Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Thug By Any Other Name...

By Keenan Mann

When I was in the 11th grade I spent a very painful week reading and memorizing parts of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet in Mrs. Overlie's class.  At the time, I wondered how in the world any of what I was reading would ever be of any practical use to me.  All these years later, after my memory of most of the dialogue has all but faded from existence, I found myself trying to recall some of it - unsuccessfully.  Specifically I was looking for the words Juliet used in the most often quoted scene where Juliet is imploring Romeo on a very serious subject.   Lucky for me, the internet has made the need for memorizing anything passe´.  Below is the part to which I was referring.  It's from Act II, Scene II:

O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I'll no longer be a Capulet.
[Aside] Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?
'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;

She used a few more words than Paul Pierce might have to make the same point, but I think Juliet nailed the sentiment nonetheless.  You can call a thing whatever you want, but that won't keep it from being anything other than it is.  That's exactly what I would tell Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the embattled mayor of Baltimore, or anyone else who might feel the need to apologize for hurting someone's feelings or otherwise crossing the red line of political correctness.
Mrs. Rawlings-Blake apparently felt the need to walk back the words she initially used to describe the thuggish behavior that we all saw on our television sets during the her initial press conference. Here's what she said on her first pass:
"What we see tonight ... is very disturbing.  It is very clear that there's a difference between what we saw last week between the peaceful protests ... and the thugs, who only want to incite violence and destroy our city. I'm a life-long resident of Baltimore. Too many generations have spent their lives building up this city to have it destroyed by thugs, who in a very senseless way are trying to tear down what so many have fought for."
Both the tone and the words she chose sounded appropriate to me.  But not all agreed, as evidenced by this excerpt from a Huffington Post article,

"Many who took issue with Rawlings-Blake's use of "thugs," including some of her fellow city leaders, argued that the word is racially charged. Baltimore City Councilman Carl Stokes suggested on Tuesday night that instead of calling the protesters "thugs," she may as well have used the n-word."  
I know this puts me in the minority (of the minority), but I would argue that even the use of the n-word in this case would have been justified, at least based on the non-politically correct definition of the word that I came to understand growing up.

I can recall often looking up the word and declaring that I wasn't one because it was defined as a lazy, ignorant person.  Still, just to make sure I wasn't mis-remembering, I asked my brother to recall his version of what we looked up in Webster's Dictionary some thirty plus years ago and our definitions are all but identical.  So you'll understand why we both asked, "What the hell happened?" when we looked up the word on  The definition is completely unrecognizable.  Victimhood, it seems, is in vogue.

With that in mind, you'll also understand why Mrs. Rawlings-Blake followed her initial remarks with a version more acceptable to the so-called community leaders.  It read:  

"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.  That night we saw misguided young people who need to be held accountable, but who also need support. And my comments then didn't convey that."

Misguided young people? Really, Baltimore leadership?  

Mrs. Overlie, if you ever read this, you'll be glad to know I found a practical application for my reading of that play.

Juliet rightly admonished Romeo for making a distinction without a difference.  In Baltimore, the Honorable Mrs. Rawlings-Blake tried to make two things that are acutely distinct indistinguishable.  A misguided youth might skip school and go to the mall or spend his days playing video games to the detriment of his studies.  A thug, of any color, might burn down a drugstore, loot a shop, or vandalize police a car.  And the people in that community, including the thugs, are being done a great disservice when their community leaders don't do the one thing that all good leaders must do - tell the truth.


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