What do Nick Cannon, DeSean Jackson, Wiley, and Jay Electronica all have in common? They all believe that Black people are the true Semites. And they have a lot to say about it.
This past Friday, the Grime rapper Wiley, a musician so influential he is known as "the CEO of Grime," went on a tirade about Jewish people on Twitter. Over the course of a day, he tweeted repeatedly that specifically Jewish people are oppressing Black people, and, confusingly, that they do it because Israel belongs "to us." As a result of this rant, Wiley was dropped by his management and then given a seven-day ban from Twitter. The very next day, American rapper Jay Electronica echoed the sentiment.
It's a strange claim, that Black people are actually Jews and that Jewish people aren't Jews, but it's not one that these two rappers are making on their own. NFL player DeSean Jackson came under fire for posting an anti-semitic quote to Instagram that also alleged that Black people are the "true" Hebrews. Similarly, when Nick Cannon came under fire for having rapper Professor Griff on his podcast "Cannon's Class" and making anti-semitic remarks, he claimed that he could not be anti-semitic because "you can't be anti-Semitic when we are the Semitic people." Cannon was then fired from his hosting duties for MTV Show Wild N Out. Cannon has since apologized for the statements made on his podcast, removed the podcast in question, and invited a Rabbi to the program.
Last week, Twitter removed thousands of accounts that promote the conspiracy theory of Q-Anon. In a statement, Twitter said that "we will take strong enforcement action on behavior that has the potential to lead to offline harm." Some Black Hebrew conspiracy theories have similarly resulted in real world violence. Last December, two men shot up a kosher market in New Jersey; six people died, including the shooters, a police officer, and three market patrons. They were later found to have been part of the Black Israelite movement, posting anti-semitic rhetoric online. However, some tweets promoting this conspiracy theory, from verified accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers, are still up.
The idea that Black people are the real Hebrews, the central tenant of the Black Israelite ideology, comes from the teaching of people like Nation of Islam's Louis Farrakhan, who Jay Electronica mentions by name, and is part of a loose affiliation of ideas that make up the Black Israelite ideology. Some of these ideas have been loose in Black culture for some time. If you listen to KRS-One's "Why Is That," released in 1989, you'll get a brief rundown on the reading of the Bible that has led some black people to believe that they are the true Hebrews. These people sometimes adopt Jewish practices and holidays, but are not simply Jews who happen to be Black (some of whom condemn Black Israelites and their beliefs). They believe that they are descendents of the Biblical Twelves Tribes of Israel, that Jewish people are therefore imposters and oppressors, and that Jews are part of a worldwide conspiracy to prevent this information from coming to light. The Southern Poverty Law Center currently lists over 100 Black Israelite groups as black separatist hate groups, due to their anti-semtic beliefs.
Twitter has frequently come under fire for both its hate speech policies and its enforcement of them, and its response to Black Israelites has been inconsistent. While Wiley has been suspended and the tweets in question are no longer visible, Jay Electronica's tweets have not been taken down, even though he's promoting the same conspiracy. Some of his tweets are even more extreme than what Wiley posted. In one, he used the hashtag "Synagogue of Satan," and linked to a video where Dr. Wesley Muhammad, a minister in the Nation of Islam, says that the real anti-semites are Jews, who use claims of anti-semitism to cover up the fact that Black people are the real semites. In another he said that all the "scared to death negros" should wait for their "master" to tell them what to say. That tweet was a quote from Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam. The Nation of Islam also published The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews, which Jay Electronica also promoted.
Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
This conspiracy theory is not one that we've seen in the news often until recently, but the issues with it are the same as they are with other conspiracy theories: As we can see now, it doesn't take a lot for these ideas to spread, especially on social media. Just like Twitter's moderation of QAnon tweets, its enforcement of its own policies have come too little, too late, long after these accounts have spread their ideology to their hundreds of thousands of followers.