Nipsey Hussle’s death warrants more than a “Black Man Take Down” conspiracy theory
Can we claim to have Black liberation in mind when we only use these theories in service of straight Black men maintaining capitalist power?
Editor’s Note: April is Black Women’s History Month. Throughout this month, Black Youth Project is celebrating Black women. This month is also National Minority Health Month, Autism Awareness Month, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Child Abuse Prevention Month. We are interested in publishing works that address these topics and the things surrounding them.
By Deria Matthews
The internet was awash with digital memorials of the 33-year-old rapper, Nipsey Hussle, the night news broke of his violent death in front of his Marathon Clothing store in South L.A., California. We were in collective shock and disbelief. But it wasn’t long before many started to make sense of the crime with memes of Hussle next to Dr. Sebi and Lisa Left Eye Lopes. Not another Black Man Take Down conspiracy theory, I thought to myself.
Ever since a string of women came forward about Bill Cosby drugging and sexually assaulting them in 2015, Black Man Take Down theories have been on the rise. With Cosby, it was a plan to buy NBC, suggesting the timely allegations were an effort to curb Black ownership and power. With R. Kelly, it was a “public lynching” of Black men’s sexual proclivities. And with Michael Jackson, it was white families trying to exploit the King of Pop’s love for children.
Now folks are claiming that Hussle’s death was a direct result of the government doing the bidding of pharmaceutical companies to hide the cure of HIV/AIDs from the people. Hussle played a key role in popularizing the myth about Dr. Sebi’s cure in a series of interviews in which he discussed his plans to create a documentary on the 1985 trial where Dr. Sebi was found not guilty of practicing medicine without a license.
Many health experts who have been conducting research and advocating for advance technology in the field have debunked claims that a cure for HIV/AIDs exists, including Dr. James E.K. Hildreth. Dr. Hildreth made the distinction between controlling the virus and curing it in an Ebony article published less than a month ago. Cleanses and healthy diets are preventative measures, but not cures.
At first, I thought these theories were relegated to obscure corners of the internet, but recently I have encountered them through the social media posts of people whose opinions I value and respect. Taraji P. Henson fed into these Black Man Take Down theories when she took to Instagram to compare the outrage against R. Kelly with that of Harvey Weinstein, who has been facing repercussions for his years of sexual violence, including the loss of his company and being charged with rape by a New York grand jury. This was a disappointing showcase from the actress, but it shed light on how our communities are not immune to the spread of alternative facts and misinformation.
While I understand Black folks collective distrust of both medical industries and criminal justice systems as they have caused grave amounts of harm to our communities, I also have to question whether these theories actually aim to dismantle those systems. Can we really claim to have Black liberation in mind when we only use these theories in service of straight Black men maintaining capitalist forms of power? (Interestingly enough no Black Man Take Down theory emerged when Jussie Smollett was arrested for falsifying police reports).
Many health practitioners are worried that the spread of the Dr. Sebi myth is dangerous in the face of the medical hysteria responsible for recent measles outbreaks. But the bigger fear for me is that the touting of such a theory protects the persistence of violence inflicted by Black men. In doing so, our protectionism evades the development of comprehensive systems of community accountability that don’t prioritize punishment or retaliation.
The American government’s role in the incarceration and murder of Black men cannot be denied, especially after the recent deaths of six men connected to Ferguson protests. Still, as a Black queer woman I have to be honest about the ways in which cishet Black men and their faith in patriarchy have wreaked harm and violence in our communities, not excluding cases of domestic violence against their spouses and hate crimes against members of the LGBTQ community. If we continue to divert responsibility away from violent masculinity more harm will come.
“They killed my homie, sis,” my brother texts me upon learning of Hussle’s death. I see so much of him in Hussle. He hit me up to share his pain in this loss and his fear that dozens more would be killed because of it. Angela Simmons voiced the same fear when she took to her Instagram live feed shortly after it was announced that 32-year-old Clifford Dixon was murdered on his birthday just three weeks ago. “I am tired of our young men being killed by other young men,” said Simmons, whose ex-fiancé was fatally shot in February of this year. After wading through the mud of speculation that often billows in grieving communities, our desire to end cyclical violence amongst the most vulnerable should come into focus.
So how exactly do we break the cycle? We pay attention to and uplift the work of community organizers most impacted by it. Success Stories, an organization started by two previously incarcerated young men offers us a good start: Teach feminism.
Charles Berry and Richie “Reseda” Edmond-Vargas are teaching bell hooks to incarcerated men in order to dismantle internalized tenets of toxic masculinity and patriarchy. In an interview with Next City, Vargas admits “patriarchy is the biggest hindrance to our success,” and shares his plan to bring this 12-week course to local communities outside of prison.
But patriarchy is not the only contributing factor here. In a recent HuffPost article, “The Quiet Crisis Killing Black Women“, journalist Melissa Jeltsen, explains why Black women face higher rates of domestic violence compared to women of all other races. According to experts, Black men are not more violent, but both Black women and men experience higher rates of poverty, lack of access to resources, and systemic racism within systems designed to help victims of abuse.
In his heartfelt memorial of Hussle, David Dennis Jr., succinctly captures the complex chokehold of power that led to the murder of Hussle, writing, “He escaped poverty, but he couldn’t escape America” — America being a myriad of systems in service to white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.
The death of Hussle has impacted so many of us because we saw how he was a man not just interested in escaping poverty but dismantling it in an effort to rebuild his community. This was evidenced in his sharing of resources and investment in community spaces. Hussle’s clothing store employed the formerly incarcerated and he recently opened a STEM center and coworking space called Vector 90.
Conspiracy theories emerge in the light of celebrity deaths because they allow us to see the murder of such great men as the result of larger intangible forces versus someone who could very well be us or someone we know. But sometimes they also allow us to ignore the ways we as individuals and as a collective have permitted the heart of oppressive systems to fester and settle within our own.
As writer and activist, Darnell Moore, once said at a reading, “For radical change to begin, each of us must ask ourselves, ‘Whose neck is my foot on?’”
This is the role of restorative justice. In an interview with Bioneers, restorative justice practitioner with Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY) Jodie Geddes defines it as “a process of how we look at harm and how we lean into healthy relationships in our community. The deeper relationships we have, the less disposable we become to each other.” Transformative restorative justice takes a complex survey of all contributing factors of a conflict and works with those harmed and those who have inflicted harm to develop a solution of repair and accountability that does not further harm or isolate community members.
As the case of Hussle’s murder unfolds in the American theater that is our current justice system, I wonder what restorative justice would like if applied? It seems pretty easy for Nick Cannon to pick up Hussle’s documentary on Dr. Sebi. I think it a lot harder to imagine a world where an act of murder does not lead to more death and isolation of Black men but to critical conversations about how we keep getting here. It is this transformative work of imagining pathways of healing and accountability that will lead us to a society that truly values all Black life.
Deria is a culture writer based in Brooklyn. She uses her love of pop-culture to think through race, gender, and relationships. Follow her work at deria.co/