Feb 7, 2014

Imitation of (Thug) Life


When I learned Wednesday that George Zimmerman will be fighting rapper DMX in a celebrity boxing match, my first thought was, WTF. George Zimmerman is a celebrity?

My second thought, of course, was,  I hope DMX beats the shit out of that motherfucker.

After taking a moment to envision Zimmerman’s teeth flying across the ring like a handful of Skittles between X’s manic outbursts of "WUT!", I chided myself for thinking ugly, hateful thoughts. None of this would bring Trayvon back, and shame on me for even taking an interest in such a shameful display of greed and disrespect.

My third thought was, OMG. This is what they want us to see, because this is what they see.

They, of course, being the folks that think Martin had it coming. They, being the folks who believed the Zimmerman defense team’s assertion that this 17 year-old boy was a thug.  

Let me first say that I have long been a fan of Dark Man X.  As an artist, he has poured his troubled life into his work and the result is music that, regardless of what one thinks of its subject matter, reflects a brutal and often tragic authenticity that few artists are able to achieve. And the beats. Oh, the beats.

That being said, DMX is a thug.  

I hesitate to use this term because of how it has been co-opted by racists as code for the n-word. Although many rappers themselves have branded themselves with the
Tupac Shakur. Image via Soul Train.
term (Tupac Shakur did so literally, with his iconic THUG LIFE tattoo), we also hear it in reference to young Black men who possess no true thuggish qualities (as was the case with Richard Sherman, the NFL star and philanthropist whose Stanford education and lack of criminal record could not seem to mitigate a few testosterone-fueled words on a football field a few weeks ago).

And of course, who can forget the way Trayvon Martin was portrayed as a thug by the media, despite the fact that he had no criminal record and was still legally a child?  

Start typing “trayvon martin” into your browser and you’ll find that Google shows “trayvon martin thug" within the two subsequent autocompletes (second only to "trayvon martin costume"--equally disturbing, for different reasons).

In light of this reality, how will this match manifest itself in the eyes of the American people?

What if DMX wins? Is it vindication? And if so, for whom?

Or is this merely a perverted reenactment of something awful, a caricaturization of what happened that fateful night in Florida? Is it a charade that illuminates the most extreme stereotypes and prejudices that ignited a media frenzy in the first place?

Beyond the overtly distasteful premise in which Zimmerman and others seek to capitalize on the death of a boy, is the larger issue of what this boxing match really signifies to people.

Even those of us hip-hop-loving nerds (who have been known, in the privacy of our own vehicles, to rant about losing our proverbial minds up in the proverbial here) must recognize the reality of who DMX is.

Indeed, DMX is a tremendous talent, but he is also a tormented soul who has long battled addiction and mental illness. He is a convicted
felon with a lengthy rap sheet who has pled guilty to charges of both assault and animal cruelty. He is a crack addict.

And upon recognizing the significance of DMX's checkered past, we must reflect upon all those things of which Trayvon Martin--a kid with no criminal record-- was posthumously accused of being: a ruffian, a criminal, a drug abuser

Trayvon Martin was, and continues to be, packaged and sold to the general public as a thug (again, see: Google).

For every one of us who believes George Zimmerman got away with murder, there is another person who looks at a candy-wielding 17 year-old Black boy in a hoodie and sees this:

The many mugshots of DMX. 
So what if Zimmerman gets what so many of us think he has coming to him? What if the real drug addicted criminal succeeds in finishing the job Zimmerman's lawyers claimed Trayvon the "thug" set out to do?

Who really wins this fight?


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