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Nov 29, 2016

Is Kanye Okay?: Black Culture’s Relationship With Mental Wellness.

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Yesterday I binged watched the entire season of HBO’s newest original show Insecure, created by former YouTube sensation Issa Rae. Spoiler alert: it’s amazing!

Near the end of the series, the show cautiously approaches the subject of mental health and wellness. Issa—who works as both the show’s creator and protagonist—suggests to her best friend, Molly, that maybe she should talk to somebody about the things that were going on in her life. Long story short, Molly took extreme offense, presuming that Issa thought that she was “crazy.” This conversation hit home for a couple of reasons:

  1. I remember the look on the face of one of my friend’s when I suggested that maybe I needed to talk to a therapist. My life wasn’t in an especially bad place, however, I was dealing with things that I didn’t feel I could speak freely about with family or friends. That look prevented me from pursuing the issue any further.
  2. It’s a widely held notion within black culture that “therapist = crazy.” I don’t know where it started or why it continues to permeate our collective thought process, but it’s good to see people like Issa Rae using their platforms to bring this issue to light in a constructive way.
  3. This unwillingness to take mental health seriously is part of the reason why many within the community feel that, as a people, we are having a hard time reaching our full potential.

Among those who have presented compelling arguments on why black people need to start taking their mental health and wellness seriously are Dr. Joy DeGruy, the author of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing (PTSS). Through her book, Dr. DeGruy submits that the behaviors, beliefs, and actions of black people can be explained by the generational trauma our ancestors experienced with slavery. Her main point is that the descendants of enslaved Africans are victims of undiagnosed and untreated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Even hip-hop culture, considered one of the most macho expressions of blackness, is starting to openly discuss mental health and wellness. Respected New York rap veteran DMX spoke about dealing with bipolar disorder. Cleveland rapper Kid Cudi has been openly speaking about his mental stability for years. Atlanta comedian/actor/rapper Donald “Childish Gambino” Glover made the “mistake” of posting some stream of conscious thoughts on Instagram and fans thought he was planning to commit suicide (a theory he promptly debunked).

Most recently, Kanye West decided to cancel the rest of his Saint Pablo tour after two consecutive frantic tour stops in California. As of this article’s publishing, many reports suggest that Kanye is not stable enough to go home and needs more treatment.

Before he canceled the Saint Pablo tour, I had already decided that I wasn’t going to financially support Kanye until he sought treatment. I posted on Facebook that I was selling my ticket to his Columbia, South Carolina stop and pleaded for him to get help. While I’m glad he is hopefully getting the support he needs, I’m also selfishly rooting for his triumphant return for other reasons.

I believe that if Kanye can come out the other side of this a better (and healthier) person, it could cause positive waves to ripple within hip-hop culture—specifically, how it handles mental health. Whether you like him or not, Kanye has proven himself to be an international influencer in music, culture, and fashion. His success could mean that others will have the confidence to confront their mental issues head on.

For years, I have wondered if Kanye ever took the time to properly grieve after his mother’s passing and how that has affected both his life and musical outputs. While I have enjoyed everything he has released (yes, that includes the Yeezus album), I would like to see what he can come up with if given the gift of total peace. Maybe we’d finally get that Good A$$ Job album we’ve been waiting for since 2008.

Even if he does come out of this situation a stronger person, we’re probably not going to get that album. I’ve made peace with that. Maybe the best we can hope for is that the black community start taking their sanity as seriously as we do Kanye West concerts.

Come to think of it, that’s way better than any album release.