Yesterday afternoon the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office officially laid all speculation to rest after they released Ms. Whitney Houston’s official cause of death. She died from an accidental drowning, with cocaine use and heart disease listed as contributing factors. Equally troubling, she had negligible amounts of marijauna, Xanax, Benadryl, and Flexeril in her system.
While Whitney’s illicit drug use will dominate news coverage for the next few weeks, the iconic R&B songstress is unfortunately another victim of heart disease — the number one killer of African-American woman and men. Even though her death was ruled an accidental drowning, more than likely, as the coroner’s official spokesman explained, Whitney may have still been here if her heart was healthy.
Atherosclerotic heart disease is unfortunately a common disease that materializes when plaque build-up within the arteries hardens, eventually blocking the blood going to the heart and other organs. Atherosclerosis can lead to stroke, heart attack, and death, the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute explains.
Heart disease is a completely unnecessary disease. Lately, meat consumption has been the culprit in numerous studies about cause of heart disease. Meanwhile, a wide array of unhealthy lifestyle factors have flew under the radar as scientists try to pinpoint a single factor for American’s rise in heart disease-related deaths. Whitney’s long-term use of cocaine probably exacerbated her condition along with her alcohol abuse, smoking, bad diet, and touring schedules — which even stresses out seemingly healthy young starlets.
As studies continue to demonstrate how a healthy diet and daily exercise can reverse heart disease, the number of deaths continues to rise. Deaths due to heart disease are highest among non-Hispanic blacks, irrespective of class status. Sadly, it seems as if we continue to use our bodies as vessels instead of temples, leaving hurt and pain behind to love ones rather than honoring our lives with health-sustaining practices.
And a scattered and unsettled legacy is what Whitney Houston has left her family, friends, and fans. Whitney’s meteoric rise to fame and fortune in the late 1980s and early 90s opened the world’s material treasures to her at a young age. We can only imagine how the New Jersey pop-sensation, who was raised in the church, felt as the sweet aroma of success engulfed her senses, never knowing it would eventually create an intricate public life of perpetual liminality.
Now that the public knows that Whitney had fully relapsed, after reports claimed she had put down cocaine, the focus should shift to our society’s preoccupation with denial and secrecy.
All general conversations about dysfunction and denial should start from the top-down because power loves to hide in plain view. For example, we can start off with the egregious wealth destroying games played at Goldman Sachs or The Obama Administration’s pejorative stance against WikiLeaks and whistleblower Bradley Manning all of which underscores our culture’s reprehensible reluctance to demand transparency from our leaders.
Even our grand sporting institutions are deeply invested in surreptitiousness. From the Penn State scandal to the current NFL bounty system, centralized power continues exhibit inherent deficiencies, a propensity to lie and cover-up facts in a effort to keep up an appearance of viability.
Tragically, many of us individually are mimicking these larger entities, publicly branding ourselves as marketable commodities with pristine personalities and a controlled edginess, a violent side needed to maintain the facade of power and control.
In Whitney’s case specifically, much to her chagrin, she couldn’t shake her drug-laden performances and failed attempts to recapture the magic behind her “brand.” She lost herself because she couldn’t forgive herself, and it seems as if everyone around her was either an enabler or in denial.
Sadly, Whitney’s inner circle is a microcosm of what it takes for a larger institution to keep up the veil of control and power: complicity. Much like what we are currently witnessing with some in the NFL brass, who are actively shaming “snitches” in order to preserve secrets, there has to be enablers and deniers who will step out in front of the public and befuddle any meaningful dialouge.
As TMZ reported, and the Beverly Hills Police Department confirmed, there was no cocaine in her suite even though the coroner’s office divulged Whitney used cocaine minutes before drowning. Apparently, someone in her circle cleaned up the evidence before the authorities arrived. But what seems worse is the subsequent denial to cover up the truth to the public, maintaining she was only struggling with pharmaceuticals (leading to specious pop-doctor debates over America’s prescription drug abuse) when the conversation could’ve moved past her obvious illicit drug abuse into a more healing dialoge that dealt with the debilitating effects of enablers, deniers, and the way we treat our fellow humans when they are down.
Oprah’s interview with Whitney’s daughter Bobbi Kristina, her manager and sister-in-law Pat Houston, and her brother Gary is now a fiasco. Additionally, her reportedly friendly relationship with Ray J will undeniably come under scrutiny, as questions surrounding the true nature of their bond will hound the reality show star from here on out. Not to forget, the many celebrity friends, most notably Kelly Price, who sang with Whitney during Grammy weekend and claimed on CNN “[she] didn’t look like she was under the influence of anything.”
All of this is eerily similar to what we hear when a larger entity is clamoring to make sure all their wheels don’t fall off. No one is accountable and no one knows anything until it’s too late (see the 2007 derivatives and sub-prime mortgage catastrophe). We have to decolonize our minds to the idea of power and control, which are illusions by definition and rest upon secrecy, denial, and violence to maintain their relevance in society.
Whitney’s tragic death is just a minute example of a larger systemic issue that is literally killing our communities. We cannot have men concealing illnesses — mental or physical — from their communities because they do not want to hear what a doctor may or may not say to them. In the same vein, we can’t have black women holding on to dysfunctional situations because of this myth of their supernatural strength, allowing stress and disease to spread throughout their bodies. We have to open ourselves completely to love and not choose the easy way out through the disease of denial.