DISCUSS: Is “Thug” Really a Racist Term?

Earlier today, Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman addressed the inexplicably white-hot controversy he started by going on a furious post-game diatribe this past Sunday after the Seahawks’ victory over the 49ers. He expressed regret for voicing his anger, but he also called out those who assailed him for his rant by labeling him a “thug.”

Here’s what he said about it:

“The only reason it bothers me is because it seems like it’s the accepted way of calling somebody the N-word nowadays. It’s like everybody else said the N-word, and then they say ‘thug.’ And that’s fine. That’s where it’s kind of, you know, it kind of takes me aback. And it’s kind of disappointing because they know. What’s the definition of a thug, really?”

According to Dictionary.com, a thug is a cruel or vicious ruffian, robber, or murderer. The word originated in India and was used to describe members of a very specific cult of professional criminals. In other words, unless you’re an Indian gangster, it’s an ethnically and racially neutral term. But Sherman’s right when he says that not everyone uses it that way, particularly when they’re throwing it out in an accusatory manner.

I’m old enough to remember a time when calling someone a thug really was just a way of saying that a person is brutal and dangerous. But it was adopted as a kind of boast by a certain segment of hip-hop culture back in the early 90s and it stuck, so it’s no surprise that there’s now an inextricable racial subtext to it.

So what do you think — is “thug” a racist term? Has the more recent connotation irrevocably supplanted the original meaning?

Chez Pazienza was the beating heart of The Daily Banter, sadly passing away on February 25, 2017. His voice remains ever present at the Banter, and his influence as powerful as ever.