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Why the word thug doesn’t work

06/26/2018 12:00 PM by

We are excited to introduce a new CHPN contributor, CasSandra.

Hello! I’m CasSandra and I’ve lived in Richmond, VA for 8 years. I initially came here for college but stayed for love. Richmond is an incredible city in so many ways! My passions are social justice and community healing. One of the ways I’m excited to express that is through pieces I will write for CHPN regarding culture, community, and justice. I am so excited to share with you what I think is so great about Church Hill and some of the ways I think we can honor that greatness.

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I want to talk today about the power at play in the word “thug”. I know that it is a word some people in our neighborhood use to describe people who break the law, or people who frustrate them, or Black people in general. According to an article Megan Garber wrote for the Atlantic, the word “thug” originated in India as a label for professional brutal thieves and assassins. Garber describes a group, befriending a traveler along the road, and betraying that traveler’s trust by killing and robbing the traveler. Garber’s description includes a significant amount of power in:
1. The intentionality of gaining the victim’s trust before attacking them and,
2. The backing of the professionals by “customs officers, village officials, and native police”.

That power which was held by those described as thugs in India when the word started is not held by the people who are labeled as thugs in Church Hill. I think that now, when we use the word thug, it is to assign to a person the same level of malice and power as the word originally carried. But we know that sometimes people break the law because they feel that they have no power. And rather than being backed by officials and police, those folks may feel targeted by those same institutions.

My intention is not to say that you don’t deserve to feel your frustration or to want the things that frustrate you to stop happening. My intention is to say that it is important that you see the people who are frustrating you as being as human as you are. I think that when we use words like “thug” we paint a very different picture of the power dynamics at play. We assume that the person we are describing does what they’ve done in order to exert their power over us. We forget the potential impact of feeling powerless and we use our own power to write them off instead of humanizing or empathizing with them.

You may have noticed when people use the term thugs, it becomes easier to forget their humanity. We start to use extermination concepts like, “clear them out”, or “get rid of them,” or “they’re a menace.” We forget we are talking about other people like ourselves. I would encourage us to find new words to express our frustrations with the people around us. This way we can see more clearly what is actually happening, who has power, and make sure we wield our own in ways that maintain the humanity of those around us.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not represent the views, or polices of the ChildSavers organization.


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