Before you read this, ask yourself: What would each of the two people mentioned in the title of this post look like.
It’s meant to be tricky because the second of the two terms, “Asian,” is considered a fairly standard term for a person with lineage from Asia (actually, Asian-American might be a better way to put it), while the first seems by comparison less racialized. Thinking about it, what race could a person described as a “thug” actually be? (For that matter, what gender?) Interesting to think that there are certain terms that carry both race and gender in them. (That, incidentally, could be a homework assignment for anyone reading this; I am not about to make a list).
I take both terms from a story in the New York Post, the cheapest conservative rag sold in the city that I know of (I think it’s still $1, whereas the fancy, semi-liberal New York Times is over $3). Alongside a page-high photo of a glamorous and scantily-clad blonde I’d never heard of before, the headline “PUSH CAME TO SHOVE” Subway Killer ‘Struck’ Before” caught my eye. The first line read, “The career thug who this week allegedly pushed an Asian dad to his death in front of a Bronx subway train shoved another man – also Asian – to a Village station platform 10 days earlier…”. Malevolent, possibly racist (we guess that the Post is trying to string together a narrative here), hunting for his next victims underground, and certainly Black, the accused man, Kevin Darden was depicted as striking again, almost a force of nature to be feared by subway goers – that is, Asian(-American) subway goers – all over New York.
It’s all about the way you tell the story, or rather, the version – conservative, demonizing of Black people and people with disabilities (see below) – of the story you tell. In the end of the article, the Post describes Darden’s mother’s apparently relieved reaction: “’I’m glad they got him off the streets and I’m glad he’s not dead,’ the mom, Berlin Joyce Jones, told The Post. She claimed he has long had mental illness.” (emphasis added)
Something about that word choice cinched up the story for me; I found myself for a split second doubting whether the killer had ever suffered from any disability, or whether, since we were sure he was a “thug” already from the very beginning of this story (which detailed all the damning evidence against him), his mother was just defending him as mothers are supposed to do. She claimed…yeah, she probably also claimed he would never hurt a fly.
Even the term “mental illness” is problematic and old-fashioned, especially according to the disability community, who might argue that a disability is not a sickness, but rather a different way of being. But in The Post’s broad stroke (sledgehammer?) version of the story, he was a thug, and maybe sick…though his mom was probably making it up anyway. Painting a good-guy-versus-black-guy story probably sells more papers.