Although I do not profess to be a person who knows each and every African-American personally, a reality that would most likely shock many whites, this thing called life has taught me several things. At the top of these lessons is the fact that it is awfully difficult to be a black man in America. If black men were injected with a truth serum, I would venture to guess that there is not a single black man who has not felt the pressures of being what the great scholar W.E.B. Du Bois described in the following manner:
With other black boys the strife (becomes) silent hatred of the pale world about them and mocking distrust of everything white; or wasted itself in a bitter cry, Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in mine own house? The shades of the prison-house closed round about us all: walls strait and stubborn to the whitest, but relentlessly narrow, tall, and unscalable to sons of night who must plod darkly on in resignation, or beat unavailing palms against the stone, or steadily, half hopelessly, watch the streak of blue above.
After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world,—a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.
It is this duality that Du Bois describes that sits at the core of so much angst in the souls of black men who live life’s of extreme frustration as they seek to fill what for many are impossible manhood duties.
There is little doubt that the alluded to frustrations and disappointments sit at the core of escalating mental health crisis among black men. Consider the following data from the American Association of Suicidology, in 2015, 2,023 African-American males, out of a total of 2,504 blacks died by suicide. The most dangerous aspect of a mental health crisis is that not only do those suffering from this situation never reach out for help. Mental health clinicians repeatedly cite that African-Americans hesitation to reach out for help is directly tied to what can only be termed cultural stigmas the black community possesses regarding this matter.
Iconic rapper Scarface addressed issues of mental health in the Geto Boys song “My Mind Is Playing Tricks on Me.” Just consider the dark portrait that Scarface paints in the initial verse of this song.
At night I can’t sleep, I toss and turn
Candlesticks in the dark, visions of bodies being burned
Four walls just staring at a nigga
I’m paranoid, sleeping with my finger on the trigger
My mother’s always stressin’ I ain’t living right
But I ain’t goin’ out without a fight
See, every time my eyes close
I start sweating and blood starts coming out my nose
It’s somebody watching the Ak’
But I don’t know who it is so I’m watching my back
I can see him when I’m deep in the covers
When I awake I don’t see the motherfucker
He owns a black hat like I own
A black suit and a cane like my own
Some might say take a chill, B
But fuck that shit, there’s a nigga trying to kill me
I’m popping in the clip when the wind blows
Every twenty seconds got me peeping out my window
Investigating the joint for traps
Checking my telephone for taps
I’m staring at the woman on the corner
It’s fucked up when your mind’s playing tricks on ya
In a subsequent interview with Complex the Houston-based rapper goes in-depth regarding his thinking and the process that he undertook to create this iconic song.
“I was really going through some deep shit when I was a kid. I was going through manic depression. I just wanted to die. I spent a lot of time in hospitals for depression. I was really one of those kids that was fucked up. It had nothing to do with the way I was brought up, but I didn’t value life back then as much as I value it right now. I thought about death, I thought about crazy shit.
I spent a lot of time in this hospital in the adolescent unit for troubled kids. I was fucking terrible. I beat up teachers, students, mommas, daddys. I was a fighting motherfucker when I was a little kid. The doctors gave me shit like Mellaril and Lithium. They didn’t give me shit like they give these kids now a days. They give them all kinds of dope nowadays.
Growing up I did all the cool drugs like hallucinogens, I did a lot of rush, and I smoked a lot of weed. Rush a little jar with a red top, you can get it at the head shops, and it says ‘Rush’. It ain’t no popper, it’s a puff. We sniffed a lot of paint, sniffed a lot of glue, and did a lot of acid. I didn’t start fucking with acid until I was probably about 17. Oh and mushrooms.
My uncles were drug heads, so I was getting high when I was 8-years-old—I’m not even exaggerating. My uncles would blow me charges while my other uncle would squeeze my chest, like they put me in a death grip from behind where I couldn’t breathe and you would black out. You would call it an Indian Charge.
When I wrote ‘Mind Playing Tricks on Me’ I’m pretty sure I was high. I know I was high on alcohol and maybe like a fucking drop of something crazy. I mean I did a lot of fucking dope, man. I mean like, ‘Holy Fuck!’ I got real high and maybe that put a lot of the darkness that came out in my records back then. I’m so blessed to still be in my right state of mind as an adult.”
The most recent example of a prominent African-American male dealing with mental health issues in public is Kid Cudi, an artist that achieved significant notoriety for his song, Day N’ Nite. The alluded to song also deals with the darkness associated with being a black male in search of a far too elusive peace. Consider the following lyrical content from the song.
Day and night
I toss and turn
I keep stressing my mind
I look for peace but see I don’t attain
There is little doubt that it is the disturbed place that the vast majority of African-American males know so very well that led Kid Cudi to separate himself from the adoration of droves of fans via the following communication.
Its been difficult for me to find the words to what I’m about to share with you because I feel ashamed. Ashamed to be a leader and hero to so many while admitting I’ve been living a lie. It took me a while to get to this place of commitment, but it is something I have to do for myself, my family, my best friend/daughter and all of you, my fans.
Yesterday I checked myself into rehab for depression and suicidal urges.
I am not at peace. I haven’t been since you’ve known me. If I didn’t come here, I would’ve done something to myself. I simply am a damaged human swimming in a pool of emotions everyday of my life. There’s a raging violent storm inside of my heart at all times. I don’t know what peace feels like. I don’t know how to relax. My anxiety and depression have ruled my life for as long as I can remember and I never leave the house because of it. I can’t make new friends because of it. I don’t trust anyone because of it and I’m tired of being held back in my life. I deserve to have peace. I deserve to be happy and 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. I think I never really knew how. I’m scared, I’m sad, I feel like I let a lot of people down and again, I’m sorry. Its time I fix me. I’m nervous but I’m a get through this…
Love and light to everyone who has love for me and I am sorry if I let anyone down. I really am sorry. I’ll be back, stronger, better. Reborn. I feel like shit, I feel so ashamed. I’m sorry.
I love you,
Although figures such as Kid Cudi, Scarface, Kanye West, and Jay-Z are the most known victims of mental illness, the truth of the matter is that at the present moment African-American teenagers are committing suicide at a rate that exceeds their white counterparts. It appears that psychological peace is an extremely elusive destination for African-Americans regardless of educational attainment, socioeconomic status, gender, or sexual orientation. We are all prone to being entrapped by “walls strait and stubborn to the whitest, but relentlessly narrow, tall, and unscalable to sons (and daughters) of night who must plod darkly on in resignation…” For that reason, it is incredibly important that we encourage those who are in need of mental health services to seek those services out; in fact, if you truly love that person, you help usher them through that process.
If nothing else, rest assured that I love you all and want you to live the best life that you can.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III