No matter the circumstance, it always pains me to hear of another Black man that was the victim of murder, particularly a young Black man like Takeoff. I’m a bit removed from the culture of hip-hop to the extent that I’m unfamiliar with the entirety of the Migos catalog. However, any young man, a rapper no less, who loses his life to violence is simply jarring.
But the question always becomes, who is at fault?
Of course, there are those who use this as an opportunity to say that Black lives don’t matter to Black people, Black-on-Black crime is the chief epidemic in the Black community and hip-hop is nothing more than a celebration of Black despair sold to Black people. While I do think that there is an element of life imitating art here, the commonly used arguments mentioned above are low-hanging fruit.
Takeoff was more visible than most due to his life as an entertainer. His loss of life, and others, sticks out. Certainly, Black people murder Black people at a high percentage, but white people murder white people similarly. According to FBI statistics, 89 percent of Black people are murdered by Black people and 81 percent of white people are murdered by white people.
Yet you never hear about white-on-white crime, so we can put that argument to rest. Maybe if there weren’t any de facto segregation of residential housing due to redlining and discrimination in who gets approved for a mortgage, these numbers might be lower.
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In addition to understanding how systemic racism facilitates the criminality of proximity, the lack of resources and lack of access to resources facilitates people drifting into a life of criminal behavior. I grew up with guys who came up hard and made the decision to enter some form of the underground economy.
Others with the same struggles chose not to do that, changing the course of their trajectory so they wouldn’t become statistics.
Those of us who made it with the support of the community as well as the support of loved ones have families of our own now. We have careers. We’re productive members of society. We reflect on our lives and making the best with what we had. We reflect on those who didn’t make it.
I don’t know Takeoff, Quavo or Offset. But I imagine that when they arrived on the scene and achieved success, they reflected on their success, the decision they made in choosing not to become statistics, and those who didn’t make it out of the neighborhoods they’re from.
Sadly, Quavo and Offset are left to reflect on the decisions that contributed to Takeoff’s absence from this life.
Circumstances like this, whether thinking about the unfortunate loss of Takeoff or reflecting with friends on the decision to want better for ourselves, lead to logical questions. If there are, unfortunately, so many others who struggled due to circumstances not of their choosing, who deserves the credit when they rise above them, and who deserves the blame when they don’t?
Does the onus lean heavily towards systemic racism or towards personal? As with questions like these, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.
While personal responsibility matters, responsibility looks different depending on the standard one is introduced to. If one’s basic needs are met, personal responsibility looks different than someone whose needs aren’t met. Yet there is a level of communal responsibility whereby we take care of each other. The truth is that we must do a better job of taking care of each other.
That doesn’t only mean not shooting one another but also aiming our bullets at white supremacy and systemic racism. Critical thinking demands that we be intellectually honest and have a real conversation based on understanding how this society works.
Unfortunately, too many people are not ready or willing to have that conversation.
Photo: The program for Takeoff’s memorial service in Atlanta, Nov. 11, 2022. He was a member of the hip-hop trio Migos. (AP Photo/Sudhin Thanawala)
Rann Miller is the director of anti-bias and DEI initiatives as well as a high school social studies teacher for a school district located in Southern New Jersey. He’s also a freelance writer and founder of the Urban Education Mixtape, supporting urban educators and parents of students in urban schools. He is the author of the upcoming book, Resistance Stories from Black History for Kids, with an anticipated release date of February 2023. You can follow him on Twitter @UrbanEdDJ .