nipsey hussle and mourning the transformations that never happen

April 1, 2019
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Black men die at such a high rate that it becomes an artistic obstacle to ensure the words from one essay or social media posts don’t bleed into another. This has been mostly easy; I’ve not grown too numb to the news of Black people dying by violence. The volume and the media machine that processes it does leave me dizzy, but it does not leave me unable to feel it. It is still a singular event every time it happens. Not a breaking story, but a tragic call at night that, instead of coming to you from a friend or family member, is a message from news outlet or a social media post. The devastation feels the same, but it is not my own because I didn’t personally know this Black person.

Nipsey Hussle died in front of his store — six shots, five to his body, and one to his head. The South Los Angeles rapper’s death was tragic and came like most traumas come to us in this Black life, at a time that feels gravely inconvenient, but not unexpected. Black people’s deaths are overdetermined by violence. There is a historical precedent for how easily Black bloodshed happens, death by brutality was the original tool of disciplining Black humans into seeing themselves as merely Black bodies. Lynchings were administered for our mere existence, and sometimes coupled with reasons that never justified the brutality, but added a narrative to it, so that others can also justify being the silent witness; the most necessary component of maintaining and perpetuating all modes of violence. I have to be honest about what I felt when I heard about Nipsey Hussle’s death, and it wasn’t a sensation of surprise. Instead, I felt a deep regret that so many Black lives have been and will be cut short because of the violent world we inherited.

Nipsey Hussle was noted as both an artist and an activist. He worked tirelessly for his Black communal vision, one that was ambitious, heartfelt, and effective. Celebrities and organizers alike spoke about how his creative work and his socio-political endeavours influenced their views of society and politics, and the tangible things he produced for the community. His vision was also informed by homophobic beliefs and helplessly tethered to a binary that vilified queerness as proof that mainstream white media successfully effeminized Black men, which would somehow throw the Black family structure out of wack — a family structure that we only cling to because of white supremacist patriarchy’s pushing of these idealistic, capitalistic individual ambitions as the only true example of family.

It can be easily argued that, in theory, Nipsey Hussle opposed me as being a gay, feminine man; one could see us as intracommunal political enemies. If offered the opportunity, I could envision battling him with my own thoughts on Black history and radicalism — or seducing him with my own ideas around the expansive nature of Blackness and liberation that could hold all of our expressions as Black people. It’s quite easy for me to imagine Nipsey Hussle as alive and seeking to transform him if he was open to such discourse, or to silence his toxic rhetoric with any power I could, to combat the anti-queer ideas he perpetuated in order to protect vulnerable members of the Black community most harmed by the spreading of Hussle’s rhetoric.

But as I am getting older, and I tragically have more time than I could ever wish for to reflect on Black deaths, I find that the aggro I usually keep in my chest to protect myself and the community that reflects me, dissolve. I think about the white progressive community that spends lifetimes arguing and trying to regain power and correct their political enemies; to transform or silence them with the fire of righteousness and know this is not a Black possibility.  I think about white people that have complained year after year about attempting to combat at the very least least — and transform at the very best — white relatives with violent and bigotted political ideas.

I am filled with jealousy that white people have lifetimes to challenge and transform their enemies and the idea of a Black lifetime is a myth. We know that Black life expires too often by external violence to ever honestly measure our own probability of living long enough to die from old age — let alone live to be transformed or shifted. This is true for all Black deaths, albeit at different degrees: the trans ones, the cis ones, the queer ones, the straight ones, the fat ones, the social ones, the digital ones, the material ones, the spectacular ones, and the mundane ones. Black people are brutalized and sentenced to death at such a high rate that I only have grief and condolecenses to offer when someone I might have seen as an enemy to my own liberation died who is Black. It’s hard to move through the melancholy when you consider what is the use of the moving, organizing, and producing of thoughts if both the ones we look to affirm and the Black folks we look to transform are both being annihilated with impunity.

Nipsey Hussle’s last social media post before his death on Twitter read, “Having strong enemies is a blessing.” It made me consider that in this Black life, we can characterize ourselves in these intensely binary ways in order to navigate: good, bad, enemy, ally. But the great depressing equalizer is that we’re all wanted dead and stagnant, instead of alive and with potential to be transformed.