“Death before dishonor” never seemed more fitting.
The following is an attempt to better understand and critique an NBC News opinion piece composed by George M. Johnson regarding the death of rapper and activist Nipsey Hussle. Though Johnson’s intent was to specifically highlight the intricacies of navigating spaces as a member of the Black LBGTQIA+ community while highlighting aspects of toxic masculinity, one could argue that his piece caused more harm than good and painted Hussle in an unfair light.
In his opening Johnson began by underscoring the glorification of gang culture and its role in shaping a narrative about Black masculinity. As was stated in the article “Toxic Masculinity — Why “It” Is,” written by J. Stokes, “activities within gangs often result in toxic masculine behaviors.” This includes gun violence, excessive criminal activity, and aggressively marking and protecting certain gang territories. Some Black individuals might be raised in environments where gangs are prevalent or subjected to media — hip-hop music especially — where gang affiliation among Blacks is praised. This can lead to harmful behaviors, especially in Black males.
After his talk of Black masculinity Johnson went on to mention Hussle, stating that though he tried to have a positive impact, most specifically in his South Central Los Angeles community, “his legacy is complicated by his unwillingness to give up the homophobia and misogyny that continue to hold so many of us back.” Johnson then followed this with a paragraph speaking on growth and how people can evolve, though the time it takes one to grow might be at the expense of marginalized groups (i.e. Black gays and so on) who are the targets of hate crimes.
Regarding Johnson’s critique of Hussle there is much to explore. First, he suggested that the late rapper and activist was homophobic. This accusation was echoed by others when on January 8th of last year Hussle posted on Instagram a picture of numerous Black males professionally dressed with a caption that read:
“Demonstration speaks louder than Conversation. They gone feed us every image of our men and boys but this one. No hyper violent…No homo sexual…No abandoners….JUS STRONG BLAC MEN AND YOUNG Men. RESPECT TO MY BIG HOMIE @bigu1 for Leading with love and intelligence. GOD IS WITH US WHO CAN GO AGAINST US 💪🏾.”
For Johnson, and others, it seemed this caption was enough to conclude that Hussle had a phobia toward the Black LBGTQIA+ community. When being labeled as such Hussle responded via Twitter on the same day he made the post, telling one critic the following:
“@deray I used my “platform” to publicize an example of the less represented image of our Men and Boys and “The mainstream media” in the form of anti homophobia gets offended? You know that reinforces my original point bro.?”
To be clear, Hussle’s intention was to show an image of Black males that he felt media does not often portray — the image of heterosexual well-to-do Black males. He elaborated on this further during an interview with The Breakfast Club Power 105.1 on February of last year, stating, “I could never judge nobody for they sexuality. What they took out of context was a critique on the media.” Hussle later added:
“I think that it was taken out of context. Um, you know and that’s a sensitive thing. I would never want people to feel alienated or like ‘damn, you know a artist that I’m inspired by or I look up to or somebody I respect might look at me as less than.’ That’s not what I meant. You know what I’m saying?”
Co-host of the radio show Charlamagne tha God attempted to help Hussle see another viewpoint, stating, “I think they were just upset because they felt like you were implying that homosexuals couldn’t look like so called real men.” To this, Hussle responded:
“And that was probably the error I made in articulation, that, you know, it could be read like that. I could’ve been more clear. You know what I’m saying? But me personally, I judge things off of intention. We all human. We gon’ make mistakes, but I gauge somebody’s intention. What was you tryna’ say?”
See the full dialogue between Hussle and Charlamagne in the video below, starting at time 41:09:
Given Hussle’s explanation via Twitter and radio, it appears he saw the error of his Instagram caption. Moreover, the late rapper and activist’s remorse for this post, which has since been deleted, seemingly goes against the homophobic narrative Johnson painted in his piece.
Nevertheless, one could say that Hussle should have been better at articulating his point given the experiences of individuals within the Black LBGTQIA+ community. Issues faced by this group are complex considering their marginalized racial background and devalued sexual orientation. Oftentimes, as is seen in Black men who have sex with men, their multiple identities “place them at the center of several structural risk factors — poverty, racism, and homophobia” (Huebner et al., 2014, p. 1569). Johnson later alluded to this when mentioning that “a black man was sentenced to 40 years in jail for pouring boiling water on a sleeping gay couple” and “violence against the transgender community appears to be increasing.” Though Hussle’s intent might not have been to look down upon the Black LBGTQIA+ community, his words could have inadvertently influenced those who discriminate against such individuals, especially given his large platform.
On the other hand, if the late rapper and activist was making a conscious effort within his Instagram post to paint the Black LBGTQIA+ community in a negative light, the word homophobic might not be most appropriate way to describe him. According to Hiebert (2016), a phobia is considered an anxiety disorder and defined as an irrational fear or an extremely strong dislike of someone or something. Many individuals may disapprove of the LBGTQIA+ community due to moral or religious beliefs, which does not necessarily mean they fear or hate this group. Thus, Hiebert (2016) argued the word homoppression is a better descriptor for those who disapprove of homosexuality and so on. Homoppression is defined as “using the social power of moral and legal codes to take from LGBTQI people their dignity and liberty to express themselves sexually and enjoy the fruits of their love” (Hiebert, 2016, p. 490).
Regarding Johnson’s comments that Hussle was unwilling to give up misogyny, this also seems an unfair critique considering Hussle’s character. It should be noted that up until his death the rapper and activist was in a stable relationship with Lauren London, who he shares a child with. Moreover, the couple was just featured in a February edition of GQ with a headline reading, “The people’s champ of West Coast hip-hop and New New from ATL are redefining what a storybook romance looks like in 2019.”
One could argue that someone can still be misogynistic though in a stable, healthy relationship. Nevertheless, Hussle addressed his stance on the mistreatment of women during an interview with Izm Radio in March of last year, stating:
“I might be guilty of that at times. You know, I would challenge them to look. Listen to my more recent material. You know what I mean? You mature through your music. You know what I mean? But, and I think music speaks to experience. So, I’ve had experience with, you know, less than respectable relationships and I had experience with good relationships. So, you’ll hear both in my music if you really listen.”
Hear Hussle’s comments in the video below, starting at time 15:59:
Given the breakdown of Hussle’s words and actions one can say that he showed growth and was trying to respect people from all walks of life, even if he did not always agree with certain individuals. Is it fair to say that his mistakes ultimately made him a troubled individual or gave him “a complicated black life” as Johnson wrote? No individual is perfect, and no one is without flaws. To reduce the rapper and activist’s life to the narrative that he was “complicated by his unwillingness to give up the homophobia and misogyny,” especially given his commitment to help build his community, provide opportunities for marginalized groups, and lessen gang violence, is inconsiderate.
Another point to consider is that Johnson wrote his piece about Hussle on April 3rd, one day after the Hussle’s alleged killer was arrested and about five days after his death. Was this an appropriate action on Johnson’s behalf? What is the proper grace period to critique a dead individual, especially one who was tragically murdered?
To be fair, Johnson eventually saw his flaw in both how and when he wrote his opinion piece about Hussle and tweeted an apology on April 7th. In the apology, Johnson explained that he could not retract the piece and that it “could’ve been better researched.” While he saw the error of his ways, one could argue that damage had already been inflicted on Hussle’s character. Those who do not know of the rapper and activist could have read Johnson’s piece and rushed to judgement without doing any further research. Taking this into account, would it be fair for Johnson’s error to be held against him when he dies? While the writer stated that he has been able to learn from his mistakes, a larger conversation could be had about how this might add to Black male demonization in the US — regardless of sexuality.
Nevertheless, when it comes to the Black LBGTQIA+ community, and even Black women, it is understandable why certain ideologies, comments, and attitudes would trigger an emotional response, whether just or unjust. Once discrimination and oppression become a life or death situation, one must go through great lengths to instill justice. Seemingly understanding this, at one point in his piece Johnson wrote, “Queer men and heterosexual men often talk at each other — and about each other — but rarely with each other.” Unfortunately, he, being a gay Black man, was arguably guilty of speaking at his audience. A better way to discuss his concerns with Hussle could have been to wait until after the rapper and activist’s funeral, which is scheduled for Thursday, April 11th, and give Hussle’s numerous supporters time to grieve before attempting to start a dialogue. While Johnson’s intentions might have been noble, it is important to consider timing. No one wants a powerful message to fall on deaf ears.
Hiebert, D. (2016). Is it homophobia or homoppression?. Canadian review of sociology= Revue canadienne de sociologie, 53(4), 488–492.
Huebner, D. M., Kegeles, S. M., Rebchook, G. M., Peterson, J. L., Neilands, T. B., Johnson, W. D., & Eke, A. N. (2014). Social oppression, psychological vulnerability, and unprotected intercourse among young black men who have sex with men. Health Psychology, 33(12), 1568.