Clive Williams – Photo Credit: Toni Dubois

In Recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month

It’s complicated! Writing to convey one’s point of view is never easy, nonetheless, somehow, someway, I’ll figure out how to convince you to understand and appreciate the prophetic resonance, enduring inspiration and power of Black people, Black music, and Black culture; juxtaposed against a brutal and depraved system of White supremacy, Jim Crow and identity theft that continues to traumatize its black victims. But, fortuitously, the unintended consequences of that system, was that it catalyzed and energized our culture and music, which has become the most searing commentary on their reign of oppression. It was Oscar Wilde back in the late 1800s that gave us these enduring poetic words, “Life imitates art, more than art imitates life,” to this day like lemmings, humans unconsciously seek to affirm that self-fulfilling prophecy. Every musical note, rhythm and lyric of authentic Black music is a commentary and prophecy of the evolving Black experience in an increasingly jingoistic and nativist America and post-colonial world. This means though, that we have become victims of our own art; our interminable fight for civil rights, economic and social justice has taken a toll on our Black minds and bodies, our survivalist skills honed by unceasing oppression is making us Crazy; the constant vigilance has spawned in us a toxic blend of insecurity, paranoia and anger, the resulting mental anguish and psychic pain is making us sick in Mind – Body and Soul.

I am not alone in my thoughts, as far back as 1975, one of America’s most respected medical minds, Dr. Herbert Benson, authored the book – “The Relaxation Response,” which changed the trajectory of my life. In that study, Dr. Benson shattered the myth of the stereotypical aggressive, angry black people living in inner cities; what he postulated instead, is that (paraphrase), “Stress factors which give rise to high blood pressure, increased tension, caused depression and other mind/body conditions, are often mistaken for hostility, when, in fact, the real problem is often an absence of adequate health services, self-care and other options.” This Harvard trained medical doctor, cardiologist, and founder of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston, is also a professor of mind/body medicine at Harvard Medical School and director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute (BHI) at MGH, is more qualified than most to arrive at those conclusions.  

Photo Credit: Krakenimages/Shutterstock.com

We are reminded by the “Crazy Bald Head” lyrics of Robert Nesta Marley, what the game is all about, “Build your penitentiary, we build your schools. So brainwash education, tryin’ to make us your fools. Hate is your reward for our love. Yelling at us, of your God above; we gonna chase those crazy bald heads out of Town.” The metaphorical music of Marley reminds us to take back our power so that we can chase the crazy bald heads out of town, because their crazy is making us all crazier. Three decades later Black music again spoke truth to power; when CeeLo Green collaborated with Danger Mouse on the St. Elsewhere album. The cut that went ballistic was titled “Crazy,” which topped the charts in more than twenty countries. Their band named Gnarls Barkley, in honor of the great NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, rivaled his fame, when “Crazy” became an anthem for all those who knew they were going Crazy from discontent and unhappiness, and is a metaphor for how many Blacks feel. Its lyrics echo the Black experience, “I remember when, I remember, I remember when I lost my mind…. And when you’re out there, without care – Yeah, I was out of touch. But it wasn’t because I didn’t know enough. I just knew too much. Does that make me crazy? Does that make me crazy? Does that make me crazy? Possibly……I think you’re crazy. I think you’re crazy. I think you’re crazy. Just like me.”

Researchers at “Mental Health America” had this to say about the growing legacy of mental anguish and psychic pain that’s borne by Black and Brown Americans:

“Historical dehumanization, oppression, and violence against Black and African American people have evolved into present day racism – structural, institutional, and individual, which cultivates a uniquely mistrustful and less affluent community experience, characterized by a myriad of disparities including inadequate access to and delivery of care in the health system. Processing and dealing with layers of individual trauma or new mass traumas from COVID-19 (uncertainty, isolation, grief from financial or human losses), police brutality and it’s fetishization in news media, and divisive political rhetoric adds compounding layers of complexity for individuals to responsibly manage.” (www.mhanational.org)

How do we come to terms with a system of government that boasts of the superiority and sophistication of western civilization, boasts of the sublimity of Christianity because of its expressions of love, charity and concord of the human brotherhood – while in the same instance, indulging in kidnapping, separating, emasculating, dehumanizing, traumatizing and murdering other humans who appear different? What logical, rational and sequential set of explanations, and arguments can those perpetrators of unspeakable atrocities convene among themselves to justify their abhorrent actions? What excuses and stories do their modern-day apologists and sycophants tell themselves and their children in order to cleanse themselves of their crimes against black humanity then and now?