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How the pandemic allowed hotep ideology to infect the UK Black community

As a health crisis lays racial inequality bare, bad faith actors are using the opportunity to spread prejudice within the Black community.

22 Feb 2021

Let’s be honest. We’ve all laughed at 5G conspirators, seen the WhatsApp (mis)infographics shared by our aunties and been sent blurry screenshots of concoctions being touted as Covid-19 cures. But these auntie recipes and celebrations of negro solstice don’t exist in a vacuum, nor are they harmless. Instead, they’re coalescing as warning signs that a hotep – a particular type of reactionary thought leader in the Black community – is just six degrees of internet separation away from your loved one.

Hoteps aren’t a new invention, by any means. Yet the twin pillars of the pandemic and the internet mean that their influence feels that much more prevalent at the moment, in the form of quack cures, viral conspiracy theories and Instagram lives stuffed with misinformation. But what are hoteps? And how did the hotep get so embedded within the UK’s Black community? 

The term hotep can be thought of as a catch-all for a pseudointellectual, often queerphobic and chauvinistic, Black Nationalist rhetoric that manifests in a number of ways. Some of the most recognised hoteps are people like Dr Sebi and Louis Farrakhan, figures who would not adorn themselves with that title but are celebrated by people who espouse the politics and perspectives of hotepry. Dr Sebi was a herbalist and self proclaimed healer, one who made radical (and false) claims, like being able to cure HIV-Aids.

Louis Farrakhan is the current leader of the Nation of Islam (NOI), a deeply homophobic and antisemitic branch of Black Nationalists that believe in racial segregation. Leaders of pseudo-Black liberation movements like Dr Sebi and Farrakhan were 20th century pioneers of the hotep industrial complex. Yet over the last few years we’ve seen a growing cohort of Black social media influencers using their platforms to espouse hotep-esque views, like UK-based personal trainer Chaka Clarke, who posts under the handle @chakabars, and American psychologist Dr Umar Johnson. 

These figures crossover into Black pop culture, becoming memes and reaction videos that circulate their ideologies on social media. They present an initially seductive message, co-opting Black political movements such as Pan-Africanism and Black Consciousness to post digestible messages that seem to solely be about Black liberation. But they’re just the tip of the iceberg.

Co-opting Pan-Africanism

Pan-Africanism needs to be understood as a radical movement for Black internationalist solidarity which was grounded in a socialist politics. It was a rejection of European colonial rule and led by some of the greatest thinkers across the globe, from W.E.B Dubois and Marcus Garvey, to Kwame Nkrumah, who became the first president of Ghana, a nation Chaka Clarke (who was born in Barbados and raised in Leeds) now – not non-coincidentally – presents as his home. 

Existing critiques that are leveraged against Pan-African movements perhaps explain why much of it is so easily co-opted by hoteps. Alongside the political Pan-Africanism that led to the construction of the Pan-African Congress, there was a cultural movement of “Negritude”. Negritude was a concept led by “French-speaking Black intellectuals” like Aime Cesaire, which aimed to reaffirm pride in African cultural values as a counter to the colonial eradication of African cultures. The Negritude movement asserted the need to protect “Africanness” through a rejection of European leadership.

However, as critiqued by Franz Fanon, Negritude essentialises subjugation and rids Black people of agency through framing Black liberation as only achievable if people buy into Black-African culture. This same critique can be leveraged against modern day appropriations of Negritude, which we can see in content shared by Dr Umar Johnson who often claims that Black families are at risk of eradication through racial mixing. 

“Like many hoteps, Dr Umar’s brand of Black Nationalism fails to consider the complex nature of race relations in places like South Africa, instead engaging in binary and reactionary positions”

Similarly, the Black Consciousness movement of the 1970s spoke of anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggles in South Africa.  The movement helped develop early concepts of remaining aware of the impact of structural violence against Black people that have coalesced into the present-day term “woke”. Many – including hotep mouthpieces – misunderstand Black consciousness as exclusive to only Black people of sub-saharan African ancestry. But “Black” as a political term, in the context of 20th century South Africa, was always expansive, often including Asian people in the country who were also victimised by apartheid. 

For hoteps however, ‘Blackness’ is monoracial, fixed and allows no solidarity with other marginalised ethnicities. A recent post from Dr Umar announced that: “Multicultural politics is [sic] going to crush South Afrika [sic], just like it’s crushing Black America,” in response to the appointment of an Asian woman to the African National Congress (ANC). 

Like many hoteps, Dr Umar’s brand of Black Nationalism fails to consider the complex nature of race relations in places like South Africa (where Asian people have historically been considered ‘coloured’), instead engaging in binary and reactionary positions. This is an intentional attempt to rile Black people up into the belief that our spaces are being co-opted and diluted.  We need to unpack the contextual nature of ‘Blackness’, and not buy into Black separatism that misrepresents the complexities of political movements. 

Racial science – but make it ‘radical’

Biological taxonomies of Blackness are a key aspect of hotep ideology.  Race scholars have articulated how it’s harmful to reduce Blackness to biological essentialism, and how egregious it is to attempt to map our current understanding of Blackness onto pre-colonial histories. The biological construction of Blackness as synonymous with ‘Africanness’ is completely ahistorical – yet it’s a concept encouraged by hoteps. Thinking of race as fixed or ontological is central to the Black Nationalism of Dr Umar. But this is actually a form of race science, which is reemerging at the moment due to a collective lack of racial literacy. 

The ‘fixing’ of Blackness to Africanness can be seen in the memes shared about civilisations across Ancient Egypt and Asia and the assertion that dark skin and wide noses signifies  ‘Blackness’ as we know it now. As scholar Alana Lentin highlights, it’s important to understand race as a technology of power, which is constantly shifting. Hoteps, sharing images of ancient statues with full lips and wide noses as proof of a fixed ‘Black’ history, are misrepresenting race, instead viewing it as simply aesthetic. In effect, this is a form of race science.

“Thinking of race as fixed or ontological is central to Black Nationalism. This is actually a form of race science, which is reemerging at the moment due to a collective lack of racial literacy”

Another danger of ahistorical hotep histories is how they feed into antisemitism, by blaming Jewish people for Black oppression. When rapper Wiley was suspended from Twitter for antisemitism, his tweets bore several hallmarks of hotep assertions that white supremacists are equivalent to Jewish people. He claimed that: “There are two sets of people who nobody has really wanted to challenge #Jewish and #KKK.Much of the antisemitic claims made by hoteps can be traced to an unfounded belief that a specific set of Black people were the ‘original’ Isrealites and thus have a claim to Jewishness. Not only is this claim relatively nonsensical but it also erases the plethora of Jewish people who are from a wide range of ethnicities and ancestries. In fact it is violently antisemitic to claim that Jewishness is tied to any specific biological taxonomy or ‘originality’.

Medical misinformation

Hoteps don’t only pose a threat to increasing prejudice within the Black community – they’re a health risk too. During the pandemic, many have shared content about vaccine scepticism and Covid-19 related conspiracies. In fact during the height of lockdown and when the 5G conspiracies were at their peak Chaka Clarke – aka @chakabars – shared an image to his followers, which insinuated that there is a link between the cellular construction of the Covid-19 virus and 5G towers (there isn’t). 

Chaka has also used his platform to mount attacks on Black doctors who had taken to social media spaces like Clubhouse to dispel myths about Covid-19 vaccines, framing healthcare professionals as paid arms of white states who are encouraging Black people to take “European poison”.

The current global death toll for Covid-19 stands at over 2.3 million and continues to rise. Figures published by the Office for National Statistics show that Black people in the UK are disproportionately dying from Covid-19. Yet the pages of hotep influencers – supposedly passionate activists in the fight for Black liberation – are filled with messages that play upon the iatrophobia of many Black people and encourage them to pursue homeopathic cures for Covid-19 – or deny its existence altogether.

So what do these hoteps get out of it all? Well social and financial capital for a start. Chakabars has amassed a million followers on Instagram alone, and was awarded the Global Good Award by BET in 2019, for his supposed philanthropic efforts in Ghana (including a highly priced fruit business). He’s got friends in high places too, including the likes of actor Tiffany Haddish (who recently joined Chaka in his campaign against Black doctors), and is supported by other Black people with influence. 

“Hotep misinformation is often packaged alongside perfectly legitimate ideas and concepts – which makes the task of dispelling it herculean”

And why wouldn’t they want to back him? On the face of it, Chaka is a driven young Black man, trying to make a difference for Black communities all over the world. His Instagram feed is full of pictures of Black children smiling happily, or shots of Chaka at one with nature. It looks like the dream of an emancipated Black life. It’s only when you dig a little deeper that the rot behind some of his declarations start to show through, such as dishing out advice about how to enter Ghana without getting a yellow fever vaccine. It reeks of a Western paternalism and privilege that dismisses the precarity of people without access to British citizenship and a robust state healthcare system like the NHS.

A now-deleted Chaka Clarke tweet

Hotep misinformation is often packaged alongside perfectly legitimate ideas and concepts – which makes the task of dispelling it herculean. Chakabars, for example, runs a charity called I Heart Africa, funding charitable initiatives in the likes of the Demoratic Republic of Congo. It’s work that many respect, with accounts showing that he puts his charitable funds where his mouth is. But at the same time, Chaka spends days spreading misinformation and nationalistic sentiment that poses a danger to the wider Black community. The complexity of providing constructive critique in a world that is desperate to see figures as either hero or villain is vast. But that’s what needs to be done to take on hotep ideology.  

Challenging hoteps

The battleground for dispelling untruths of Black separatism is encouraging engagement with emancipatory works of authors such as Franz Fanon, Steve Biko, Kwame Nkrumah, Walter Rodney and the plethora of great scholars who continue to critique how racial capitalism exploits and commodifies the Black community.

Many hoteps cite these works but they pick and choose decontextualised quotations to promote ahistorical Black Nationalist forms of liberation politics. There are plenty of accessible ways to engage with these thinkers for those who are not yet confident with handling academic texts: podcasts, documentaries, even guides to help us navigate the works. Anything is better than the diluted form in which they appear on the feeds of hoteps.

“We do not need hotep conspiracies to comprehend the harm caused by global white supremacy and imperialism; we have the facts”

The final challenge for those of us who want to push back against the harm enacted by hoteps, is in how we embody patience and grace in our communications with the many people who have rightful fears about the history of violence against Black people. We need to take time to educate people about the contexts that make actions against Black people such as the Tuskegee Syphilis experiment in 1932 substantially different to the Covid-19 misinformation and 5G conspiracies. We need to encourage vaccination through knowledgeable exchange whilst also remaining critical of the structural issues that mean Black people are dying at such high rates. 

To put it simply, the effort it would take for the many conspiracies that are touted to exist, and the cost to capitalist empires to maintain these conspiratorial claims, make them simply not viable. The structural issues of racism, exploitation and extraction are very real and there is a wealth of evidence of them. We do not need hotep conspiracies to comprehend the harm caused by global white supremacy and imperialism; we have the facts. To buy into hotep ideology is to condemn ourselves to hysteria and separatism, which offers no practical or emancipatory solution. Instead we must remain critical, observant and willing to change the structural violence of white supremacist capitalism. This is what will truly liberate us – not the $40 boxes of ginger that hoteps want to sell us.