On June 18, 2018, the world lost a man. To some, this man was a hero, a visionary, an artist, to others an insignificant “SoundCloud rapper,” and to a quiet, but crescendoing, population, he was, for lack of a better word, a monster. This young man’s name was Jahseh Dwayne Ricardo Onfroy, better known by his fans as XXXTentacion, and had he not become a renowned rapper after the popularity of his song “Look At Me!,” his death would likely be another untelevised, unacknowledged death of a black man at the hands of gun violence, which, in its own right, is a shame. However, due XXXTentacion’s celebrity, his death has sparked much discussion on social media, although not for the reasons that you would expect in an era where #BlackLivesMatter trails the death of countless young black men and women who die violent deaths. No, instead of Jahseh’s death being another example of the brutality that young black men must endure or of the issues that America has with gun violence, he has sparked a debate about not #BlackLivesMatter, but #SurvivorsLivesMatter.
XXXTentacion, in his 20 short years of living, spent much of his life in and out of jail, where he was accused of beating a gay man with intent to kill him because he was, as he called him, “a faggot.” XXXTentacion was also accused by a former girlfriend of repeatedly beating her and allegedly attempting to rape her with a barbecue fork. When faced with these allegations, he responded by threatening to rape "in the throat" the little sisters of those who believed the allegations. However, despite XXXTentacion’s violent past, many in the wake of his sudden passing have chosen to sanctify rather than villainize him, with posts saying as little as “Rest In Peace” to tweets going so far as to compare him to saints or legendary rappers like Tupac.
And in these posts we find a core question: “do those who spend their lives dehumanizing others deserve humanization in death?” As a queer woman, a rape survivor, and a long-time advocate for reproductive justice and women’s rights, it is incredibly frustrating to see a man who spent his life harming women and LGBTQ+ people with little to no remorse for his actions be praised in death. Some have said that I, a black woman, cannot be in support of movements like #BlackLivesMatter if I choose not to celebrate the lives of all black people, including the lives of those who oppress me or those like me. However, for many survivors whom I have seen express outrage or frustration about this issue, this is not a debate about whether XXXTentacion’s life mattered. It undoubtedly did. It mattered the day he beat and bloodied his gay cellmate within an inch of his life. It mattered when he left his girlfriend with physical, mental, and emotional trauma that may eventually heal, but will always leave a scar. Yes, Mr. Onfroy’s life did matter, and it is because his life mattered so incredibly much in such negative ways to so many people that I and many other survivors do not support celebrating his life. Because in so many ways, a celebration of his life is a celebration of its consequences, and if you cannot acknowledge the value of the lives of his victims as well, then your celebration is incomplete.
I am aware that Jahseh grew up in a home that was abusive, where he may not have been exposed to models of how men should treat others in healthy, non-abusive ways, but that is not an excuse for an adult man who was publicly exposed to moral influences on multiple occasions, influences that repeatedly told him that his abuse was wrong. It is instead all the more reason that our healthcare system needs to focus on supporting people of all genders, victims and abusers, in combating abuse and intimate partner violence. Many have compared XXXTentacion to Malcolm X, who in his youth also abused women; they claim that this parallel is a sign that he, Jahseh, also had potential to become more than his “mistakes.” I agree that men, even those who repeatedly abuse others, have capacity for change. We must stop centering the intimate partner violence issue around what victims need to do to not get hit and what victims should do so they don’t become a target again. It is time to shift the burden of stopping violence off of the survivor and more onto the abuser. If we genuinely believe that these men have the capacity to be better people, we must support them in achieving that, because at the end of the day, intimate partner violence can only truly end when abusers decide to stop.
Similarly, intimate partner violence and rape culture are not just defined by the person on whom we put the blame. It is defined by the person whom our culture chooses to sympathize with, whose futures we choose to see promise in. Even if we come to fully accept that abuse is wrong and that XXXTentacion and people like him are to blame for such abuse, these problems will never be eradicated until we hold them accountable for making a change and give them resources—just as we would their victims—to keep this from happening again. Change will not happen so long as we continue to worry about the future of the abuser, but not the future of the survivor whose life they forever sullied. Rape and abuse are not “mistakes,” and they are definitely not ones that should be taught at the expense of another’s life, sanity, or peace of mind. So the next time you choose to focus on who XXXTentacion and people like him could have become or what innate value their lives held, I challenge you to ask the same about the lives that those people ruined. To wonder if they too could have been more. To declare that their lives also mattered, before they were desecrated forever.
Hitt, Tarpley. “The Real Story of South Florida Rapper XXXTentacion.”Miami New Times, 21 June 2018, www.miaminewtimes.com/music/the-real-story-of-rapper-xxxtentacion-10410980.
Photo by Alex Markow