You may be irreverent, but you are no thug.
… and you already know this, but it hasn’t stopped ignorant behavior in the last two weeks on social media.
It hasn’t stopped lots of Mormons who should know better but act like they don’t and instead want myself, and other MOCs (Mormons of Color) to “just lighten up!”
Since there is no lightening up – neither here nor in the afterlife nor on the way to glory (and I don’t care what your parents told you about brown people turning white based on righteousness) – let me stand straight in this crooked room for a bit and take a break from my normal writing focus.
Here’s my open letter (of sorts) full of random commentary to all of the LDS folks flashing #thugmormon on social media in these last 2 weeks,
You’re. Not. Thugs.
Y’all. For real. How did this happen? I have so many questions! Fill me in, is this another Restoration thing? Did I miss the memo? You know we Mormons love to restore stuff and tell people the real meaning of a regularly (or not) recurring phenomena… like baptism, the Trinity, the Godhead, masonry, temples, who can give blessings, how to translate ancient writings, etc.
And now, you want to redefine thug for the rest of us? You realize that we’re the folks whose lives are marginalized by the word “thug” in mainstream and conservative Republican media, and you want to own it as if it’s a cute accessory to wear? For how long, just until you get bored of the attention and need something else to stay on the radar?
Are you trying to be funny? Is my favorite Mormon funny man calling himself a thug?
Who’s responsible for this mess? Who thought this was a good idea?
Virtuous? Lovely? Good report? Praiseworthy?
This is what we’re seeking after? Thug Mormons?
Is this a thing? Or is it a joke, you know, like what we Mormons usually are to the mainstream world….
You realize you’re acting like a bunch of pre-pubescent teenagers who are trying to be cool with the rest of their friends, right? Mormons are always the nerdy kid on the outskirts of the religious cool kids club. We always have been. White Mormons were some of the first to be friends with the outcasts in America, until it cost you your whiteness, and then you changed tunes so that you could get statehood when Utah was still in Mexico and you’ve been distancing yourselves ever since. But now you wanna be thugs? And you want Mormons of color to be okay with it?
Explain that to me.
“And I’m a Mormon” too, y’all. But I’m not, nor will I ever be, a #thugmormon, because I know how language works and I’m not naïve or entitled enough to believe that my minority status as a Mormon of Color in the LDS Church– just like your religious minority status as a White Mormon in America – is enough to make anything equal in a land of racist rhetoric like ours.
However, what you have that I don’t and will never possess, is racial privilege which allows you to joke, not just as Mormons but as white people in America (even though you are swelling the ranks with people of color’s conversions internationally).
Listen, I know it seemed like a great idea to “poke fun” about the radio host who called BYU a “religious school with a football team of thugs” because “Religious School/BYU? Thugs? Haha, yeah right. That’s flippin funny shiz.”
Translation: BYU is a bunch of religious white people, and there’s no way white people can be thugs! (but you saw how the picture used in the radio host’s article didn’t include any white guys, right? You saw that. It was about the dudes who performed the haka and got into the brawl last year. Men of Color.)
Invisible White Privilege Translation: We can’t be thugs because that’s only reserved for the non-white people on our football team! Especially when we aren’t playing football!
Idiot Translation because you have no idea how much white privilege blinds you and causes harm to others: LET’S MAKE A HASHTAG OUT OF IT AND CALL OURSELVES THUG MORMONS!! IT’LL BE AWESOME**!!!
**only for White Mormons.
And so it commenced…. All of these #thugmormon social media posts based in open rebellion of Mormon Culture.
I was waiting on the ProgMos though because the Progressive Mormons, man, they have their finger on the pulse of LDS Culture. They know when unbelievable injustice happens! They speak up! They quote black leadership as if racism towards black people is over in the Church since 1978, and MLK or Rosa Parks or Nelson Mandela’s words need to be picked up, dusted off and restored to a new fight for oppressions experienced by white mormons! They apologize for each time they co-opt people of color or forget to invite people of color again, and again, and again. But hey… maybe this time, they’ll jump on it from the beginning and not get hit with another case of afterthought-edema (a swelling of ideas after the fact).
I believed in them. I thought that they’d see this as a HUGE opportunity to highlight the Church’s inequitable treatment of its diverse membership, point out some of the bullying, right? Because that’s what thugs do in conservative media and in their webster dictionary definition – they harm things and other people.
If anybody would get it, the ProgMos would get it. They’d get what it means when brown and black people are called thugs for “destroying their own community” right? Because progressive Mormons know what it’s like to see their communities ostracized, forgotten, denied, and disparaged in the Mormon Church. They’re passionate about it! They’d jump on all of the negative things associated with the word “thug” to point out to the Church and other Mormons that this could get ugly if we were to be honest, right? They’d say “let’s not play around with fire unless we really want something to burn.” Right?
I thought I’d see folks speaking truth to power, like, on some real radical stuff:
- i speak up about the lack of equal gender representation in leadership #thugmormon
- Mom sat in the circle to bless the baby #thugmormon
- Single sister acts as an uninvited 3rd witness to a baptism #thugmormon
- Gay LDS Couple crashes a ring ceremony with legal marriage certificate begrudingly signed by Kim Davis #thugmormon
I was hoping they’d maybe get really Godfather-esque or Scarface (some of the Original Movie Gangsters) about it and focus on the harm attributed to thug behavior:
- Excommunicating people for asking too many questions #thugmormon
- Witholding temple recommends for going off manual when teaching gospel doctrine #thugmormon
- Last ones to integrate Priesthood leadership after calling the Civil Rights Movement communist #thugmormon
- Top LDS leadership members of racist John Birch Society in the 1960’s #thugmormon
- Dragging our feet for 34 years to change the Official Declaration 2 heading to reflect less racism #thugmormon
- Waiting until the dead of night in December 2013 to release the Race and the Priesthood essay, then saying nothing about it ever over the pulpit to date #thugmormon
- Releasing teachers who talk about the race and the priesthood essay #thugmormon
- Talking about religious freedom in order to be against marriage equality and then ignoring the burning of black churches or massacre of black Christians at Bible study #thugmormon
- Protecting our right to polygamy and our own little theocracy, #mountainmeadowsmassacre #thugmormon
But nope, nothing radical, historical, or honest of the sort…..
Instead, folks started posting about dating guidelines, prolonged virginity, refusing callings, cooking weird food, drinking coffee and caffeine, the kinds of clothes they wear, their home or visiting teaching, watching risky television, and skipping one of the three hours of church and calling themselves #thugmormons.
Are you kidding me? It was like living in the twilight zone. How did y’all mess this up, especially you, Progressives?
Truth be told, I saw zero Mormons of Color running around talking about being “thug” anything. It’s not a costume we get to put on and take off. It’s not something we play around with. Thug has evolved from something negative into something even more negative. And my fellow non-melanite Mormons, somehow, are either the last to know, or are added to the group of many who just don’t know enough to care.
I tried to have this conversation with a few people that I thought were friends because, surely, our friendship mattered enough for them to hear me out. It was peculiar to me that the only people seeming to enjoy this play on words were white. It worried me to see – and know – that it was funny only because it was “lilly white mormons” calling themselves thugs and nothing could be further from the truth at BYU, you would think. Those athletes that get suspended each year, nobody’s talking about them unless they are winning games, volunteering in prisons, or repenting from honor code violations.
It was like watching this big inside joke that included Mormons and yet excluded so many Mormons of Color at the very same time.
I noticed that nobody I knew that had a lot of melanin in their skin was calling themselves a #thugmormon. I think we’re too busy trying to not “fit the description” adhered to by racists that call us thugs, to willingly hashtag ourselves into this foolishness.
I was confused that whenever a protest against police brutality popped up in social media, lots of non-melanite Mormons on my timeline had plenty to say about “thugs” and it wasn’t about skipping church, leaving early, or lying about your hometeaching. It was shaming and blaming and distancing and disparaging. It was the stuff that makes me hate social media on Saturday because I have to see these same people on Sunday and share a sacrament tray while giving them a look that says, “take two pieces of bread and 3 extra waters for that crap you posted on my timeline that you “thought I could appreciate.” Well I didn’t appreciate it and you better be thankful for the Atonement otherwise I might never make it to heaven staying in the same ward with you. You know what, just eat the whole damn tray. You need it. And I need them to re-institute wine in the sacrament, or at least strike a deal with Martinelli’s. I’m gonna have to put this on my tithing slip.”
I thought I had friends who, if I said OUCH! Watch your language! – they’d pause and say – “oh my frickin heck, LaShawn! I got carried away using some really fetchin’ insensitive language. Thug is a word that will never follow me the way it follows black and brown people in the US. I wouldn’t want anyone treating my heritage as a Mormon the way I’m treating your current reality as a black person.”
But the ones I expected to be open to hearing didn’t pause. They didn’t even try to hear that I was taking a huge risk in asking them to consider their language.
“What’s the big deal, LaShawn? Thug doesn’t even mean what you think it means!”
To which, I’d reply – if it doesn’t mean what I think it means, then it doesn’t mean what you think it means either. Isn’t that fair?
Nope, white privilege says it only means what white mormons who want to make fun of a reality they will never inhabit want it to mean, which is “it’s funny to me, LaShawn, so laugh, even if it’s a justification of your death at the hands of another for you.”
I tried to say, “you know the word has evolved to being the new nword, right? You saying #thugmormon is like you
saying #nwordmormon — you get that right?” I was channeling what I teach my students about telling someone that they said something racist.
Nope. They didn’t. They just said I was making a big deal out of nothing. I kept trying. I said Mormon is my identity too and I don’t appreciate you flaunting this idea of #thugmormon. That’s not how I want to be recognized as your sister in the gospel.
Yet, I was so obviously reminded that no, Mormon was not my identity as a woman of color. It was a borrowed white identity, and as such, they could joke about whatever they wanted. Regardless of my feelings about their jokes.
So, I did what any person who is silenced by privilege and racism does – I went and looked up the word thug. I found three different definitions – a historical, linguistic one, the version created by Tupac, and the NPR discussion as well as the Atlantic article on how thug is used today.
None of which were anything that Mormons should want to have associated with their identity, so why were they so attached and so defensive about their attachment? It doesn’t make sense to me unless you have privilege to spare. Unless you know it’s a temporary thing, a joke at someone else’s expense.
And maybe, being Mormon, there are white people who feel they need to have a joke at someone else’s expense because they have been the joke for others (is Romney going to try to run again? Sheesh.) And then to the rest of us who are also Mormon with melanin, who know better than to associate ourselves with the ignorant hashtag, we recognize the racism within which we live, not in some distant past that was alleviated in 1978, but in our present and foreseeable future at this point.
This is what makes racism a parasitic disease, as a person of color you are forced to question your reality and prove that you feel pain to people who are privileged enough to ignore when they are inflicting it. They live in a system built to protect their entitlement, yet will not hesitate to capitalize on the backs of your lived experience.
You wanna talk about definitions of a thug, then go to the icon. Tupac said it best, “when I’m saying thug, I mean, not criminal, someone that beats you over the head, I mean the underdog. The person that nothing succeeds – he’s a thug, cuz he overcame all obstacles, it doesn’t have anything to do with the dictionary’s version of thug. To me, thug is my pride. Not being someone who goes against the law, not being someone that takes, but being someone that has nothing, and that even though I have nothing, and there’s no home for me to go to, my head is up high, my chest is out, I walk tall, I talk loud, I’m being strong.”
When that radio host blasted the men of color who are members of the BYU football team, it was not the time for White Mormons to co-opt an experience and make a joke out of it at the expense of Mormons of color. It was time for white Mormons collectively, and BYU as a whole, to defend their players by supporting their presence on the team, not making a mockery of the racism that impacts the lived experiences of their team members off the field.
I’ve always expected better of Mormons, particularly living here in Utah, USA. I expect us to get it because supposedly we already have it (the Truth, the restored Gospel, etc.) and consistently I’m disappointed in our most loud and public behaviors. Sure, I can laugh at jokes made by white Mormons about being thugs because it’s always fun to “make fun of yourselves” but that’s not what this is. I know what I’m laughing at and I know why it’s funny on some level of shared culture just as much as it’s not funny on some nuance of not shared lived experience, so I stop laughing.
If you really want to be of one heart and one mind, you may want to consider doing the same.
LaShawn — I missed out on this whole episode; not on a lot of social media and don’t watch any BYU sports. But apparently some insensitive or ignorant people made a poor joke that offended people of color. Though I had nothing to do with the incident or repetition of the hashtags (I don’t even know how to use them), I am so sorry. I apologize to you, on behalf of those who made these jokes; on behalf of all Mormons; on behalf of all people of lighter skin. I’m seriously sorry, sorry, sorry. We all need sensitivity training for sure on these issues.
” do the best you can until you know better. Once you know better, do better.” Maya Angelou
I think Mormons are running out of the “we didn’t know any better” cards.
I think Jesus was the first sensitivity trainer, too. so people need to grab their personal copies of the lesson plan again. That whole “do unto others” thing.
Do you think if Mormons of color ran around redefining what it means to be Mormon, we’d get the same leeway? Sure does make me wonder.
Thanks for your comment.
LaShawn, I wish Mormons of color could help redefine what it means to be Mormon. A good but imperfect church needs schooling sometimes. Great article.
Hey Randy, if we have a running wager of how quickly it would be shut down by folks “choosing to take offense,” we might have something.
So, I decided to educate myself a little about this. I hadn’t seen any of the hashtags although I did see it mentioned by our mutual friend (as I told you in a private message) stating that the hashtag shouldn’t be used; I didn’t do any investigating beyond that until I read your post.
I went to Twitter to find Welch’s original #thugmormon hashtag. I couldn’t find it. I asked some of my BYU Cougar friends where it was and they said it got taken down. Hmmm.
So a white sports commentator made a thug comment about some brown football players and the tweet got taken down. It seems that someone got the memo that attaching the word “thug” to people of color was a bad idea.
Most of the pictures I found on LDS.net are white Mormons doing and wearing, what I see as, racist things. I have no idea how this flew under my radar. Seems like someone needs to watch the movie, “Dear White People.”
Sorry you had to be the Watchperson from the tower pointing out this sin to me.
LaShawn – agreed. Mormons ARE running out of the “I didn’t know better card”.
Good calling out. Needed to be said. Sharing this like wild fire.
The sad thing about me regarding this article is that I had no idea what was going on until the end. We really should not as Christians poke fun at the expense of other people. I do not think the majority of us do, so I am satisfied that those who do need some time to reflect and repent.
Occasionally I find myself doing that and I have to check myself. I do not feel it is acceptable to poke fun at my race and ethnicity or any other person’s race or ethnicity. I avoid it and anything like unto it in all situation.
Life can be so much fun if we can move past all of these things, but since we can not, we have to keep reminding each other.
That scripture, “love thy neighbor as thyself” speaks volumes when we see how we treat each other. Its as if we’ve forgotten how, and what, to read.
Hate to break it to you, but the word thug does not have anything to do with people of color.
a violent person, especially a criminal.
synonyms: ruffian, hooligan, vandal, hoodlum, gangster, villain, criminal; More
a member of a religious organization of robbers and assassins in India. Devotees of the goddess Kali, the Thugs waylaid and strangled their victims, usually travelers, in a ritually prescribed manner. They were suppressed by the British in the 1830s.
So the term Thug, by definition, has nothing to do with race, although you could make an argument for Indians. It has everything to do with behaviour and actions. The radio announcer was referring to their actions I assume. Everyone using thugmormon are doing so ironically because being a “thug” aka ruffian, hooligan, etc is in contradiction to being a mormon, aka latter day saint, and irony is a fairly common form of comedy. although, admittedly not a great form.
That being said, I fully agree that different treatment because of race is completely wrong. We are all gods children should be treated equally. I do have to say the tone of your message leaves me feeling an “us vs them” attitude, and you are stereotyping all white people as one way, and people of color another way.” And overall a lot of animosity towards white people. Are there plenty of examples that validate your position? Sure, but letting them steal away your charity and replace it with anger doesn’t help anyone or anything. Anger never wins. If Christ responded to those who despised and mistreated him with anger, even deserved anger, his message wouldn’t have been very effective. And honestly, I think your message could have been so much more powerful if it came from love and charity. The scriptures and modern prophets talk specifically about being “easily offended” and choosing to take offense, I think you might want to research it. It sounds like you have a lot of other concerns with church history that you may eant to get answered. Since i do believe in the core of youe message, I will commit to doing more to treat my colored brothers and sisters in this world as equals.
This is what trolling looks like, right? Good job.
I addressed the original meaning of thug and its evolution in my post. It seems as though you stopped there and took your own perspective as the irrefutable “hate to break it to you, but you’re wrong” truth.
To be honest, my purpose in writing this post was to express that I’m interested in the effects of the word “thug” presently on a particular demographic of black and brown people and the insensitivity of mostly non black and brown people, who are not subjected to the humiliation and dismissal of your dignity by being labeled with the word, but choose to use it as a joke.
If you would have the same dictionary defense for using the R word and Mormon, because it’s a way to poke fun at sports fans who are sore losers or jealous, as you seem to be implying, then that’s fine.
It’s not like I’m surprised by your approach to defend your right to offend. This is exactly what the shame of racial privilege sounds like. And I’m interested in why you find my opinion to be ahh less valid than the one you’ve gained by quoting the same dictionary that I quoted in my post while highlighting the evolution of the word into its present, popular, and cultural meaning with regard to black and brown people in America.
I also live in Utah. I have to keep reminding myself – a sort of mantra – “Not all Mormons are smug and devoid of empathy.”
Some days it gets kind of hard to believe. I’m glad you’re still pissed about this: it gets too easy for me to shrug and say “well what do you expect from Mormons? Empathy? Respect? Ha!” I shouldn’t be so cynical. We need voices like yours to ring and call out what is not acceptable.
I think Mormons need to be more aware of the audience just as much as their intentions. Language is something where you can intend the best and still injure. Mormons should know better by now. The evidence of their behaviors points to the contrary. A stiffneckedness if you will.
I saw also anger in LaShawn’s article. But because I really paid attention to her message, I understood that her anger was justified. And necessary. Please don’t feel defensive. Try to see that she is articulating an injustice and instead of recoiling at her angry articulation, try to understand why she is angry. We promise at baptism to mourn one with another. We can’t mourn with each other unless we know what the mourning is about.
I wasn’t aware that the word “thug” was so racially charged. But once I listened to this NPR interview, I changed the way I saw the word and will definitely change the way I use it. That’s not so hard, is it?
And, yes, Christ did react with anger when confronting hypocrites in the temple. Injustice warrants anger. I think LaShawn’s anger wasn’t inflammatory — it was quite logical, actually, and warranted. Please re-read her message and see that we can all do better at changing language to accommodate all of God’s children. Just try to listen, eh?
Hey, I appreciate your words. Some take the truth to be hard. When I see that the folks I’m to call my siblings in the gospel do not have ears to hear, I’m going to speak up when I feel moved upon to do so.
In this case, I’m not only angry. I’m really disappointed. I have full rights to be disappointed in folks that share sacrament trays with me. Thankfully, the sacrament does exactly for me what it does for them. Remind us to do and be better to and with each other.
Where I come from, it’s better that your family tells you when you mess up than having it come from a stranger.
Here is the NPR article:
I linked to this article in my post.
Travis, I agree with Travis and it’s not trolling to have a different opinion. Try looking at it like this, thug is not a word referring only to people of color, it was adopted as such. His definition is what many people view the word thug as. I never once thought, oh they’re poking fun at black people. The radio commentator was saying that about the BYU team, which has players of all races. It’s a Maori dance, not a people of color dance. The Haka dance is a unifying thing for the team, and he didn’t get that. Did you know that Mormons received that nickname, Mormons, as a dig? An insult. Same thing as the Yankees… The British thought they were making fun of the New Englanders, so they sang Yankee Double Dandy. They embraced it and sang it and owned it. Just like Mormons owned the Mormon nickname. So when the guy called the BYU players thugs, that’s just stupid. They’re not thugs. Even if he only was referring to the fighting, he never said anything about color. I think that’s what some people of color may not understand. To others, thug is synonymous with other put downs like hooligan, etc. Nobody using the hash tag thuglife actually meant person of color, instead it was like Rebel or jack-mormon. I’m sorry your feelings are hurt, and I’m sorry it doesn’t translate to the same meaning for you. But if people didnt mean it in a racist way because they don’t confuse thug to be actually anything to do with just people of color…. White people can be thugs too!!! – – then you’re getting offended and calling it racism when it’s, to most of those who responded, an embracing or twist of what that radio guy tried to use as a put down. He shouldn’t have said it. The players aren’t thugs, and thug doesn’t mean black person or person of color. It can be any color. Sorry if you don’t see it that way. Maybe it’s a cultural difference definition. Can you understand what I’m trying to say? I’m sorry for what you’ve been through. But most people using that hash tag would have no idea you actually were thinking they’re making fun of it making light if what you see as a term used only to describe people of color. Do you see? I’m not a troll and Travis isn’t a troll, for trying to explain that it doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. I’m tired of people saying I’m racist just because I’m Caucasian. I’m not. I don’t care what color anyone is, I love everyone. Just because your experience isn’t the same as others who happen to be a different color, doesn’t mean everyone that’s not the same color is going around judging you or assuming things about you. I feel like if people if color would stop assuming that every white person is racist, and stop treating us like we are, we’d be getting further along on the road to equality. Don’t take offense where it’s not intended, especially when meanings of words change. Rappers, whether white or black or whatever color, don’t define words for everyone else. Thug is not a derogatory word for a person of color. It’s a derogatory term that some guys doing the Haka dance were doing, and they were all colors and races, and thuglife is not a dig on people of color. It’s embracing and running with the idea that some football players who brawled a little during an intense game, should be called names like thug. Oooo they’re such rebels, they’re so bad…. So therefore, I’m bad or a thug if I do something like this (insert jack Mormon or rebel or just plain silly nonsense)… To me it was the same thing as LDS people saying, ok you can call us Mormons, who cares. We know who we are and we’ll still be your friends regardless of what you call us. So I think maybe you misinterpreted the reaction with the hash tag. I know at least a great number of people would agree with me. White people get called names you, by people of color. Nobody should be calling names. But isn’t it a more healthy reaction to roll with the punches and embrace it and not taje offense, than to get really offended when someone says something insensitive? If people didn’t know they were hurting your feelings, because their definition of thug is different than yours, then you’re being judgmental against those who didn’t mean any offense, and thats just sad. But try to see it from their point of view too. I read everything you said and I see what you’re saying, but I don’t agree with your assessment, because everyone is not as heartless or ignorant as you think. There’s just different ways of looking at it, and thuglife isn’t about people if color. It was a response in jest to stupid remarks that never should have been made, and I’m fairly sure the guy making them also was aware that there are people of all colors, including Caucasian, on the team. Or is Caucasian not a color? By the way, I have red hair, so I know a bit about being completely humiliated for my appearance. I know what it’s like to be labeled and called names, and lots of the time it was by people who thought I didn’t mind it, or they thought it a term of endearment. I learned not to take it so personally. Some mean it negatively, some don’t, but I get to choose my reaction because I can’t control or know for sure their reaction. And by the way, hearing things like I’ll be at you like a redheaded stepchild, etc, that does hurt. We’re all hurt in different ways, because we look different, but it hurts just the same on the inside. So I’m not insensitive, I just think you’re trying to give perspective, and that’s fine, but I’m showing you a different perspective. We can’t assume our own understanding of situations is the only view point that matters, because experience and definitions that vary do matter. I’m sorry for your hurt. Not all white people are racist. Not all users of thuglife, probably very few, even regard it at all as a term that means the same as it does to you. I hope that makes sense. I hope you can feel better about this and realize that nobody meant harm or disrespect to you or anyone of color. Thug is like bully or hoodlum or triple maker, not defined person of color. Besides, we all have different colors in the outside, but inside we all bleed red. I don’t even like the term person of color. I like us all to be color blind or all color, and white is a color too. And redheads really do have feelings and souls. 😉 I love you and I’m sorry you felt hurt.
And please print my reply because I think it’s important to get different perspectives and to understand that offense shouldn’t be taken where none was intended. Different opinions don’t mean trolling. 🙂
Let's see – someone called mormon's thugs for bad behavior on the football field. A bunch of people respond to that ridiculous name calling by pointing out the kind of behaviour that mormons think is bad (or unworthy) and call it thugmormons and they are the problem.
The real problem is a sportscaster using the term in football to describe BYU football players (who are more likely to be people of color) thugs – thus perpetuating the stereotype AND using it in a completely inproper context calling out behavior that is common on a football field as thugs just because it was done by BYU (a religious school) without holding other religious schools even to the same standard of behaviour.
There is no intent to marginalize your experience – only to point out how stupid that sportscaster is for calling BYU players thugs for a simple cheap shot during an athletic event.