Richard Sherman, Thugs, and Black Humanity

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Today I’m wondering what it takes for a black man to be regarded as human in America.

Today Richard Sherman is being lambasted for his animated post-game interview in which he dared to express emotion outside of the cubic centimeter men of color are allotted. A cornerback in one of the most physically demanding sports in the country—after a game in which bodies were injured and crushed; after a game that required players to be helped off the field—wins a critical game and has a microphone stuck in his face. He says what he says, and suddenly the nation is clutching its pearls, tutting and making pretend-concerned remarks about sportsmanship and graciousness. Today, Tom Brady criticizes Richard Sherman for his lack of “graciousness.” Today, Richard Sherman is being called a thug, and I’m wondering what that word really means.

Does it mean foul-mouthed? After all, Tom Brady was never called a thug. Not when he got in the ref’s face when losing to the Panthers and dropped the F-bomb on national television just two months ago. What about Richie Incognito, when he called Jonathan Martin the n-word on his voicemail? That’s a foul word, isn’t it? I didn’t hear Incognito referred to as a thug either. Or does “thug” mean violent? I’m not sure. Because, despite his animation, Sherman didn’t use a single curse word. He didn’t threaten anyone’s safety or injure anyone.

The truth is, I only ever hear “thug” applied to black people. And not just adult men. A black toddler made news recently when Omaha police posted a video on their website of the child cursing and holding up his middle finger. The child was described as a thug by Omaha police, who insisted they only shared the video to show “the cycle of thuggery.” The video was posted without the knowledge or consent of the child’s mother.

Another example comes to mind. A teenager walking home from the store after buying Skittles and tea, who was then stalked and murdered by a wannabe cop. A murderer whose main line of defense was that the victim “looked like a thug.” A seventeen-year old boy with his hood up—it was raining—looked like a “thug,” and so his life was ended.

So I’m wondering what “thug” really means.

White supremacist culture dictates who and who does not get to be human. In order for people of color to receive a Human Card, they must assimilate: they must not use slang. They must be quiet. They must not wear hoodies. They must not curse. They must be gracious at all times. They must enunciate. They must not talk about racism. They must not listen to rap music. They must not sag. They must not brag. They must not laugh in public. They must not take up more than one seat on the bus. They must not ever ask for more. In short, you must be perfect. Robotic. Even if you are a professional athlete who performs for millions of Americans, playing a game in which aggression, testosterone, and energy are rewarded (demanded)…you must be quiet, gracious, calm, unassuming. Unscary. To be black and also be regarded as human, you must never make a mistake in your entire life, ever—ever—or you are a thug. Ghetto. Other. Your Human Card is denied.

Richard Sherman was Salutatorian: second in his class in high school. Richard Sherman went to Stanford. Richard Sherman launched a charity organization called Blanket Coverage to help children in need receive school supplies and clothing. Richard Sherman makes more money than anyone I know. But with all the reaction, both on Twitter and on television, to Richard Sherman’s interview, I’m forced to call upon Kanye West’s famous lyric:

Even if you in a Benz, you still a n*gga in a coupe.

I think that’s what the word “thug” really means. The n-word, arguably the most dehumanizing word in history, has been decried. It is considered inappropriate to speak it in public, and while that doesn’t stop everyone, hate will find a way. “Thug” is that way. Lately, it is a word used when we want to revoke humanity. Trayvon Martin, murdered only a few blocks from his home, was called a thug during his murderer’s trial. The jury needed to be convinced that this boy’s humanity could not possibly exist if he was “a thug.” Police put a toddler’s “thuggery” on display as if to say, “This is why we police them.” And now Richard Sherman, an athlete wealthier than most of us can possibly imagine, dares to step outside the box that a racist culture demands he live inside…and he’s a thug too.

Despite the power of whiteness, as we live in a culture that still very much worships it, whiteness is fragile. In order for white supremacy to function, it requires people of color to adopt the characteristics mentioned above. Silence. Subservience. Graciousness. So when Richard Sherman’s “graciousness” is criticized, it’s more than his status as an athlete that’s being attacked: it’s his blackness. When the media (or the typical spineless, anonymous Twitter-user) calls him a “thug,” they are denying him his humanity. You can look like Richard Sherman and be in the public eye, this logic goes, as long as you stay within the lines white supremacy has drawn for you.

Today I’m wondering what it takes for a black man to be regarded as human. I still don’t know. By these rules, to be black in America and also be seen as human, you must be a robot. Emotionless. Expressionless. In order to be black and be regarded as human in America, you must shed all the things that make you human to begin with. Personality. Flaws. History. Anger. To be black and human in America you must be nothing. And that’s where I stop wondering and start to get angry.

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251 thoughts on “Richard Sherman, Thugs, and Black Humanity

  1. rezell says:

    Reblogged this on My Life in Flight and commented:
    Thank you for this beautiful post! I’m most definitely reblogging it!

  2. Reblogged this on theworldaccordingtotae and commented:
    So, this was awesome.

  3. I look forward to reading every blog you write.

  4. alluringsoul says:

    Reblogged this on alluringsoul and commented:
    This morning, while perusing WordPress, I stumbled across this blog.

    I read it and, almost briefly bought the story she was selling. She lost me, however, at white supremacy. She lost me further at, how white supremacy dictates we should act.

    Society determines what is acceptable behavior. We have rules and boundaries that, while they may differ from person to person, they exist. We didn’t create them as a color or ethnicity but, as a race. The human race. We as humans form society and, as such, determine what is acceptable behavior. Do I necessarily think that Richard Sherman is a thug? No but, do I think that his behavior was okay and should be accepted? Definitely not.

    She brings up Brady shouting in referees faces, yes that does happen. It happens frequently in football but, that’s not the same as post game interviews. Even more importantly, those players are often fined as well. The difference lies in the media, not society. The media tells us we should be outraged, the media labeled him a thug, not society, the media.

    The real outrage should be that Crabtree was not fined at this point for unsportsmanlike conduct. Regardless of Sherman’s words, Crabtree brought physicality to the stage and, the lack of action against him suggests it’s okay in our society to be aggressive with touch but, not with words.

    I think this is largely due to the new anti-bullying campaigns. These campaigns purport that even grown adults can be bullied and, they focus on words. I remember being taught “sticks and stones make break my bones but, words will never hurt me”. Now it seems to be the opposite. We are teaching our children, through our society standards, that they should let words stand in their way. By publicly attacking Sherman for his words and, overlooking Crabtree for his physical approach, we are playing more into the psyche that words are the problem.

    • Ok so take your sensitive little “White Privileged Ears” and Skedaddle – Goodbye!!!

    • I find it absolutely ridiculous that you find it possible to separate media, a tool meant to shape and express the desires of society, and society itself. I find it laughable that you believe white supremacy is not in direct control of the direction in which society moves. It is because of vagabonds like yourself that the oppressive practices of white society are allowed to continue under the guise of social convention. Your innocent mind and virgin ears may choose to neglect this simple fact of life, but I ask that you refrain from expressing ideas that are, quite frankly, stupid as hell and wrong.

  5. brijonez says:

    I know that I am late but I definitely agree with you on this post. In reading your comments, you lost a lot of your white audience when you mentioned the words “white supremecist”. I love how you understand the world around you and do not sugarcoat the truth. I am sick of everyone painting the world in one color. There are many shades and it just so happens that the worst is black. Sherman’s behavior was aggressive but I think it was taken out of context and it was bad timing (indirectly talking to someone in a post-game interview). I think if people had taken the time to assess why he behaved the way he did, as people do when they try to figure out why the poor, white male kills multiple people in a movie theatre, in a school, or a public mall and is labeled as “misguided”. No one labels them a “thug”. I would love for you to post about Beyonce and her Grammy performance although you may be focusing on more educated topics. I am a new follower. I look forward to reading your future posts.

  6. Very well written! I have been thinking about this a lot lately. It angers me to no end that within seconds of his interview people were calling him a thug on Twitter. It’s sickening to me how white people can celebrate amazing victories however they want, but black people have limits.

  7. Afua says:

    Reblogged this on theGemini… and commented:
    A must read!

  8. Racism is ugly just like cancer. It has no place in my life whatsoever. I have met some awesome people of different races and color. I have learned about many people of different cultures and if I hadn’t I wouldn’t have learned about these people who have impacted my life. My wife is African-American and she is just awesome. I love her dearly. Ive learned a lot about myself and who I am. Thanks for sharing this article

  9. bmpaul says:

    Olivia,
    Thank you for sharing this post with us all. I truly admired your courage and unbiased viewpoints. Keep up the work, friend!!

  10. bmpaul says:

    Reblogged this on The Sportanks and commented:
    Now, this is an excellent ‘unbiased’ article written by @oliviaacole

  11. […] targeting of black boys and men because of their race and gender is, as Olivia A. Cole recently wrote on her blog, indicative of the larger way in which black men and boys in America are […]

  12. jprofess says:

    Reblogged this on jprofess and commented:
    Wow!

  13. raufscales says:

    I appreciate your words in regards to black men in America. The truth of the matter is while there is still inequality, between the whiteness and black individuals and other minority groups in the world. There are situations where we perpetuate this image so readily accepted by the majority.Is there a reason that pants sagging so low that you can’t walk, is there reason to use profanity when adequate non-foul language will do it’s not about assimilation it’s about holding yourself to a degree of respect. You are absolutely correct about Richard Sherman and your writing is compelling I enjoyed the message in your article. But when I see a black man pants sagging disrespecting not caring in the street, in an office, I feel sad. Because that is the way we are expected to act and by doing so we perpetuate society’s view of how we are. We did not create this system, this system is a horribly flawed but the system we are in is the reality of our current situation and until we become aware of this and change ourselves in a positive manner, so that they can not use any excuse to put a thumb on a neck until then nothing will change. The truth of the matter is for all the power we say white people have they are scared of us but they don’t need to be because were all human

  14. Brooklyn Jacobin says:

    Reblogged this on Brooklyn Jacobin.

  15. Fonz Hutton says:

    Reblogged this on All things Fonz! and commented:
    Right on. Good post

  16. I like the conversation going on in regards to language used to describe people of color (blacks, hispanics or other) in comparison to non-blacks. However, this idea that that “thug” is being used instead of “nigger” is completely unsubstantiated. Richard Sherman used this claim to deflect away from the fact that he acted like an idiot after the game. I like the conversation, but the way he brought it up was just a way to deflect from his behavior. Just because he has a degree from Stanford and stellar GPA, does not absolve him from being a bad sportsman. Great competitor, poor sportsman. The proper word to describe him after the game is ‘idiot’. And it does not mean that every person who used the word ‘thug’ is a racist.

  17. Reblogged this on Strength and Sense and commented:
    good conversation, brought up by an athlete who did so, just to deflect away from his questionable behavior after a game.

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