LeBron James: 'Posse' Is 'Not What My Family Stands For'
Phil Jackson ignited linguistic controversy in an ESPN.com interview in which he referred to LeBron James’s business partners as his “posse.” James took offense:
To use that label, and if you go and read the definition of that the word 'posse' is, it's not what I've built over my career. It's not what my family stands for. And I believe the only reason he used that word is because it's young African-Americans trying to make a difference.
—LeBron James, interview with ESPN, 15 Nov. 2016
Lookups for posse spiked as people went to the dictionary to see what exactly the dictionary definition of posse was.
Posse first entered the written language in the 1600s, where it was a shortened form of the Latin posse comitatus, which itself referred to a group gathered by a sheriff to enact justice or enforce peace. But the first written uses of the stand-alone posse were not always positive.
All the Posse of Hell, cannot violently eject me.
—Thomas Fuller, Good Thoughts in Bad Times, 1645
For you had preach’d, and pray’d your worst / Alas! you were no longer able / To raise your posse of the rabble.
—Samuel Butler, Hudibras, 1678
I see a Thousand Rods in Piss, and the whole Posse of diminutive Pedants against me.
—Bernard Mandeville, The Fable of the Bees, 1723
In time, the law-enforcing sense broadened to refer to any group of people gathered together, or a group sharing a common interest. Very recently, it has come to refer to an entourage, which makes some sense: in America, we associate the word posse with the cohort accompanying a sheriff or outlaw in spaghetti westerns.
The word posse gained two new uses in the second half of the 20th century. The first was the adoption of the word posse by Jamaican gangs; the second was the adoption of the word posse by early hip-hop artists. The Jamaican use of posse was heavily influenced by the renegade, outlaw narrative of the American western: “Among reggae artists of the 1970s and 1980s, names associated with real or cinematic criminals, such as John Dillinger or the Outlaw Josey Wales, were common,” writes hip-hop scholar Murray Forman. Hip-hop, which was heavily influenced by Jamaican sound, took on posse to refer to groups or structures in which a crew could find solidarity and identity. Because of this, the term posse when used by a white outsider like Jackson can be inflammatory: it’s a subtle way of tying a group of people (and usually people of color) to gangs, gang violence, or a general ethos of lawlessness.
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