A few years ago, someone told writer Anna Merlan that I would be a good person to interview for a book she was working on about conspiracy theories. When she informed me that she was going to dedicate a chapter to black conspiracies, I was startled to find out that she had never heard of the granddaddy of all negro Confederate plots—the Willie Lynch letter.
Although the fictional speech on how to break and make a slave has been debunked for over a decade, every now and then, a seemingly reasonable and educated person will resurrect the fake document and base an entire narrative around it. When Merlan asked me why so many people believed it was true, I didn’t attribute its acceptance to fake news or the internet.
It is easy for black people to believe that someone devised and spread a methodical plan to kidnap an entire nation of people and oppress them for centuries. Because, if the Willie Lynch letter is not real and systematic persecution of black people is not part of a deliberate, well-organized plot, then black people could never gain true equality because it would mean that white people are collectively and individually just that evil.
Black people are nothing if not hopeful.
However, there exists a vast conspiracy to subjugate the black man that has been in place since 1619. American capitalism is based, in part, on the expendability of some people. We use them up and spit them out. Oftentimes, it is black bodies that are spat out of the rancid mouth of this country. But two things can be true. That brown American vomit is called white supremacy. And...
Some niggas will kill you.
In the hours after the death of rapper Nipsey Hussle, a conspiracy theory sprang forth from the shadows of Black Twitter that alleged Nipsey was killed by the pharmaceutical industry because he was making a film about the fantastic Dr. Sebi, who cured AIDS and cancer with banana peels and jojoba oil. Or maybe Nipsey was killed by the government because he was going to be the first black superhero since Meteor Man to bring the Crips and the Bloods together and build a community garden. Or maybe the murderer was in the music industry because he was about to go platinum without white people’s permission.
Even when the police identified a suspect, people found it hard to believe. The killer was probably working with the government or was an COINTELPRO operative working deep undercover. That nigga prolly shot Tupac, too.
We’ve seen this before.
Hard truths are difficult to swallow, especially when there is no method to a perceived bit of madness. It’s easier to think “they” did it. I don’t know exactly who “they” is, but I’ve been told he is closely affiliated with “’dem people” and “the folks.” But rest assured, They is a murdering, conspiring evil genius. Perhaps They’s only fault is that he talks a lot because people are always telling me what “they say.”
It is easier to believe that Bill Cosby was going to buy NBC and R. Kelly was just about to put in a bid for Nickelodeon than to accept the fact that we supported and enriched a convicted rapist and an alleged child molester for years. We can accept that someone held Whitney Houston’s head down in a bathtub, paid off Michael Jackson’s personal doctor and poisoned Prince more than we can accept the fact that even the most talented among us all might be fatally flawed. If someone we admire could slowly or quickly kill themselves through the disease of drug addiction, then whom shall we revere?
And, as black people, we have seen the bogeyman under the bed.
We have given the monster names like the Tuskegee Experiment, Black Wall Street, The Eugenics Board of North Carolina, and Operation Local Coverage. Redlining was an actual government conspiracy. COINTELPRO once was the buzzword for paranoid conspiracy theorists until the FBI opened its vault and admitted that the decades-long counterintelligence program was real.
But however difficult it might seem, sometimes we must have enough discretion to separate the bullshit from the believable. Critical thinking does not have to be left outside of the internet. And if we are to fix all of the problems in the black community, we must first acknowledge them.
Oftentimes, people attempt to divert attention from police brutality and the Movement for Black Lives by bringing up black-on-black crime, or ask me about the violence in Chicago. (Wypipo love to ask, “Well, what about Chicago?” If the next version of Grand Theft Auto isn’t set in Chi-town, someone is missing a great opportunity to make some dollars in the white community.)
But whenever that question arises, I remind them that two things can simultaneously be true. I believe that crime is a socioeconomic phenomenon and the crime in black neighborhoods is a product of redlining, inferior schools, the wage gap, overpolicing and white supremacy. It’s not as if black people like to be raped, robbed and shot. I’ve never smoked crack, so I have no need for it on my corner. And black people hate murder as much as any white man. I know statistically that poor urban whites are more likely to commit a crime than poor black people. I am aware that there is very little statistical difference between white-on-white crime and black-on-black crime. And I also acknowledge one other thing:
Some niggas will kill you.
And there’s nothing wrong with saying that. White people will kill you, too. (But wypipo will take out your eyeballs and put them in the freezer to use as ice in their whiskey tonics.)
I understand why we don’t trust police reports and the criminal justice system. They are rigged against us. That is an actual conspiracy. The reason we are sensitive to public criticism is that the media never shows the churches, fraternities, sororities, nonprofits, community groups, activists and individuals in black communities around the country working their fingers to the bone to improve their communities. That is also a conspiracy.
You know what else is a conspiracy?
A gang is a conspiracy. “Stop snitching” is a conspiracy. Complicit silence is a conspiracy. Glorifying death and violence as masculinity is a conspiracy. And perhaps the biggest conspiracy of all is to applaud a motherfucker for acting like a shark and then acting like it’s a mysterious coverup when he’s killed in a shark attack.
But you know what they say:
“It be your own niggas...”