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January 28, 2014

Richard Sherman, Race and Coded Language

Photo: AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Editor’s Note: Following the NFC Championship on January 19th, where the Seattle Seahawks defeated the San Francisco 49ers, much attention was paid to Richard Sherman, a player from Seattle. A brief but passionate post-game interview with Sherman became national news. Framed as an angry rant, the continued usage of the word ‘thug’ to describe Sherman racialized the conversation.  In an interview days later, Sherman described the usage of ‘thug’ as code, a more socially acceptable form of the n-word. The We’Ced youth used this recent experience as a jumping off point to discuss the use of coded language, both in this very public incident with Sherman and in our own communities.

Do you agree with Richard Sherman? Can the word ‘thug’ be used as code for the n-word?

Fernando, 17

The word “thug” has a bad connotation. By using that word, it is indirectly stating that the individual is either Black or Hispanic, most likely from a ‘ghetto’ neighborhood and may possibly be involved in gangs or drugs. By using the word “thug” or “ghetto,” a person could be avoiding using the n-word, knowing that if that slur was used the reaction from others would not be good. In simple terms, ‘ghetto’ is okay but using the n-word is not.

Jesus, 18

I would have to agree with Richard Sherman. The word ‘thug’ is code for the n-word. People will find ways to express themselves the way they want to. The coded language that is used around race can make people feel more comfortable, at least in their minds, and feel like they are behaving with proper etiquette.

Lisbeth, 17

I do not agree that ‘thug’ is synonymous with the n-word. Nowadays, I usually hear ‘thug’ being seen as ‘brave’ or a tough person. For example, I hear “Damn, you a thug!” often and its meant to be a compliment in a positive way.

Deborah, 17

I agree with Richard Sherman, the word ‘thug’ is code for the n-word nowadays because the word ‘thug’ is often associated with African-American males. The word ‘thug’ is associated with the stereotype of a gangster. Because its offensive to say the n-word, ‘thug’ is a more acceptable word that replaces it. Even writing the n-word is replacing what it really means. Having to say the n-word itself out loud or even writing it can make you feel like ‘oh, I shouldn’t have said that.’

Maria, 17

I agree that ‘thug’ is innuendo for the n-word because often times in discussions with friends, or if we are talking about recent news, the word ‘thug’ is used loosely and not used for its actual meaning. For example, something I’ve witnessed among peers is when describing Black peers to others, nine out of ten times someone will make it a known ‘fact’ that so-and-so is a ‘straight up thug’ because of the way they act or dress. This is categorizing said person into a pre-defined racial stereotype. When else is a white, Asian or Hispanic person described as a ‘thug’?

Natalie, 17

I would have to say yes and no. It’s a media game that people fall into and it’s not truly ever a good thing. In Sherman’s case, I would have to say yes, ‘thug’ is being used to mean something negative because of how he looks and his background. But in other instances I think it depends on the action that has taken place to give the word  its context. It depends on if someone is having a positive or negative reaction to the word.

 
 


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