Thoughts on the “t-word”

UPDATE: Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake backtracks on her earlier comments using the word “thug.” Will President Obama do the same? Apparently not!


The riots in Baltimore may have solidified yet another word for which we must be careful with its use.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was widely criticized by activists and pundits in using the word “thug” during a press update in wake of the unrest. Activists decry “thug” to address black men who commit crimes.

The association between black criminals and the now-t-word is nothing new. Liberal pundits have for some time now — back to the Bush White House at least — noted that the right-wing was using certain “buzzwords” when it came to the identity of criminal black people. The word thug has certainly been such a buzzword. However, the main definition for the word thug is “a violent person, especially a criminal.” Nothing about that person being black. However, most detrimental terms for blacks, or African-Americans, do not mention that certain words are a slur. For instance, the word “coon” is defined as short for a racoon.

Some black friends of mine whom I haven’t seen in awhile but I mostly keep up with online seemed to find funny the mid-20th century descriptive “Negro.” Some laughed but others chafed at the term “colored” for black. As black friends asked to people who mentioned something involving a black person as colored: “Oh, what color was he/she?” I even knew some black people who, like me, simmered upon a white (or even black) using the offensive word “Nigger.” I also felt bad, and perhaps many blacks may have felt sadness, when little old white ladies of Southern upbringing using what they believed as a “genteel” word: “Nigra.”

Of course, there were other blacks and some whites who might just open up a king-sized can of whoop ass on some who used anything related to the N-word.

During the short time I covered secondary and higher education was when I first discovered the language of the disabled.

Activists who spoke for the disabled came to me with a whole big list of politically correct terms that they wanted me and the newspaper to use in coverage. I can’t remember most of them as this was 20 years ago. But these were the language from which “special needs” and “learning challenged” emerged.

But the fact is one cannot change all words for every group, every person in a group. I do not want to seem cynical here, but perhaps the only way to develop less hurtful words for usage is to develop their own language.

Think of this. If we change every single word that is offensive to one group, then what if these words have a special meaning to another group? Then what? What then? What does it all mean?

What questions for our times with answers to these questions way beyond my pay grade. And I’m not kidding.