No stranger to controversy, Chicago, IL-based rapper Kanye West recently broke headlines for making some outlandish comments about undocumented immigrants while saying he supports Trump at a concert. At a following event, which coincidentally featured an also recently embattled healthier Kid Cudi, Kanye ranted about artists Beyoncé and Jay-Z in a way that many called erratic and nonsensical. He would then end his concert after performing three songs, leading some in the attending crowd to chant “F*ck Kanye!” Some fans and onlookers saw this moment as just another “Kanye moment,” while others were afraid this may have been more of a “mental breakdown” for the rapper.
Unfortunately for those concerned, those fears were realized as he went on to be hospitalized with those around him saying he felt “paranoid and profoundly depressed.” This situation is noticeably far more tumultuous in comparison to Kid Cudi’s public admission to his own mental health problems (especially given the fact that Kanye gave his support to Kid Cudi after he checked into rehab).
But Kanye’s public emotional breakdown has shown just how our society’s treatment of mental health, especially for Black men, can affect even those who seem to have it all figured out.
It is important for us to look at moments like this, without letting them quickly dissolve, where Black men are forced to face their own mental health issues as a result of the taboos that surround admitting to such issues in the first place.
Black men are expected to hold steadfast and not succumb to the grips of mental illness, but this expectation is flawed and based in terrible stereotypes. We need to be able to have the conversation about mental health for Black men on the regular, making sure that we’re not being left behind in a world that already has a hard time working with mental illnesses. Kanye West’s and Kid Cudi’s respective situations shows us exactly why these conversations need to happen.
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This past October, Hip Hop artist and experimental musician Kid Cudi wrote a letter to his fans on his Facebook page about an issue he admitted was “difficult” for him to discuss. The Cleveland, OH musician, in a moment of vulnerability, told his fans that he had checked himself into rehab to address some of his “depression and suicidal urges.” He went on to talk about how he is not, and has never been, “at peace” mentally, and that checking into rehab was inevitable as he would have harmed himself had he not. He also discussed his issues of not giving himself enough love and attention, saying, “I deserve to have peace. I deserve to be smiling. Why not me? I guess I give so much of myself to others I forgot that I need to show myself some love too.”
Kid Cudi’s public admission to checking into rehab, among his other mental health issues, garnered support and attention from across the internet. Fans on his Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites were filled with hopeful and supportive messages, and various news sites covered the story.
One of the surprising, but great outcomes of this situation was the creation of the trend #YouGoodMan. The trend was created by two friends who wanted to “create a space for black men to connect on the topic of mental illnesses.” This Twitter trend opened up the chance for Black men to open up about their experiences with depression and mental illness, either offering ways that others can help out or telling other Black men that it is okay to admit that they also struggle with their mental health.
This moment of public discussion about Black men and mental health is unfortunately much rarer than it should be. The fact is, people from any racial group and of any gender identity have a hard time talking openly about mental health.
For Black men, though, there are two social factors that make them feel as though they can’t be vulnerable about mental illness. First, as The Root discussed in an article on Black identity and talking about mental illness, folks in the Black community often struggle to prioritize mental health as an important aspect of their overall health, and often feel that keeping such issues private is better.
The other factor, and the one that may make it the hardest to be vulnerable, is the prevalence of toxic masculinity in our society. Toxic masculinity promotes the idea that men need to be stoic, and that sharing anything about feelings or mental health are taboo topics for men (although, ironically, men and those who align themselves the more toxic aspects of masculinity are often more likely to display their emotions in violent or irrational ways).
Kid Cudi and all of the other Black men who came out during the #YouGoodMan trend broke through both of those cultural hindrances and made the conversation of Black men and mental health one that, for just a moment, many folks in the public would pay attention to. Kid Cudi coming out to the public in a very real and raw letter about everything he is dealing with is something that should inspire many other Black men to do the same. I know that I struggle often, as a Black/white mixed-race man, to be vulnerable with my own mental health issues, and seeing Kid Cudi talk about it was at the very least inspiring for me.
The unfortunate part about this story is that, like many trends on the internet, the conversation seems to have died down as fast as it was brought up. Few news outlets paid the story much attention after it went viral, despite Kid Cudi completing his rehab program and performing music again.
The fact that the discussion petered out so quickly is only further proof of how our society treats mental health, especially for Black men.
The story picked up again for a moment when Toronto-based rapper Drake released a diss track where he attacks Kid Cudi for his Facebook confession. In the track, Drake calls out Kid Cudi and his constantly changing music style (“You were the man on the moon / now you just go through your phases / Life of the angry and famous”) and then accuses Kid Cudi of being weak for taking time off to focus on his mental health (“[I’ve] Still never been on hiatus / You stay xanned and perked up / So when reality set in you don’t gotta face it”). The two have a lot of history, of course, but this kind of diss track seems par for the course on how Black men are expected to handle mental illness, especially when other Black men are being vulnerable.
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Again, for a brief moment, this conversation of Black men and mental health came to a head, although under arguably less than favorable circumstances, with one Black man belittling another’s issues due to a troubled history.
The question still remains through all of this: why can’t this conversation of Black men and mental health (and, of course, mental health in general) continue outside of headlines and drama?
This question only becomes more pertinent when we look at the most recent example of a Black male celebrity’s mental health coming into the public light with Kanye West. If we could have a more open discussion about mental health with Black men, would Kanye have had his on-stage meltdown? If someone would have seen the way he was acting before that fateful show, if someone had talked to him, maybe he could have gone more of the Kid Cudi route and gone into rehab in a much less dramatic way.
So instead of just saying #YouGoodMan, I want people to ask #YouStillGood?
The only way we’re going to be able to overcome the stigmas of mental health is if we open up the conversation to normalize it. Don’t just react every time a Black man breaks down or needs to be hospitalized; step up and let Black men know that it’s okay to not feel okay, and that they can be open about mental illnesses.
The conversation needs to be extended to schools and into homes, letting young Black children know that it is okay for them to voice their concerns about their mental health to parents and other family, as well as teachers and friends. The more that people like Kid Cudi speak up about their mental health struggles, the less we have to worry about cases similar to Kanye’s occurring as we work to ensure that everyone, including Black men, have access to the mental health care we need, and that we are continuing to promote Radical Self Love through an open, public discourse of mental health.
We also need to have the #YouStillGood? question be a significant part of the Black community between men.
Black men already feel as though they are forced to deny that they even have any mental health issues, but this can lead to very negative effects within families and communities if it comes out in a way similar to what Kanye went through.
In a perfect world, Black men would be more open with talking to each other on the regular about how they’re feeling, and not only that, but also actually asking each other how it’s going.
We need to understand that we are allowed to be vulnerable, we are allowed to admit we have flaws, we are allowed to be given a chance to heal and talk about our depression and anxiety. It doesn’t make you any “less of a man” when you talk about these things.
If anything, it makes you more of man, or at least more human, because it allows for all of us to begin relating to each other on a much more open and caring way. That way we can make sure that we are all #StillGood.