In search of a new “N-Word”

February 1, 2014
How America Sees Those Who Misbehave

How America Sees Those Who Misbehave

“Misguided young man”, “behaved inappropriately”, “thug”.  We white people have now have reframed the unacceptable “N-word” to “thug“.  Yet, Mark Twain declared in 1917 “We white people are merely modified thugs.”  Cognitive dissonance. How can “we” possibly be thugs?

Twain explored the history of a sect called Thugs; bandits in India that captured and killed innocent travelers. This led to incorporating the word into the English language.

What Mark Twain tells us about the Super Bowl controversy is enlightening says McClatchy-Tribune guest columnist Russ Castronovo.

Twain was surely tongue-in-cheek when he wrote that unlike the thugs of India, “we no longer take pleasure in slaughtering or burning helpless men.” Lynching was a horrific but common feature of the American landscape in Twain’s day, as the author of “Huckleberry Finn” knew well.

Twain was insistent about turning the lens back on white America. As he put it, ‘We white people are merely modified thugs.’

Thuggery is defined as violent or brutal acts, as of thugs. As we substitute “thug” for the “N-word”,  we are preying on the innocent to serve our own interests in maintaining our country’s long history of racism. Thug behavior. Abuse of power. Brutal action.

A good next step might be to emulate Twain and take stock of our own capacity for thuggishness, says Castronovao.

I am a white person and a thug. A reframing that makes me squirm. I harm people regularly with my thuggery. My racist ignorance and power supports the brutal and violent acts of individuals and the normalizing of racism within our culture and institutional structures.  Saying my impact is unintentional is a coward’s way out. I am responsible for stopping thuggery or acting to maintain it.

It hurts to see myself in this way. Often truth is like that. I am in search of a new way to be white that does not reflect thuggish behavior but behavior that is just and anti-racist at its core.

(Cartoon is by Darrin Bell of the Washington Post Writers Group.)

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