Calling Justin Bieber a thug does not make the racial insults hurled at Richard Sherman any more palatable, so let’s stop with that half-hearted campaign.
Yes, we have work to do with racism in this country and there are very real and clear disparities in how people of different races are portrayed in the media and handled in the justice system.
But under no circumstances is Bieber a thug. He’s a 19-year-old singer who got popped for a DUI while allegedly drag racing and is accused of egging a neighbor’s house. No thug in the history of thuggery ever egged anyone’s home. Sure, he was filmed urinating in a restaurant’s mop bucket, got into a physical altercation with a DJ over song selection, had his home raided by police last week (part of the egging investigation) and has a bevy of friends with “Lil” in their names, but that makes him seem more like an entitled brat who wants a tough guy image, not a thug.
Sherman is a talented, 25-year-old, Compton-raised, Stanford-educated, trash-talking NFL cornerback who is going to the Super Bowl. He’s no thug either. His amped on-field interview after winning the NFC championship game generated an onslaught of racist bile via social media and “thug” was a frequent word used to describe him. In a press conference a few days after, Sherman acknowledged that his boastful tirade might have been immature, but maintained that calling him a thug was the more politically correct version of calling him the n-word.
“The only reason it bothers me is it seems like it’s an accepted way of calling someone the n-word nowadays. It’s like everybody else said the n-word and they said thug and they’re like, ‘that’s fine.’ That’s where it kind of takes me aback. It’s kind of disappointing because they know. What is the definition of a thug, really,” said Sherman.
Bieber hasn’t been called a thug because he’s not one and his white skin and Canadian birth certificate prevent most people from calling him that regardless of his behavior. Sherman has been called a thug because he’s a black male athlete who is unafraid to remind everyone about his domination on the football field and he occasionally does that in a spirited way.
Instead of trying to put the square thug peg into the round slot that is Bieber, we should instead focus that energy on changing the long-held perception of black men as violent, dangerous beings. Calling Bieber a thug is just a continuation of misusing labels. The more practical but also much more difficult course of action is to have a nuanced national conversation about this country’s obsession with assigning aggression to every black male action.
As far as Bieber is concerned, there is another important issue attached to his and that is immigration. In a recent blog post, the ACLU pointed out that if Canadian citizen/American resident Bieber were more like his non-famous fellow immigrants, his recent run-ins with the law would likely lead to deportation. But Bieber is white, is from a predominately white country and has millions of dollars. We have an idea of how the deportation story will end for him and it is very different than the ending might be for, say, a Haitian immigrant whose home was raided and who was arrested for a DUI, drag racing and driving with an expired license.
There are obvious double standards in this country. How do we address them in a productive way?