You may remember that Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman was quite excited after his team just won the NFC Championship game. Sherman was instrumental in helping his team to achieve that victory. He spoke emphatically and aggressively. He also spoke dismissively of rival football player, wide receiver Michael Crabtree of the San Francisco Forty Niners. Sherman was fined. He was also excoriated in social media and by more than a few pundits as a thug. A great many people made racist ugly comments about Sherman's intelligence, his family, his class, his race and black people in general. The people making these sorts of attacks on Sherman did not care that he was a Stanford graduate, was obtaining a Masters Degree, or most importantly had no record of criminal arrests or convictions. AFAIK no one has accused him of domestic abuse, drug sales, bar fights, child abuse, drug usage or anything else that might indicate violent or criminal tendencies. All that is public record about Sherman is that occasionally he likes to run his mouth on the football field. These public attacks on Sherman weren't just your normal attacks by conservative/racist whites. They also included people like liberal/moderate law professor Jonathan Turley. Unconscious stereotyping and unexamined bigotry cross all political lines.
You may not recall that CNBC commentator and derivatives trader Rick Santelli is also a very excitable man. He happens to lean conservative. His initial rant about the possibility of bailing out underwater homeowners is credited with helping to start Tea Party movements across the United State. Recently, as Princeton Economist and NYT opinion columnist Paul Krugman has been predicting, more financial commentators and economists are starting to notice that the very specific predictions about the economy made by conservative pundits like Santelli have simply not come true. In fact, sometimes the exact opposite has happened. When Santelli was called out on television about his consistently incorrect financial predictions he became very agitated, aggressive and extremely loud, probably about as loud as Sherman was. But from what I can see twitter and other social media has not exploded with racist vitriol towards Santelli. There don't seem to be many people questioning his intelligence or whether he got special assistance in admission to or graduation from his alma mater. I don't seem to find too many people calling Santelli a thug or making offensive links between his ethnic background and his behavior. Santelli is not of course someone with the same national profile as Sherman but still. Talking smack may well be more of a black athlete thing than a white one but there have been more than a few white athletes who can talk smack with the best of them and aren't called thugs. Although there have been successful introverts in the career paths of both Santelli and Sherman, their chosen jobs tend to be filled with people who are confident, loud, aggressive and don't mind letting you know about how good they are.
Now anyone who knows me in real life would tell you that I am generally pretty introverted and quiet. If I get angry with someone initially it usually comes across as ice and coldness instead of heat and fire. It takes a lot before I raise my voice or start sputtering insults. That's what I've been told anyway. That's neither good not bad. It's just the way I am. Sometimes I think it would be useful to be more fiery like some people I know. But that's not me. The chances of me sounding like either Santelli or Sherman are extremely low. Outside of a few relatives or other special people I'm not overly fond of excitable, boisterous, loud people. That said, I also know that everyone is different and just because someone's personality or mode of expression is different than mine doesn't tell me anything about that person. I think that I can usually get my point across without yelling or raising my voice. Other people have much lower thresholds for increases in volume or irritation. So it goes. The problem I have with the different reactions to the Santelli/Sherman rants is that these reactions have very real impact on all black people, regardless of gender, age, or personality type. These double standards count. The white law professor and the white police officer may have very different ways of seeing the world. They may vote for diametrically opposed candidates. But if they both immediately think "thug" when they see or hear a loud black man, that could lead to things like this. An unarmed black man allegedly resists arrest and is immediately swarmed, taken down and killed. An armed white man tells the Federal government what they had better not do and is still walking free.
These double standards and perception differences around the same behavior in different people are one of the definitions of racism. They need to be identified, called out and resisted as often as possible. Not getting hired or promoted or treated equally in the workplace is more common and much less painful than getting harassed, beaten or killed by the police. But the same ugly mentality is behind both responses. It's a mentality that still sees a black person as the dangerous other, who is not to be trusted or treated the same as whites. To be called a "thug" by apparently no small number of people all a black man has to do is speak loudly. For society to even think about granting a white man that title he would actually have to go out and beat or kill someone, you know, actually meet the definition of the word. But even then that might not be enough. Sherman is not a thug.
This is a thug. See the difference?