The eerie violin music crashing against Coolio’s crackling beats in Gangsta’s Paradise is a sound any 90s kid could instantly recognize. And for many, the late rapper’s death at just 59 years old feels like another wound in the long list of Black celebrities taken too soon over the last few years.
Looking back even further than this year, the deaths of the beloved Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman still clearly impacts the millions of us who loved his work.
But with all of this grief, is it the case that more Black celebrities have died in recent years?
The answer is probably impossible to know. The biggest challenge would be figuring out what actually counts as a celebrity death. For starters, at what point do activists become celebrities? And at what point does a local figure become a legend?
So instead of trying to figure out whether we’re actually losing more Black celebrities, it feels worth trying to unpack why it’s been hitting us so hard as a community.
I’m not exaggerating to say that the last few years have been an emotionally and physically exhausting time to be a Black American. We’ve been battling a deadly pandemic that has disproportionately impacted our community, while trying to fight for social, political, and economic rights that we’ve been denied for centuries.
Right or wrong, for many in the Black community, our celebrities are often a symbol of our triumph over a system that’s designed to keep us down. So their deaths, especially when they’re young, hit especially hard.
But more than that, I think mourning their deaths gives us an outlet to engage with the trauma of being Black in this country. Rather than focus on every little thing that’s wrong, we can all come together online or in-person and grieve a human symbol of Blackness together.
So at the end of the day, it’s hard to say whether we’re actually losing more celebrities or if their deaths have taken on more meaning in a time when being Black feels especially traumatic.
Honestly, my guess is as good as anyones.