The Word Thug is not Code for Black

I use the word to describe bullying, threatening, behavior. It has nothing to do with race. For instance, Congressman’s Michael Grimm’s response to the reporter was thuggish. “I will break you in half, like a boy.” Yeah, I’m as perplexed as everyone as to what that even means. Do boys break in half differently than girls or men or women? Or is he saying he’s going regress and break the reporter in half like a boy might do it?

Back to thug. Conductor John Eliot Gardiner used the word to describe Bach, for christ’s sake! β€œIt is just as credible that the bewigged cantor-to-be was the third in a line of delinquent school prefects β€” a reformed teenage thug.” (From the new book Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven.) But my experience is not everyone’s. Have other people found the word “thug” applied disproportionately to blacks?

Yet another cat picture. I need to spend a day taking pictures of other things besides cats.


Stacy Horn

I've written six non-fiction books, the most recent is Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York.

View all posts by Stacy Horn →

2 thoughts on “The Word Thug is not Code for Black

  1. Stacey, I don’t have Outlook, so I can’t find your email, but… I read and enjoyed Imperfect Harmony, and even cited it in a blog I wrote for a professional facebook page.
    Well, I was just watching PBS’ History Detectives. A show that aired on 01/08/2013, called bill of Sale, Cobb Powder Horn and The Star Spangled Banner. It talks about a manuscript done by the committee that standardized the national anthem. One of the committee members was your guy, Damrosch. And there is a “very important to sopranos” issue the manuscript deals with! If your haven’t seen that episode, you really should.
    Donna Stuart

  2. Hi Donna! I saw that episode! I love History Detectives! I remember screaming at my tv when Damrosch’s name came up. But was it his brother Walter? Now I can’t remember.

    And thank you for saying you enjoyed Imperfect Harmony and for citing it on Facebook!! I really appreciate that!!

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