The recent murder of Los Angeles rapper Nipsey Hussle caused heartbreak across the city and the nation. People reacted in shock that Nipsey, who was a known community activist and an outspoken artist, was murdered. His model of Black entrepreneurship and development was well documented. Nipsey owned businesses that employed Black people and he sought to create more jobs in his community. Among his efforts were ventures relating to real estate, brand investment and a co-working space. As a longtime independent artist, Nipsey rapped about and reflected his own trademark of self-sufficiency. It’s been difficult for some to understand how this tragedy could have transpired. Why would someone kill a person who was beloved by so many and who was trying to empower others around him? This question has sparked a rise in conspiracy theories, discussions of “Black-on-Black” violence and laments about the risk of trying to help your own. When carelessly handled, all three of these responses can become quite damaging and we would do well to push back against that.
Responding to Conspiracy Theories
The conspiracy theories that have circulated in the wake of Nipsey’s untimely death have mainly centered on why the government would want to stop his activism. Given the terrible experiences of oppressed people across the world, it’s no surprise that people would fear this possibility. Powerful people have gone to extreme lengths throughout history to maintain their dominance. For those of us in the United States who are descendants of the enslaved, colonized, disappeared, immigrants, migrants and refugees, we know this all too well. The traumas experienced by the generations that came before us is passed down like an unwanted inheritance. The post-traumatic stress we feel isn’t foreign, it’s actually quite familiar. Therefore, people often speculate. People looking for something to grasp onto in times that don’t make sense often come up with stories based on the trauma that has been handed to them.
It’s important for us to remember, however, that conspiracy theories can become a distraction from concrete, perceivable threats. We can acknowledge the urgency of the immediate problems before us without condescending to those caught up in speculation. The point is that misinformation about oppression regularly originates from a place of lived pain and enduring violence.
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It’s here that an organizing opportunity emerges. While drawing from people’s desire for truth, we can point to what we know has taken place for a fact: Nipsey Hussle was killed and we still have to continue organizing our communities. Even as we draw people out of the maze of conspiracy theories and back into grounded facts, we should also encourage others to focus on the problems that we’re facing in broad daylight instead of aiming at rumors in the dark.
Responding to Narratives of “Black-on-Black” Crime
“Black-on-Black crime” — the mythological label for intra-communal violence in Black communities — dominated headlines in the 1990s. Unfortunately, this label is still with us. This language, which is often employed by white people, is used to justify racist violence against Black people. Internalized oppression and a racist mainstream media have also helped disseminate ugly tropes about Black-on-Black violence among Black people as well. Despite falling crime rates, the fact that intra-communal violence is regular across racial groups, and the consistent debunking of this lie, it persists in coming up. It’s certainly got something to do with the anti-Blackness that’s deeply embedded into the public perception of criminality itself. Generations have experienced images, tales and media depicting crime as something “Black,” so any opportunity to reinforce the trope is seized upon by those hungry to prove Black people are lesser.
Misinformation relishes and thrives in moments of suffering, grief and anguish. For anyone that’s ever experienced traumatic loss, it might not be foreign to imagine how the absurd can quickly become acceptable. From an interpersonal micro level to the national macro scale, when people feel scared, they cast blame. This even happens in policy decisions. Consider the post-9/11 domestic “anti-terror” policies, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or Bill Clinton’s draconian crime bill. These examples and others had support from the very people they’d affect harmfully inside the United States. The motivating factor for the state has always been to play to people’s fear, mourning and trauma.
If we can clearly see what scared nations are capable of supporting because of fear and loss, it’s not hard to imagine what people will believe about themselves and those close around them either. The weight of oppression takes a toll on the resistance in people’s minds to fight the perpetual narratives about why we experience consistent anguish. Meanwhile, those who are actually responsible for creating the conditions we suffer through are let off the hook. The problem is not “Black-on-Black” crime, the problem is a white supremacist state that reinforces the violence in Black communities and the racial capitalism that profits from the gun violence that plagues this country. As long as we blame ourselves and think about things on an interpersonal level instead of challenging the larger systems at play, these problems will simply cycle to our detriment.
Needless to say, this is all exhausting. These times are bad enough without the influx of more bad updates into the constantly terrible news cycle. Nipsey’s death has many people wondering if it’s worth it to fight for people in communities that are capable of killing us, or doing us harm. Sadly, in this particular context it is a distortion of our circumstances because it, too, feeds off the legacy of “Black-on-Black” crime myths. If anyone knows what it feels like to fight for those who are capable of killing you, it’s Black women, queer people, trans people, and non-binary people who fall outside of many people’s spheres of concern.
There will be countless vigils for Nipsey and he will undoubtedly be considered an icon and a martyr within popular culture, but many victims of violence within our communities continue to go unnoticed because of the bodies they were born into or because of who they are. Without recognizing why the killing is happening in the first place, sentiments about giving up could miss the point. The austerity, oppression and overwhelming odds that the state has placed on Black people since our supposed emancipation is connected to our everyday lives. We live in a society based in anti-Blackness that puts us in a position to suffer more because we’re Black, no matter who our ancestors were, enslaved or not (though which African ancestors we’re descended from certainly places distinct brutality on some of us). We cannot afford to go on merely questioning individual choices when those choices are influenced by the overarching cruelty of a nation that thrives because of racism and subjection.
As we continue to make sense of Nipsey’s death, we must remember that activists in our society do die untimely deaths because of their work and that is an unfortunate part of this job description. More of us will die and be killed trying to help because this world needs to be permanently changed from its current state. People will give of themselves and sometimes their whole selves trying to build anew. Many of us will not ever see what we’re hoping to work toward. If we leave here inspiring others to keep going and keep working, that’s exactly how change will arrive.
Condolences to the loved ones and family of Nipsey Hussle and everyone who has lost someone to violence. Thank you to the activists who have and will continue risking their lives.