Is the word 'posse' racist?

LeBron James set off a Twitter firestorm Tuesday after commenting on the word 'posse.'

In a recent ESPN interview, New York Knicks president Phil Jackson used the word 'posse' to describe the Cleveland Cavaliers star and his business partner, Maverick Carter. 

Jackson criticized James' need for special treatment, elaborating on a night where he said James wanted to spend a night in Cleveland while playing for the Heat, adding, "You can't hold up the whole team because you and your mom and your posse want to spend an extra night in Cleveland."

Carter, who is also a longtime friend of James, tweeted his discontent with Jackson's use of the term Monday, attached a screenshot of the definition of 'posse'.

He later added another tweet to clarify his thoughts.

James responded to Jackson's comments to reporters in Cleveland following Carter's tweets saying in part,

"We see the success that we have, but then there is always someone that lets you know how far we still have to go as African-Americans... I don't believe that Phil Jackson would have used that term if he was doing business with someone else and working with another team or if he was working with anybody in sports that was owning a team that wasn't African-American and had a group of guys around them that didn't agree with what they did... I don't think he would have called them a posse. But it just shows how far we have to go."
 
James added, the definition of 'posse' didn't fit him, his career or family.
 
Carmelo Anthony, who plays for the New York Knicks and is a close friend James', took his buddy's side stating,
 
“I would never want to hear that word about me and my, I don’t want to say crew, but people that I consider family or people that I come up... To some people, the word 'posse' might not mean anything. It might just be a word. To some other people it could be a derogatory statement. It all depends on who you mention it to and who you’re talking about in essence."
 
So what is the definition of the word 'posse'?
 
The Merriam-Webster definition of the word is:
  • a group of people who were gathered together by a sheriff in the past to help search for a criminal
  • a group of people who are together for a particular purpose
  • a group of friends

The historical definition of the word roots from the term 'posse comitatus'. The Latin phrase literally translates to 'power of the county' or 'county force'.

Historically, a sheriff had the power to keep the peace by calling on citizens to assist in law enforcement. Posse service was a mandatory citizen duty, like jury duty, according to the Washington Post.

Posse comitatus allowed the people of the county to participate in self-government.

Under the controversial Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, a posse was called upon to search for runaway slaves. This forced citizens to be involved as weapons and aids of slave owners.

The federal army was also often called upon to stand in as a posse comitatus, which in 1878, led to the Posse Comitatus Act, forbidding the use of the military in law enforcement unless authorized by Congress, according to the Washington Post.

Sheriffs still have posses today, but they are volunteers and trained up to standard. Sacramento, Yolo, and San Joaquin county all have sheriff posses.

The word posse has since evolved into a term used to describe groups or 'crews' of people who hang out together as friends or over a common trait or interest.

Is the word posse racist?

Some may argue the word 'posse' has a dark history, giving off a Wild West or 'thuggish' vibe. But the word has since been loosely used in pop culture, music and the media. 

In hip hop, a 'posse cut' refers to a collaboration between at least four rappers, from two different acts.

A girl posse is often used describe a group of girl friends, such as in the 2004 movie Mean Girls, which is now considered part of pop culture history.

The intentions of the word 'posse' by Jackson is only known to him. The way the word was taken in the Lebron case is entirely based upon Lebron's understanding of the intention.

By definition, 'posse' has several meanings and does hold heavy historical context.

But given the evolution of the word into mainstream, it is up to the individual to decide in which way the word should be interpreted.

Copyright 2016 KXTV


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