CNN host Erin Burnett got a harsh lesson in racism from Baltimore City Councilman Carl Stokes. Burnett interviewed Stokes, and, during that interview, she referred to the frustrated young people congregating in the streets of Baltimore as “thugs” and “criminals.” Now, anyone who is well versed in issues of race realizes that these descriptors, particularly the word “thug,” are just new, somewhat socially acceptable code words for the word “n*gger.” It’s how the media gets around the fact that calling someone a n*gger doesn’t fly, so racists go with the next best thing, which is “thug.”
Live national television interview or not, Carl Stokes wasn’t having any of Erin Burnett’s coded racist dog whistles. Burnett, who is white, pointed out the fact that President Obama, as well as Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, both of whom are black, of course, referred to the youngsters rioting, looting, and burning in the streets of Baltimore as “thugs” and “bad actors.”
But Stokes cut her off, and stood up to her, saying that she was talking about “our children” when using this harsh language. Burnett, of course, like so many clueless white folks, insisted that there was nothing wrong with what she said:
But how does that justify what they did? I mean, that’s a sense of right and wrong. They know it’s wrong to steal and burn down a CVS and an old person’s home. I mean, come on.
Stokes pressed her, pointing out what Burnett’s coded racist rhetoric really meant:
Come on? So calling them thugs — just call them n*ggers. Just call them n*ggers.
When you say ‘come on,’ come on what? You wouldn’t call your a child a thug if they did something which was not what you’d expect them to do.
Of course, Burnett still didn’t get it, and likely never will, and came back at Stokes with a retort:
I would hope I would call my son a thug if he ever did such a thing.
I doubt Erin Burnett and others who think like her will ever listen to me on this (or anything else for that matter), but I’ll try to clue them in anyway. For one thing, if Erin Burnett’s son, or any other young white person is called a “thug,” the meaning is totally different. We live in a racist system, a system of white supremacy. Race isn’t a negative deciding factor when words like “thug” are applied to white people, while it is when it is applied to people of color.
Secondly, pointing out that the president of the United States and the mayor of Baltimore used that language just goes to show how clueless Burnett is on the whole issue. They are black. They can reclaim those words, as Black Americans. White people, however, benefit from the racist system. While black people can use words that are coded racist slurs, white people cannot, because, coming from a white person, it is totally different. As I mentioned before, “thug” is just a coded word for “n*gger.” I don’t care how “not-racist” a white person thinks they might be, using that language is not your place, not so long as you benefit from our oppression.
Whether specific white people want to have it or not, they still benefit from a system of racism and white supremacy. All white people have a birthright privilege that they did not earn, which is why they will never truly get it. Sure, there are some – I know quite a few – who understand, and understand these issues very well. However, they still don’t live it. They don’t get profiled, they don’t fear the cops arresting, beating, or even killing them for no good reason, and they never will. To that end, they will never have the right to use the words that Erin Burnett was using. Good on Carl Stokes for telling it like it is.
Watch Stokes’ brilliant takedown below:
Featured Image: Video Screenshot via Talking Points Memo