The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Black People & Conspiracy Theories

I don’t want to harp on this too much. It’s just something that occurred to me a couple of times lately. First, a few weeks ago, after coming across a post about Whitney Houston’s split from her husband and her latest attempt at recovery, while standing in line at CVS I saw that Us magazine had a cover story that included a rather flattering picture of Houston. I couldn’t help myself. I grabbed the magazine and decided to buy it to read the article.

The magazine cover sparked a conversation once I got to the counter. Not one that included me, but rather one between two of the cashiers, who were both African American women. The first cashier rang up my purchases, and when she got to the magazine she looked at the cover and showed it to her coworker who was standing next to her. Their conversation went something like this.

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CASHIER 1: Hhhhmph. Look at this. (Shows the magazine cover to her coworker.

CASHIER 2: Mmmm hmmmm.

CASHIER 1: Now see. When she was with Bobby, they put out the ugliest pictures of her they could find.

CASHIER 2: Mmmm hmmmm.

CASHIER 1: Now that she left Bobby, now they find nice picture of her.

Neither one addressed me, but as I left the store I wondered if it was possible I’d just heard a hint and affirmation of some kind of media conspiracy to break up the Houston-Brown marriage?

It would have been interesting to hang around and ask the two women if they really thought (as their conversation suggested) that there was some kind conspiracy to break of Whitney and Bobby. Because they seemed to believe that some very powerful person or persons did not want to see a black female star like Whitney married to a black man, and for some reason had some investment in doing whatever they could to break up the marriage or at least make it more “difficult.”

Well, there was that time Whitney’s name was booed at the Soul Train Awards, because her early sound was deemed “too white” by some. The blonde wigs didn’t help either.

All great soul music has been made through adversity – Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Aretha Franklin. In contrast, Whitney Houston’s pop was some of the slickest, whitest music ever to be made by a black artist – a five-octave voice yes, but oh, those blonde wigs and that thin production.

This is why she was booed during the 1989 Soul Train Music Awards. And it is also why Whitney’s best singles were those on her last album, released after her personal life began to go wrong and she started to rediscover her roots – or at least Lauryn Hill’s.

The story goes, that’s the same night that she met Bobby Brown backstage, never got booed again (until that Torino performance) and seemed to get her “blackness cred” back. Now, I won’t get into the question of just what Whitney’s recent troubles have to do with an authentic “blackness” or to what degree Brown was or wasn’t responsible for Whitney’s descent into alcohol and drugs. But there’s an interesting tension there, between the vague beliefs marrying Brown helped Whitney assert a particular identity that mended her relationship with black fans, that the marriage itself was some kind of powerful symbol of black love which the powers that be seek to destroy because of that symbolism, and the desire to stop short of blaming Brown for Houston’s problems during the course of the marriage.

Hey, there’s a David Chapelle conspiracy theory. There’s a conspiracy theory that gay rights is part of a white political agenda against black children. And another conspiracy theory that ADHD and Ritalin are part of a pharmaceutical genocide conspiracy against black boys.

So, why not a Whitney conspiracy theory? (After all, somebody had to green-light Being Bobby Brown.)

But there are also conspiracy theories that don’t serve us very well.

Nearly half of the 500 African Americans surveyed said that HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is man-made. The study, which was supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, appears in the Feb. 1 edition of the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes.

More than one-quarter said they believed that AIDS was produced in a government laboratory, and 12 percent believed it was created and spread by the CIA.

… The findings were also no surprise to Na’im Akbar, a professor of psychology at Florida State University who specializes in African American behavior.

“This is not a bunch of crazy people running around saying they’re out to get us,” Akbar said. The belief “comes from the reality of 300 years of slavery and 100 years of post-slavery exploitation.”

Akbar cited the Tuskegee experiment conducted by the federal government between 1932 and 1972. In it, scientists told black men they were being treated for syphilis but actually withheld treatment so they could study the course of the disease.

And the roots of our conspiracy theories go pretty deep.

An overwhelming majority of blacks still reject the AIDS theory, the polls show, and a majority stop short of fully embracing the other theories, too. But the polls indicate that in each case, blacks are more likely than whites to credit such plots, and some prominent blacks say the conspiratorial thinking is on the rise. What the theories have in common is the idea that woes like the drug trade stem not simply from white neglect but from white intent — from plans carefully calculated and implemented.

In some cases, black Americans have embraced these conspiracy theories with fervent conviction, offering documents and dates as “proof.” More often, blacks have said simply that they are unwilling to dismiss them.

The conspiracy theories act as a thermometer of racial antagonism, offering a disheartening reading of racial distrust. And they can also pose practical impediments, particularly for public health workers trying to stop the spread of AIDS. Such workers say many blacks view them suspiciously, and have disregarded their recommendations, including the admonition to use condoms, as being part of a genocidal plot.

… Like many others, Mr. Page says that such beliefs arise for a mixture of past and present reasons. Blacks have been the victims of real plots — from the slave trade to the Government’s infiltration of the civil rights movement. Blacks who argue that almost any conspiracy is possible often point to Tuskegee, Ala., where beginning in the 1930’s, the Government withheld treatment from 399 black men with syphilis during a 40-year experiment to study the disease.

But at some point don’t we have to admit that these various theories lack any real evidence to support them, and that at best they distract us from really important matters or at worst facilitate ongoing disasters in our communities?

And a Whitney Houston conspiracy theory? Oh, c’mon.

Well, the second thing that brought this to mind was a photo-comparison of Houston from this article about her appearance at a recent charity event.

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Her natural beauty combined with her glorious voice once made her one of the most successful singers of her generation.

And posing for photographers in a striking floor-length black gown with diamonds from Diamond Law dripping from her ears, she once again looks every inch the global superstar.

The image is a far cry from many of the recent pictures of Whitney Houston, looking tired and ravaged by drug and alcohol use.

… She blew kisses for photographers in the figure-hugging dress at the benefit event for the Barbara Davis Centre For Childhood diabetes at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California.

Her skin looked luminous and hair perfectly styled as she stepped out at the charity ball.

The event was one of Whitney’s first public appearances since she filed divorce papers on her husband of 14 years.

Well, if there is a conspiracy going on, it appears to be working for Whitney.

And the blonde is back too.

5 Comments

  1. Only tangentally related: My sister once saw Bobby Brown throw an unopened beer can at Whitney Houston’s head.

  2. I’ve got a black friend who believes the following:

    1. The government created AIDS to kill black people.
    2. The government created cancer to kill black people.
    3. The government owns the makers of Kool Ciggs to take black people’s money
    4. Ditto malt liqour.
    5. The government owns google
    6. The government planned and executed 9/11
    7. The government has institutionalized poverty to keep black folks down.
    8. The government insures that there is poor education in black neighborhoods to keep black folks down.

    If you tell him he’s crazy, he tells you you’re a racist.

  3. Having watched several episodes of Being Bobby Brown (yes, I admit it), I can tell you that their disfunctionality didn’t need any help. They were pretty talented at it all on their own.

    As to the wrecked/rehab thing, tragedy makes the cover because it sells. Same for comebacks.

    And kudos for noticing the reappearance of the blonde look.

  4. I’m white and I pretty much believe all those 10 theories – although in a slightly different context – but basically the same. The government did create AIDS to kill black people. Cancer? Not all cancer, but AIDS was created as a part of experiments that were supposed to be fore vaccinations and to cure cancer – so it dealt with that. i don’t think it is a conspiracy theory – it is just demographic targeting for the Kool Ciggs – obviously they are targeted for black people and obviously they want to make money.

    The government doesn’t own google although it is publicly traded; however and more importantly, google tracks all your searches in a huge database – which now with the new homeland security laws passed – the government can seize that data from Google and use it against people without a warrant. Which is just as bad as if the government owned google. Obviously the government wanted 911 to occur and willfully either allowed it to occur or intentially helped it to occur – either way – both bad. The government system does put black people at a disadvantage in a majority areas – very complicated and hard to get into in one post. Poor education is partially due to the cultures of the area, which view government or help from “whites” as being totally bad. Although, many of these fears are not based on credible reasoning – many times – the government doesn’t do much to help b/c in reality – the people that control the government don’t care about black people.

  5. sorry for pathologizing this issue, but there is a considerable body of research that indicates that black americans “externalize” more of their problems than white americans. that is, they identify external causal forces to their poverty, school failure, etc. while this is not always a bad thing – many causes of problems do in fact extend beyond the personal agent – it feeds extraordinarily creative explanations for day-to-day issues.

    aids is killing high numbers of blacks = aids is a genocidal force = aids is a genocidal force created by white people (again in general terms) to control us. don’t bother citing the fact that the black american population continues to grow at a faster rate than white americans because the conspiracy theorists are not interested in contradictory evidence. they are busy creating a complete schematic of the world-system based on a simple model of racial supremacy.

    thus, every media take on whitney is a further attempt to oppress the ENTIRE BLACK RACE.

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