You know, as I am writing this, I’m watching a video of Wendy Williams breaking down over the death of Whitney Houston. Said Williams, although they never physically met, she always felt like they had a couple of things in common. First both having mothers and fathers and second, both having a history of hard drug substance abuses. And as Williams dabbed away the tears before it could could run into her thick eyelashes, thus permanently gluing her lids shut, I sat behind my desk wondering; weren’t you the same one that I used to listen to every single day on the radio here in Philly going extra hard on Houston?
Listen Wendy, I’m not mad at you but I did find the whole “reveal” to be a bit disingenuous if not deflecting from the real thing that everyone tuned in to hear you say. Like if you had any regret about how exploitative you were over that interview with Houston? How you played it over and over again for years after it initially aired. Or if you feel some sort of way about continuing to mock her and that situation with the Whitney fan you used on the show? That is what people really wanted to know. Like I said, I’m not mad at you at all but I just see what you did there.
The funniest thing happens when a person of notoriety dies; folks tend to forget how they felt about them and their situations yesterday and immediately jump into the role of grieving mother-throwing-herself-onto-the-coffin bit. Folks also like to attribute blame. This usually happens after the initial shock of the untimely passing has worn off. In the mix of a steady stream of tweets and Facebook updates of our beloved celebrities most celebrated hits, we write passionate and heartfelt entries of indirect personal connections to that person, how this could happen and discuss faults.
We saw that with Michael Jackson when we went into overdrive concocting all sorts of theories as to his sudden and unexpected demise. Was it an illuminati sacrifice, or perhaps a suicide or maybe even murder. Yeah that’s it. Jackson was murdered to make Sony Music rich. Ultimately the blame for his death fell at the doorstep of Dr. Conrad Murray. While I don’t doubt that Murphy was neglectful in his care over Jackson, the onus on Jackson’s death was on Jackson himself.
As a huge Jackson fan, who cried like a baby upon hearing news of his passing, I realize that within his greatness and pure genius lived a very troubled soul. One who sought comfort away from his demons in heavy doses of hospital strength anesthesia. And despite the difficulty, I am at peace with this truism.
However not everybody is. And as such, folks tend to rewrite a bit of history and ascribe their own spin on certain facts. I have heard that it is all Bobby Brown’s fault that she is dead. “Whitney was an Angel. Bobby got her hooked on those drugs. She should have never started messing with that thug.” I don’t know how many times I’ve seen this written over the course of two days. I think on the scale of mutually agreed upon Black men, who we despise, Brown ranks up there with Ike Turner. But is that really fair?
I, for one, never really bought the popular media-obsessed storyline about Bobby being the thing that brought down Whitney. For one, they had divorced many years ago and Bobby, who has since remarried, has claimed to be sober for years now. Houston had all the opportunities in the world to get herself clean and instead, took up with Ray J. Secondly Jennifer Holiday was on the Piers Morgan show and said that Houston had been around drugs for years prior to marrying Brown.
The irony is that while Houston was a bona fide superstar with an amazing voice, 2 Emmy Awards, 6 Grammy Awards, 30 Billboard Music Awards, 22 American Music Awards and seven consecutive Billboard Hot 100 hit, she was also criticized by many within the black community for abandoning her soul and gospel roots for the fame that only singing pop songs could bring.
Remember when she was booed off the Soul Train awards in 1989? Or when Keenen Ivory Wayans famously mocked her on In Living Color with the spoof “Whitney Houston’s Rhythmless Nation?” Somewhere in our righteous indignation we’ll forget about how much we laughed and poked fun at the good Christian church girl, who we thought never smoked or drank or even cursed for “attempting to gain street cred” by marrying Brown. And how we mocked her more once her emotional downfall became evident.
In a sense I think the urge to cast blame comes from a very subconscious place, where we are trying to process feelings of guilt about our own roles in Houston’s demise. And just like Williams, who tearfully tried to sidetrack her own feelings of culpability through revealing remorse over her own drug use, we deflect our rage at ourselves onto Brown. And this is not to say that we necessarily deserve all or any part of what happened to Houston. Nor does Brown or Williams. To the contrary, I think that we have to recognize that at the end of the day, our beloved songstress was troubled and made some very bad choices on her own. And we have to be okay with that.
Charing Ball is the author of the blog People, Places & Things.
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