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Justify My Thug

Listen, I care more about the state of Jon & Kate’s marriage than I do Perez Hilton, but I gave the guy five minutes of my time yesterday—and I hope I don’t recall that little factoid on my death bed.  (By the way, I think it’s the hair that did it.  Jon’s plugs + Kate’s coiffure by Edward Scissorhands = domestic dystopia.)  Anyway, a Facebook friend of mine (because who has real life friends anymore?) posted Perez’ video response to Black Eyed Peas (BEP) front man, will.i.am on her page, and I watched it.  If you haven’t heard, will.i.am and/or his manager and/or his bodyguards allegedly gave the gossip blogger a people’s elbow or two, because Perez said mean things to Fergie—oh, how I wish he had done so in the name of Kim Hill!—and then called will.i.am a faggot, when the BEP in charge confronted him about it.  I know, right?  Why can’t we all just get along?  Or were you wondering where the other two members of the BEP were in all of this?  Either way, I’m with you.

After the scuffle, Hilton tweeted for “help” and will.i.am made a video blog explaining his side of the situation.  But it was Hilton’s response that really gave me pause.  In the very early moments of video—and I only suggest you watch it in its entirety if you are tickled or intrigued by extemporaneous incoherence—an irate Hilton calls will.i.am a thug.  I know, no big deal, right?  Well, maybe not.  As my grandmother used to tell me, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it.  It’s not the word that you use, but the way you convey it.”  And when I heard Hilton say “thug,” something in the way he said it to me that he was really thinking, what he wanted to say was nigger.

Perhaps this is a stretch, but please bear with me.  Last month, Dallas Mavericks’ owner, Mark Cuban confronted Lydia Moore, the mother of Kenyon Martin, a player on the Denver Nuggets.  At the time, the two teams were in the middle of a rather physical (by 21st century standards; NBA players from the 1980s would scoff at the description) playoff series.  The Nuggets had just won game 3 of the 7-game series in a highly controversial manner, and as he left the court, an angry Cuban thought it prudent to notify Ms. Moore that her son—apparently a very nice man off the court—was a thug.  And it was Mother’s Day.  Classy.

To be clear, I’m not interested in charging Cuban or Hilton with racism.  And there has been and will continue to be plenty of discussion about Hilton’s problematic use of the term faggot to disrespect will.i.am.  As an openly gay person, Hilton will get a pass from many for using the word, but since neither he nor Cuban is black, there’s no way they could have gotten away with calling their respective adversaries nigger, not even if they dropped the -er and replaced it with an -a.  And so, what I am interested in is noting how in instances when the (racial) id can barely be quelled, thug is just a negative version of articulate: (probably) filled to the brim with unspoken assumptions and attitudes about black folks not visible to the unveiled eye.  As the n-word slumbers under six feet of dirt somewhere in Detroit, its DNA seems to have seeped into the soil, providing nutrients to other words, ensuring a tarnished legacy that began on the tips of the tongues of non-blacks.  Thug plays Splenda to nigger‘s sugar.  Eventually, the n-word by any other name will taste as sweet.  In the meantime, I might as well keep track.  That’s (at least) two points for thug.

Personally, I think will.i.am should get a bunch of his celebrity friends together and record a song inspired by Perez’ response.  It might not be as uplifting as “Yes We Can,” but it would be the ultimate dis record.  You know, if you’re a post-backpacking will.i.am.  And it might compel Perez to tell us how he really felt/feels.