland Transportation Authority’s subway station and bus stop, located close to the Mondawmin Mall. Yet, there were many students and other travelers coming to that place, a major transit area, to go home or other places. The people were stuck in that place without being able to leave. An incident occurred, with property damage.

However, on the same day, was the funeral for Mr. Freddie Gray, who died of injuries sustained while in police custody (the specifics of which is being investigated as of the date of this post). The incident was seen as a result of frustration for the lack of answers for the death of Mr. Gray, but it seems that the incident was separate from Mr. Gray and a direct result of police blocking transit passengers from getting to their buses and subway trains.

An issue has developed as to how the incident is being characterized, namely by the use of the word “thug.” W.E.B. Du Bois in “The Souls of Black Folk” had written about the color line, the very different perceptions of life (and context applied to words) between members of the White society and the non-White societies.

The long history and continuing practice of Black subjugation and dehumanization does not permit for any ambiguity in words, such as for the word thug, once used liberally to discuss the incident in Baltimore on April 27. The situation was already charged with all of the events going on in the city before, on, and after that particular day. It is preferable to deal with the property damage and those that caused it with dispassion, just like the persons with authority have asked people to do while investigating police action around Mr. Gray, which lead to his death.

More specifically, the people causing the damage should be dealt with as human beings that made a wrong decision and allow them to have the ability for redemption and to repair the damage caused to other’s property and to themselves. Careless use of the dehumanizing words like thug needlessly inflame passions and continue to demonstrate the United States’ systemic dehumanization of non-White people.

While condemning others for undesirable acting out of frustration, several politicians conducted themselves in a similar way by generous denial of humanity to people that they criticized.

  • President Barack Obama, April 28, 2015, statement (bold by the blog author): “My understanding is, is you’ve got some of the same organizers now going back into these communities to try to clean up in the aftermath of a handful of criminals and thugs who tore up the place.  What they were doing, what those community leaders and clergy and others were doing, that is a statement.  That’s the kind of organizing that needs to take place if we’re going to tackle this problem.  And they deserve credit for it, and we should be lifting them up.” (Use of the word defended by the White House, April 29, 2015. Of note, Josh Earnest, the President’s press secretary, suggested the dictionary definition, but with the color-line area in the United States of America, clarity, and universally acceptable definitions is far more important. If the White House cannot accept a differing perspective on this issue, one can imagine the uphill battle necessary to change a social structure causing so many to suffer because of not belonging to the social majority group in the United States.)
  • Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake used the word but later clarified her remarks (in sum, treating those that committed errors as human beings).

A member of the Baltimore City Council, Carl Stokes, disagreed with a CNN’s Erin Burnett, stating that thug is shorthand for the N word. (Author’s note: Differing underlying worldviews of Stokes and Burnett are on display in this short interaction. Conflict over definition also lead to an odd situation of CNN personality, Ashleigh Banfield (White), trying to tell a Black person, Mr. Stokes, why use of the N word is wrong (when it is solely applied to Black people)). It is the reason why mere dictionary definition of the word thug is insufficient for the understanding needed for true equality to be placed in practice.)