‘Name One Genius that Ain’t Crazy’: Scott Mescudi, Kanye West, and Mental Illness in the Black Community
Among the black community, the topic of mental illness is like dust kicked under the rug: too minuscule to warrant thorough attention, an ever-present yet “trivial” nuisance, only addressed once in a blue moon when Momma’s in the mood for spring cleaning and that means peeling back the rugs to uncover the shit that’s underneath.
But even then, it’s dust.
Even when it’s Scott Mescudi—otherwise known as Kid Cudi—and Kanye West, it’s nothing more than the shit that’s underneath.
On October 4th, Kid Cudi revealed in an open letter to his fans that he had checked himself into a rehabilitation center to seek help with “depression and suicidal urges.” Though the musician and actor acknowledges that he deserves peace and happiness, the letter is laced with shame, with regret, with an overwhelming sense of apology.
Perhaps rightfully so.
While he received an inspiring amount of supportive comments under the Facebook post, Cudi was also met with all of the rage, judgment, and misunderstanding that is to be expected after one outs himself from a stigmatized position. Among those who expressed negative sentiments regarding Cudi’s announcement is rap superstar Drake. In his song “Two Birds One Stone,” Drake not-so-subliminally raps:
“You were the man on the moon
Now you just go through your phases
Life of the angry and famous
Rap like I know I’m the greatest
Then give you the tropical flavors
Still never been on hiatus
You stay xanned and perked up…”
As if suicidal thoughts and self-harm are just a “phase.” As if persistent use of depressant drugs cannot be a cry for help. As if the “man on the moon”—a reference to Cudi’s debut solo album—is not allowed a fall from grace.
Drake has not apologized for the insensitive lyrics, employing the age-old (and just plain childish) defense that Cudi “started it first” when he came for Drake over social media. As if a thirty-year-old man acting as if he’s seven isn’t strange enough, even more odd is the fact that Kanye West is credited as a contributing composer and producer on the offensive track; in light of the recent events in West’s life, one would think that he would be more understanding towards a black man dealing with mental illness.
Following a series of public meltdowns (though, arguably, “meltdown” may not be the correct term if West was simply voicing his true opinions)—calling on the black community to “stop talking about race so much,” stating that had he voted, it would’ve been for Donald Trump, calling out Beyoncé and Jay-Z, etc.—Kanye West voluntarily checked into the UCLA Hospital. A Huffington Post article states that West’s hospitalization was triggered in large part by his “erratic” use of medication prescribed for “psychological issues”…
… And here, once again in this American society that makes no sense, one plus one is not equalling two. A black man dealing with psychological issues contributed, even if only in a small way, to the mockery of another black man dealing with psychological issues—if this is not the prime example of the pervasiveness of internalized stigmatization of mental illness within the black community, then I don’t know what is.
Even worse is the fact that West has received backlash that may be even more severe than that endured by Cudi. People are speculating that West’s hospitalization was an act of publicity meant to inspire sympathy after his string of offensive comments. And maybe this is partially true, but for us as a black community to jump to conclusions before trying to empathize is not only wrong, it is dangerous.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, African-Americans are twenty percent more likely to experience serious mental illness than the rest of the American population. Twenty percent. Yet when somebody seeks healing, seeks recovery, acknowledges that they deserve to smile, takes up arms against their demons, we judge. We laugh. We mock. We deny the existence of mental illness, saying that “it’s all in their heads.” We push the dust under the rug, saying we’ll get to it later, but we rarely ever do.
Kid Cudi and Kanye West, separate from the music, separate from the rap beef, are examples to the black community of how mental illness should be handled.
Mental illness should be handled.
Momma, it’s time for spring cleaning.