Archives for June 2015

Wrung Out

Wrung Out

I feel wrung out.  First a balcony collapses here in Berkeley killing six young people – five from Ireland – and injuring seven more. In my town – a building approved by my city. The full inspection information is not in, but the suggestion is that the balcony was full of dry rot.  This was a fairly new building – luxury apartments.  Full of students. Might this be a case of corporate malfeasance – someone taking a shortcut to amass more profit?

And then almost immediately after comes the news of Charleston. A boy the same age as the young people on the balcony murders nine people, accusing them – some women – one 88 years old – of “raping our women.” A young man infused with hate who thinks what he has done is morally correct..

Should I have been so surprised by either of these things? The roots of both are in our “profit first” society. Chattel slavery is the epitome of “profit first.” Kidnap innocent people, load them like logs on a ship to come to the “new” world, where sixty million of them died before even making it to the slave market. Sixty million! We’re horrified by the six million Jews killed in Nazi Germany.  Why are we not horrified by the sixty million thrown overboard like chaff? The ones who survived were beaten if they did not work hard enough to bring in the cotton; they were bred like cattle and their children – an extra profit beyond the profit from their work – were sold.

For some reason many people in this country think we are beyond all that – our ugly past is past.  But I believe it is our refusal to recognize our guilt, to acknowledge the horror of what our country did that leads to the kind of act that happened at Mother Emmanuel Church Wednesday night. Rather than recognize our own racism, rather than owning our past and working to make amends for it, we blame the victim. “It happened because something is wrong with them. They rape our women.” Or, “they’re lazy, welfare cheats,” “criminals”.  We make up stories about the people we’ve hurt, who we don’t want to face, and then go on hurting and hurting and hurting them.

Some of these stories are being propagated by pundits on the so called news presented by the corporate media and seeping into the impressionable brains of young people like the murderer, Dylann Roof. Why? Where is the profit in promoting racism?

Divide and conquer is certainly part of the strategy.  We cannot unite to make sure we have safe working conditions, safe emissions from factories, safe drinking water, safe food to eat if we are busy blaming our problems on black people. It’s a sleight of hand.  While one hand is stealing our commons, polluting our land and water, sending jobs overseas, etc., etc., etc., the other is pointing at “those folks” (black people, immigrants, and more) suggesting that it’s all “their” fault.

It’s time to open our eyes.  It’s time for reconciliation, for studying our true history, for recognizing that our country’s history has not been all goodness and light.  It’s time to see each other in all our complexities, good and bad. It’s time to embrace each other and care – really care.



What do we mean when we call someone a thug? If you google it, you find the meaning of this word is all over the place these days.

The urban dictionary says:

As Tupac defined it, a thug is someone who is going through struggles, has gone through struggles, and continues to live day by day with nothing for them. That person is a thug and the life they are living is the thug life. A thug is NOT a gangster. Look up gangster and gangsta. Not even CLOSE, my friend.

“That boy ain’t a gangsta, fo’sho’. Look at how he walks, he’s a thug… That’s the saddest face I’ve seen in all my life as a teen.”

Historically the word “thug” has been used to mean people who gang up and beat up others.  It originates in India – a group of robbers who attacked people, beating them up and killing them in the name of Kali, the defeater of demons. Did these people think the people they attacked were demons or is this just another of the many examples of people taking the name of some god or goddess or religion and twisting it to suit their own personal needs? (I’m tempted to segue into research about these original “thugs”, but I’ll refrain and bring the discussion back to today!)

Until recently I associated this term with fascism.  The historically earliest use of the term that I remember reading about was when “thugs” hired by companies attacked labor organizers.  In some historical accounts the Pinkertons and other hired militias were referred to as “thugs”.

Before World War II there were “fascist thugs” who attacked labor organizers, Jews, and others in Italy and in Germany.

Even today the words “anti-union thug” can be found in articles on the internet although they are talking about a metaphoric “beating”, rather than a physical one.

But mostly today I see the word used by white people on elists and comment sections as a code word for “black or brown man” (sometimes women, too).  I guess these people think they can claim not to be racist because they never identified the people they’re talking about as black or brown – even though it’s clear to everyone.

I do understand what Tupac was talking about in the quote above. I see young black men in my neighborhood looking lost. I had a conversation with a young black man in a class I was taking who said a third of his high school classmates were dead. Where are these young men to find grounding when we both haven’t prepared them for adult life in our society, and even when they are prepared, there are no jobs for them – where those hiring take one look at them and turn them down because they’re black.

But I have a hard time referring to these young men as “thugs”, even using Tupac’s definition.  I want us to stop using this word and start seeing each person in front of us as a complex human being whose life might be awash with fear, with violence, neglect, and the low self-esteem that comes from being immersed in the values of a racist society.

Please, no more name calling!