Acknowledging Black rappers goes beyond listening to their music.

Illustration+by+Rachel+Choi

Photo: Rachel Choi

Illustration by Rachel Choi

By Hadera McKay, Opinion Editor

On Tuesday, Nov. 1, Kirshnik Kari Ball, better known as rapper Takeoff, was shot and killed outside of a bowling alley in Houston. As a talented technician and one-third of the popular rap group, Migos, his death at 28 years old raised another cloud of grief and hopelessness over the Black, rap, and music communities. 

Black artists took to social media to offer their condolences, express their grief, and critique the sociological systems that led to another young Black man’s death. Actor LaKeith Stanfield emphasized the role of gangster music in Takeoff’s death, captioning his Instagram post, “The dangerous toxicity associated with this glorified black serial killer and killed music and imagery got people thinking it’s cool to hurt those that look like them and ONLY them.” Rapper Denzel Curry simply tweeted, “Takeoff ain’t deserve that.” 

With all of these Black voices engaging in discourse about the implications of frequent Black male deaths, one can’t help but notice the silence of white people. Another incredibly celebrated and visible Black man has suffered a violent death—another Black man has been murdered—and there is little to no white outrage. 

In a time of constant racial reckoning—of new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts and corporate conversations about solidarity and allyship—the lack of active, visible mourning from whites for and with the Black community is disturbing. More than anything, the lack of white attention and conversation around Takeoff is confirmation of performative white activism. 

White people will listen to Migos and chant their lyrics, but when the time comes to acknowledge the repetitive violence their favorite Black rappers face, the chants dim to mere whispers.  

Takeoff spent his childhood obsessed with Southern hip-hop artists like Lil Wayne and Gucci Mane. His inspiration fueled the creation of the budding rap group Migos with his uncle Quavious Keyate Marshall and cousin Kiari Kendrell Cephus, better known as Quavo and Offset respectively. Together, they produced some of the most commercially successful, game-changing, and party-starting projects both in Atlanta rap and the nationwide rap industry. 

From the breakout national success of 2013’s “Versace” on the group’s early independent mixtape, “Jung Season,” to the wealth of bangers on the Grammy nominated album “Culture” and its sequel “Culture II,” the Migos proved themselves a force with token layered adlibs and a demonstrated knowledge of the relationship between melody and rhythm. Songs like “Bad and Boujee,” “T-Shirt,” “Walk it Talk it,” and “I Get the Bag” were the theme songs of my young teenage years. I spent school dances watching my white peers dance poorly to “Narcos” and “Stir Fry.”

This is perhaps the most frustrating reflection of white activist performance—white people are among the highest consumers of rap music, yet lack the capacity to grieve seriously when someone from that community has fallen. Black rap artists are good enough to listen to, emulate, and appropriate, but they’re not human enough to mourn? Whites can only seem to reach as far into Black culture and humanity as their pride lets them. If white people are not benefitting from Black culture and expression—which includes the expression of pain and grief—they don’t want it.

Time and time again, Black people and artists are faced with sudden violent deaths and harm. From Nipsey Hussle, to Pop Smoke, to Juice WRLD, to XXXtenacion, to PnB Rock, the list goes on and on. Time and time again Black people must extend their trail of grief, and time and time again the disappointment for the lack of acknowledgement from white people grows. 

Why do white people have to be asked to care about issues that are not simply distinctly Black, but distinctly human? 

If whites do not react strongly to the death of a Black male figure they, more than any other demographic, have popularized and consumed, what confidence can the Black community have that they will fight against the injustice of commonplace Black death across the country? 

No one is asking white people to post empty stock photos of Takeoff on their Instagrams with droning, emotional captions, nor are they asking them to riot. It is not unreasonable to ask the racially privileged to develop the basic human empathy it takes to care about the murder of a Black man—even though he is not a part of your community, even though he doesn’t look like you, even if you didn’t listen to a single one of his songs—and to think about the societal implications of a Black man’s violent murder.

A word of advice to white allies: it is not simply the moments of national racial reckoning that facilitate a need for solidarity—it is also in these small, powerful moments of Black pain. Sometimes allyship does not manifest in protest; sometimes it manifests in taking the time to come outside of yourself and attempt to understand the weight of an experience that isn’t yours.

Learn how to decenter yourself from the narrative and mourn our many losses with us.