I wanted to clarify my comments on “thugs.” When you speak out of frustration and anger, one can say things in a way that you don’t mean.
— Mayor Rawlings-Blake (@MayorSRB) April 29, 2015
At this point we’ve come to expect white folks to call black people anything but a child of God when we engage in questionable behavior, but when one of our own gets out-of-pocket by further enforcing the stereotypes they fall victim to as well, the offense is nearly unforgivable.
That’s how many feel about Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake who, on national television, referred to the individuals rioting in her city as “thugs who only want to incite violence and destroy our city.” You can call her words a mere slip of the tongue, but even if that were the case, the slip is an inexcusable one because Rawlings-Blake knows better.
It’s amazing that we’re still in the same place with news coverage as it relates to uprisings among African-Americans in cities across the country, but considering the fact that we’re still witnessing the slaughter of numerous black males across the nation at the hands of police, this fact shouldn’t be all that surprising. But because in so many of these situations we, as Black people, find ourselves at the mercy of white authority when it comes to how we’re allowed to react in these situations and most certainly the justice we receive – if any – it is especially disappointing to see a black woman in Rawlings-Blake’s position essentially give credence to the notions society already has about black men with her poor choice of words. Black men don’t have feelings, they don’t have unmet needs, they aren’t frustrated by their living conditions and their inability to provide for their family; they simply want to tear down their communities because they’re animalistic just like white people have always said they are.
And to make matters worse, not only did Rawlings-Blake never apologize for the way she misspoke, she only took to Twitter to “clarify” her comments, simply excusing what she said by tweeting: “When you speak out of frustration and anger, one can say things in a way that you don’t mean.” Sorry, but in times like this and for a woman in her position, it’s time out for saying things in a way you don’t mean that have consequences that reach far beyond the parameters of her city.
As we approach the 10-year anniversary of Katrina, it’s a shame little difference can be seen in news coverage of African-Americans in the past decade. Victims of the 2005 hurricane in New Orleans were referred to as looters for taking supplies to simply survive and in 2015 we see frustrated residents in poor, downtrodden communities being called thugs by the people who should be able to identify with their struggle the most. Of course, breaking glass windows and burning down facilities doesn’t solve anything, but people in Baltimore are using the only tool they feel they have to take a stand and make people pay attention. African-Americans’ voices certainly haven’t been heard when it comes to the blatant life inequality in the city. Who are they supposed to turn to for help? The police who’ve demonstrated time and time again that they are no friend to Black men? The leaders who call them thugs instead of using their outcry as an opportunity to address their frustrations?
The problem with what Rawlings-Blake said is two-fold. Not only did she further criminalize the image of African-Americans in the national spotlight, she missed an opportunity to speak out about the very things that are making residents flip over squad cars and destroy businesses. Now the attention has turned away from the real issue in Baltimore – Freddie Gray’s death and the heinous crimes purported against so many other men like him – to Black people being barbarians. Why Rawlings-Blake as a self-proclaimed “life-long resident of Baltimore” doesn’t understand that is beyond me.
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