Yesterday I watched a video clip in which Trevor Noah, the stand up Comedian and host of the Daily Show appeared to be walking a thin line between describing what was happening to Kanye “Ye” West and how Noah’s comments on West amounted to concern and not “beef” as a member of the audience had alleged. The 2 minute or so explanation is a masterclass in diplomacy. The clip of the exchange is available on various YouTube channels for those who haven’t seen it yet and so I won’t repost it on this blog.
What was striking for me hearing Noah’s response is something which doesn’t seem to have been covered by many people, which should probably have been addressed right at the beginning of this whole fiasco.
If it is the case, as Noah appears to be saying, that all the daft and offensive things Kanye “Ye” West has said over the years, are probably a direct result of a mental condition(s) “Ye” has, and that the people around him and the sponsors who have carried him all these years knew about this mental health illness, isn’t it incredible that they did nothing at all, all along?
Shouldn’t Balenciaga, Adidas and others who had business dealings with “Ye” have done more to help him with his mental health problems? Maybe they did and we just don’t know about it, but I’ve not seen any indication or evidence that they did…
What about “pausing” their contracts with him much earlier on when his erratic behaviour became more noticeable? With resumption of such contracts being conditional on West seeking medical help, and taking his medication?
It may not be the normal way that these contracts are usually done or executed. Indeed it may not be the pretty or glamorous option, but surely it would have been the humane thing to do isn’t it?
I don’t see what would be so wrong for a corporation to attempt to put in place a system that offered avenues to professional mental health services assistance for people, not just Kanye, with whom they have a business relationship, when it is clear that those people were suffering in some way. Surely that mitigation strategy should be preferable to a situation where you’re forced to terminate a contract because of a string of behaviours that are unacceptable and which you can no longer condone?
From where I stand, the failure of these companies to push for one of their “stars” to get help either shows that their systems of managing talent and client relationships are inadequate, or that they didn’t really care that much about his mental state in the first place.
It’s as if the sales figures are deemed to have preeminence over every other factor or variable.
In the 21st century, you don’t need me to tell you that, that can’t be right. Not when the mental health of a person, whoever that person happens to be, is concerned. Not when lots of people, let alone hundreds of healthcare professionals, have been warning for years that there’s a mental health crisis that needs to be urgently dealt with.
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I have a friend who is about the same age as Kanye West. This friend too suffers from a mental health condition that often gets triggered by issues to do with his children (he co-parents with his ex-wife – who in my opinion sometimes antagonizes him).
Here let me mention that if you didn’t already know- mental health bouts often have triggers. Think of it as something that causes a sudden brain malfunction or breaks your mind from it’s normal functioning routine.
Anyway, a few months ago my family and I went to visit this friend overnight, and during that visit his four children were around, playing with my children.
Now to give context, this friend lives in a deprived area in the North East of England where there are very few black people as residents, and so some of the white residents in that area are not exactly friendly to or welcoming of “black folk”. His neighbour in particular is quite hostile (something I have known for a while) and during that visit I witnessed an argument between them that left me extremely uncomfortable. I told him soon after the argument that he needed to move out of the area as soon as possible and that the atmosphere was not child-friendly.
A few weeks after my visit my friend sadly experienced a breakdown, the second in 6 years. As I understand it, apparently his ex-wife had told him that she wasn’t going to release the kids to come and see him for the summer holidays anymore, because of his erratic driving and because one of his children had reported to her mother an incident with the (hostile) neighbour, which also left her uncomfortable.
That appears to have been the trigger!
My friend started posting senseless status updates on WhatsApp and stopped eating or sleeping properly. He barricaded himself in his house and would verbally attack anyone who dared try to show any concern for him or try to call him and enquire on how you was doing. He stopped going to work, verbally attacked his work colleagues and even called the police on two work colleagues – who had gone to his house to try and check-up on him (and persuade him to go to see a doctor). He wouldn’t open the door to his girlfriend and called the police on her, claiming that she had a knife and was threatening to stab him (which wasn’t true). He even rang the police on two friends who had gone to his house to check up on him, but very suddenly and only an hour after welcoming them and chatting normally with them. Talking to him was like talking to someone who was possessed and had two personalities – the normal him, and another being, a stranger living inside him that was extremely abusive and who fought everyone who cared for him.
To cut the story short, it took a lot of action, phone calls, visits by various people he was close to, explaining and liaising with various authorities including the police, conversations among the whole group of neighbours,friends, aunties, ex-wife, girlfriend etc. and concerted efforts to try and get him some help from the Mental Health Services of the city he lives in.
What my friend didn’t need during those moments of illness and vulnerability was a microphone or platform; what he didn’t need was a podcast appearance or TV cameras to try and ampliify all the senseless and hateful things he was saying at the time – much of it was really raw and offensive to so many people. Because why capture “bile” from someone who is clearly sick?
We even had to remove him from a WhatsApp group of friends and peers because of the offensive and senseless things he was posting and sharing…
So forgive me if I’m thinking Kanye’s situation is not too far from my friend’s own breakdown. If Noah’s account is anything to go by, “Ye” is sick, and needs help. Not judgement or bringing down.
I’m not saying that “Ye” hasn’t been an absolute jerk (Taylor Swift episode, Trump Whitehouse appearance, absurd comments on George Floyd, etc.) or hasn’t said things that were extremely offensive or clearly unacceptable to whole groups of people. I’m not saying he hasn’t contributed to the negative image people have of him. That’s not what I’m saying.
What I’m saying is here is a man who is clearly falling apart before our very own eyes, who clearly needs specialist Mental Health care and a hospital bed, just like my friend did, and not microphones or cameras pointed at him.
But that those who were closest to him, who had access to him, who did deals with him, instead of them seeking help for him – they opted to parade him on our screens and continued to put him out as a consumable, a modern day “gladiator” to be consumed and entertain the masses, whether be it on Twitter, on TV, or on some podcast or show which loves to foment discord, controversy or scandal.
All for what? Ratings? Viewing figures? Popularity? To expose / cancel him? Is that how you treat someone who is ill?
Where is the empathy in that?
As a society we need to shun this kind of Media. It’s not good enough for these companies who are putting out this material to prey on people who are ill, whoever the subject is, and use them to create controversy, for ratings or some other benefit. As black people we need to call out such insensitive “typecasting”. In the end it doesn’t do any favours to the numerous causes that black people, not just in the US but across the world – are fighting against.
It’s unethical. It must stop.
By Sangwani Nkhwazi