Bobby Brown Didn't Kill Whitney Houston

When Whitney died about this time last year, I spent some time in comments and on twitter debating people about her relationship with Bobby Brown. That Brown was abusive is a matter of fact and he deserves all due condemnation for it. But there was, along with that, a narrative of ruin around the time of Houston's death that generally held that Brown was, somehow, responsible for Houston's descent from American royalty to crack-is-whack to death. Specifically, a lot of people claimed that it was Brown who "hooked" Whitney on drugs.

It was not:

For years, rumor had it that Bobby Brown had introduced Whitney Houston to drugs--but Michael Houston, one of the singer's two older brothers, has revealed to Oprah Winfrey that the real story was quite different. It's a story that has Michael Houston "living, but not alive" since his younger sister's death almost a year ago.

"I feel responsible for what I let go so far," he told Oprah in a Monday interview on OWN that primarily featured mother Cissy Houston, who has a new tell-all memoir out. In that book, Cissy says she didn't understand her children doing drugs then, and she doesn't understand it now.

Said Michael Houston, "We were always, you know, being together most of the time, and her following behind me -- I taught her to drive. We played together -- everything that you do together as you're growing up -- and then when you get into drugs, you do that together too, and it just got out of hand."

Then Oprah presented what she called "the big question": Did he introduce her to drugs?

"I would say, yeah, we did everything together, so once I was into that, then she followed suit," he said.

From a human perspective, I understand why an older brother would feel responsible for Houston's death. But it's been my feeling that the country at large has trouble accepting that Whitney Houston was a person, endowed with all the attendant flaws. One reason they had trouble was because Houston's image was engineered to make them think that way. I'd argue that Bobby Brown, as a black man from the projects, was tailor made for the role of despoiler of virgins and author of mad villainy.

The inability to accept that Houston, as free as any man, engaged in the drug use that destroyed her voice and killed her, is parcel to an inability to accept the full humanity of women as a class. Houston's handlers capitalized on that inability and sold her as goddess of femininity. America bought this. Thus the pairing of the patron saint of ladyhood with the patron saint of unreconstructed niggerdom could only be explained by magic and time travel.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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