What I Think of Kanye West's Slavery Comments as a Black Woman With a Mental Illness
In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I believe it’s the perfect time to address Kanye West’s recent behavior. For the last few weeks, Kanye has been in the media for his provocative tweets, being seen wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat and confessing his support for Trump.
On May 1, 2018, Kanye was interviewed by TMZ. Kanye said he was addicted to opioids that doctors prescribed after he received liposuction. Kanye especially stirred up controversy for his comments about slavery: “When you hear about slavery for 400 years. For 400 years?! That sounds like a choice.”
The fact of the matter is my ancestors were taken against their will, stripped of their culture, forced to take on a new identity, treated like animals, their children were taken away from their parents and lives were lost. As a result, we are still dealing with generational trauma and poverty because of slavery. Therefore, I do not agree with Kanye’s statement.
TMZ’s Van Lathan confronted Kanye and said,
While you are making music and being an artist and living the life that you’ve earned by being a genius, the rest of us in society have to deal with these threats to our lives. We have to deal with the marginalization that’s come from the 400 years of slavery that you said for our people was a choice. Frankly, I’m disappointed, I’m appalled, and brother, I am unbelievably hurt by the fact that you have morphed into something to me, that’s not real.
While watching the interview, there were many statements that were unclear, and it appeared as if Kanye was having a difficult time conveying his thoughts in a cohesive manner. While it has not been confirmed that he’s living with a mental illness, it is important to note that in November of 2016, Kanye was hospitalized for mental health issues and ended his tour. His mental health issues were triggered by the anniversary of his mother’s death and issues with taking his medication, according to TMZ.
It is important that we use this situation as an opportunity to educate ourselves on mental health in the African American community and address how trauma alters the brain, and can increase the likelihood of someone developing a mental illness. Kanye’s actions could very well be due to dealing with the trauma of losing his mother or having issues with his medication, but the point is, we don’t know for sure. Just because you or someone you know did not respond the way Kanye responded to the death of a loved one or your friend with mental health struggles does not act the same way, it does not mean his response to trauma is abnormal.
Rightfully so, many people in my community are angry because of Kanye’s actions when many of us supported him since the early stages of his career. As someone who survived suicide and currently battles a chronic mental illness, there was only so much I could find funny, and this situation walks a thin line between humorous and sad.
This is not the first time there was an uproar on Twitter when a black man showed signs of being mentally unstable. The Tyrese challenge went viral and I was upset the people in my community were laughing at someone in severe mental distress. While I do not agree with Tyrese’s choice to post his video or support him as an allege abuser, I will also reiterate again that I do not agree with the statements Kanye made. However, these examples highlight the complexities of mental illness and how many of us are quick to just think it is funny.
The Kanye TMZ interview quickly turned into #ifslaverywereachoice that was trending on Twitter. There were tweets that made jokes and others stated we are giving Kanye a pass, using mental illness as an excuse and he needs to be held accountable for his actions. There is certainly some truth to those statements, but we must understand there is not one “look” to mental illness. It can range from those who are highly functional to those who cannot function without the help of someone else. Specifically, in the African American community, some of us think mental illness is not real, others think you can pray it away or limit it to those who talk to themselves.
Mental illness impacts one’s behaviors and thoughts. Even if you want to “cancel” Kanye and remove his “black card,” that’s your choice — and we shouldn’t accept his ignorant comments about slavery — but attacking and making fun of him does not help. It is those very actions that often send people over the edge and into crisis.
Screenshot via TMZ YouTube channel