Disclaimer: While this is not a clinical analysis, as both a Black man and psychotherapist, these are my views on Kanye West from a mental health lens based on his recent media appearances and discussions on slavery.
Rapper Kanye West has found a way back into our daily conversations over the past few weeks with several antics that have been labeled by many as “crazy.” One may agree that Kanye’s behaviors have been somewhat startling and disrespectful. If you are a fan, you might think that this is just “Ye being Ye.” Either way, his antics have demonstrated several examples of someone who struggles with mental illness.
At least for the past decade, Kanye has utilized his creativity to push the edge on our social reality. However, this time around he has done it in a manner that has shown another level of vulnerability.
Kanye is sharing the emotional toll of all Black men
Like many Black males, Kanye has experienced several traumatic events in his life, including a near-death experience at a young age and the unexpected death of his mother. Compound that with being a Black man in spaces that do not offer equal treatment and opportunities, and it is no wonder that he has reached this point of a breakdown – or what he has relabeled as a “breakthrough.”
Black men endure so much stress that it is not a far reach to see someone like Kanye in this state of vulnerability – a state in which we may see his thoughts, emotions and behaviors as extremely bizarre, offensive and outlandish. Black males have limited constructive outlets for our emotional toll. Therefore, when Black men hit a point of breakdown it can lead to dangerous results.
The vulnerability of Black men
One of the most dangerous emotions for Black males is the state of being vulnerable. In many of the environments that Black males find themselves in, to risk being vulnerable may be a life-or-death matter.
Black males have literally been socialized to avoid feelings of vulnerability. This socialization needs to shift in a direction that offers Black males an opportunity to express all emotions without developing unhealthy coping strategies and/or being labeled negatively for our responses.
Think about the Black males in your life and their experiences of being vulnerable – was this experience something that you labeled weak, crazy or impotent? Black male vulnerability often is explained as though Black men cannot be “human.” This is problematic because, often, Black males do not believe that it is normal to struggle with emotional distress or mental illness.
Kanye was probably most vulnerable when he shared that he was prescribed medications and needs to take them several times a week. While he never disclosed the actual mental health diagnosis he was given, he did allude to struggling with mental illness and chemical dependency.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and it as important as ever for Black men to address our own issues and seek several elements of help, whether through professional or traditional methods of healing. As Black people, it is difficult enough to function in a society that was developed on our subjugation. We must continue to use our cultural genius to cope and survive this world.
We must stop holding in our frustrations and avoiding our vulnerability and organize with one another to ensure the healing we need takes place. It is highly recommended that, instead of continuing to dismiss, laugh, and label the behaviors of Kanye West and other Black men, we understand that as Black people in America, we are all one to two life experiences away from our own Yeezy moment.