Nipsey Hussle, sometimes stylized as Hu$$le, and born Ermias Asghedom in Los Angeles was gunned down and murdered outside of his South Central store on Sunday, March 31st. He died at the age of 33. Not even 24 hours after his time of death, rather than sending condolences to his longtime girlfriend Lauren London, or offering thoughts and prayers to his children who are now fatherless, or offering sentiments of grief and sadness to his family, black social media users opted to render conspiracy theories. Each one worse than the other.
In 2019, social media is able to provide voice and space to the most crackpot conspiracies one can imagine. It has given flourish to a Flat Earth movement that is replete with lizard people and secret code names embedded in the anagrams of people’s names. While some of these conspiracy theories aren’t dangerous—Flat Earth theory to why the New England Patriots have won so many Super Bowls—many of them support white supremacy such as Holocaust deniers and even Sandy Hook deniers. The fact that many of the perpetrators of mass shootings here in the United States have been members of online communities that traded in racism and xenophobia, resulting in the injury and deaths of innocent civilians is proof positive that acting on conspiracy theories can have deadly results.
So while it may be easy to reduce conspiracy theories to nut jobs who wear tin foil hats and talk about “the aliens” or run-of-the-mill racists who still claim former president Obama is Muslim and was born in Kenya, employing the logic of reduction isn’t quite as easy for black folks in America. Unfortunately, the sordid history of these yet to be United States has shown that far too often, the conspiracy theories were actually true.
I’d like to share a few examples from the recent past to make this point.
The Tuskegee Experiment. From 1932 to 1972, the U.S. Public Health Service oversaw a study where approximately 600 African American men were the subjects in a study to see the natural progression of syphillis. These men were told that they would get free medical care and burial if they participated. What made this an unethical study is that when penicillin was introduced as a safe cure for the disease in 1947, none of the men were treated accordingly.
What makes this a conspiracy: a federal government agency knowingly withheld a cure with supreme discrimination toward a racial and social class.
COINTELPRO. This name is a portmanteau of the COunter INTELligence PROgram that sought to disrupt and dismantle the civil rights organizations of that existed in response to the racial and social strife that existed in the United States from 1956 through 1971. Through a series of covert actions—often times illegal means that utterly ignored constitutional rights of the individual—organizations such as the Black Panther Party, the Nation of Islam, the Communist Party of America were targeted as were individual people such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.
What makes this a conspiracy: a federal government agency—the Federal Bureau for Investigation (FBI)—knowingly targeted particular groups of people with supreme discrimination based on race and social class.
Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission. This was a program from 1956 to 1977 that existed in the state of Mississippi with the intent to disrupt and dismantle any and all civil rights and voting rights activism. On the surface, its intent was to stimulate business growth and tourism, but it’s true nature was to run afoul of the implications of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling and further entrench Jim Crow segregation in the state of Mississippi. This commission allowed for sweeping police authority, the issuing of subpoenas and the direct investigation of private citizens for the sake of identifying civil rights workers, those who supported communist ideals and those who seemed to disagree with segregationist norms writ large. Tens of thousands of citizens—black and white—were subject to the whims of this de facto intelligence agency.
What makes this a conspiracy: a state government agency—the Mississippi state legislature voted to fund this commission for 21 years—knowingly targeted particular groups of people with supreme discrimination on the basis of race and one’s social class and political ideology.
To broaden this a bit more, it would be foolish not to acknowledge that there are corporations and individuals (corporations are people too, right?) that stand to benefit from black death and pain. Recently in the state of Georgia, there was a lobby by the bail bondsmen and supported by the GOP to reinstitute a cash bail rule that would require citizens with low-level nuisance misdemeanors to either sit in jail or acquire the services of a bail bondsmen—and therefore be in debt—simply because they were too poor to have the cash on hand to post bail. We also know that there are long-term plans enacted by large political operations with the intent to gain power or money or both. From the moment Barry Goldwater gave his 1964 speech accepting the nomination of the Republican party to the 2016 presidential election that gifted Donald Trump the White House and granted the conservative movement a majority on the Supreme Court, there are political and social arcs crafted by elected officials, activists and outspoken private citizens, talk show hosts, pundits and media talking heads for the sake of architecting a dominant ideological norm. It’s from this we get introduced to terms like benign neglect where governmental agencies at the local, state or federal level intentionally don’t interfere with a particular issue or challenging situation that would have political fallout with the choices presented. The net effect is still that at the bottom, citizens of a particular racial, ethnic or socio-economic group still suffer.
DuBois’ asks the poignant question of “How does it feel to be a problem” in his book Souls of Black Folk and this question can act as a critical lens to understand why black folk can so easily fall back into the comfort of conspiracy theories. Problems need to be solved. Thus, conspiracy theories provide the explanation as to why black folks consistently exist at the bottom of American society.
Conspiracy theories are birthed out of fear of the Other. What’s at the crux of conspiracy theories by black folks is this inherent belief that there is a larger and concerted effort to eliminate black lives. And the same is true for white Americans; that there is an organized effort by the powers-that-be aimed at ending either their way or life or their lives completely. However, white Americans have never had ponder the existential question of how it feels to be problem. Conspiracy theories purported by white Americans stem from an irrational fear of the Other, one meant to keep the Other, the Other. Black folks conspiracy theories are a result of an historical knowledge that the Other strikes back when threatened.
While I don’t believe in conspiracy theories, I do believe people conspire. The chief enemy of those citizens at the bottom are those principalities, powers, the rulers of the darkness in this world and the spiritual wickedness in high places. But knowing that federal or state tax dollars funded programs that were unethical at best and outright racist at worst doesn’t do much to change the public perception of conspiracies in this country. Especially the public perception of black citizens. However, that doesn’t automatically mean that “the government”—or my favorite “they”—are sitting in a secret room creating a masterplan like an evil villain on a Saturday morning cartoon.
For some, Nipsey Hussle’s death was as simple as the classic gang violence that we’ve heard about from the years of Al Capone through the years of Bloods and Crips feuding in the streets of South Central during the height of the crack epidemic. (Yes, the same crack that Ronald Regan dropped off in the ‘hood). For others, a legend died; one who had climbed out of the ‘hood, opened a store, gotten with a beautiful black woman and was the living embodiment that America actually does allow you to reinvent yourself. Still for some, his death was the result of a government conspiracy. The most popular one that seemingly gained the most traction was that he was to participate in a documentary with Dr. Sebi and supposedly reveal Sebi’s cure for HIV/AIDS. Or something like that.
And who is Dr. Sebi you may ask?
Dr. Sebi was born Alfredo Bowman in the Honduras. He is not a medical doctor by any stretch of the imagination, but he was a self-proclaimed herbalist prior to his death at the age of 82 in 2016. One of his long-time claims was that the government was suppressing a cure for HIV/AIDS and this theory was wrapped up in pan-Africanist.
Sounds familiar doesn’t it; sounds a lot like the Tuskegee experiment, right?
My hope is that justice will be served regarding the death of one Nipsey Hussle. The uncovering of a deep state or a conspiracy to rival conspiracies will not bring Nipsey Hussle back from the grave. My prayer is that the life-partner he left behind, the kids and family will at some point find peace from the broken pieces of a life cut short.