Rockin' out of a hard place

NPR ran a piece this week by teenager Josetta Adams (right), a Caribbean-AmericanJosettaadams
girl who lives in Brooklyn’s East Flatbush and listens to rock.  She got into it as a way to deal with her depression.  She saw it as one of her only viable options because, as she goes onto talk about in the piece, her family and community don’t talk openly about mental health issues.  But her embrace of rock drew criticism from friends and family.  Check out this exchange between Josetta and her brother:

PATRICK: You think is cool dress up like that.
JOSETTA: So how do you feel about me wearing black nail polish and listening to rock and wearing all black?
PATRICK: You're a sell out!
NARRATION: Ouch!
PATRICK: You never use to be like that. You were regular, wearing hip hop clothing, you were actually just like me.
(Door knocking)
NARRATION: I actually had to chase this dude to his room to get him to give me a better explanation.
JOSETTA: Pat! What did you mean when you called me a sell out?
PATRICK: You're acting another culture.
JOSETTA: What culture am I acting like?
PATRICK: White people.
NARRATION: Uuugh! I'm just trying to be myself…
PATRICK: You're wacko wacko. (under)
NARRATION: The reason why I got into rock was actually because I was depressed and Hip Hop & R&B and all of that stuff wasn't helping me deal with it.

This was powerful for several reasons. 

  • First, it provides a concrete—and in her case, personal—example of the narrow-mindedness that still has a strong hold in our community.  Don’t get me wrong: I’m not blaming her brother.  The issue is larger than him.  It’s about the narrow frame that set up around Black life, one that most people accept without question. 
  • Secondly, something that we’ve known for a long time: That commercial hip hop is not giving people what they need musically, spiritually or emotionally.  I’d also add intellectually, but you get the idea.
  • Finally, it underscores the reality that like rock, seeking treatment for mental health issues is seen as something that white people do.  We tend to say things like that like it’s some kind of badge of honor.  But it’s not.  If you need help, you gotta get it.  If you think about the staggering costs to productivity, as well as the negative impact on families as a whole, not just the person suffering, then you’ve got to seek treatment.  And another part of what needs to happen is that we need to talk about it.  The more we talk about it, then more we take this subject out of the shadows.  If we can normalize the use of the N-word, then we can certainly normalize the topic of mental health, which is so vital to our future.

Bravo to Josetta Adams for being brave enough to talk about this.  The fight continues.

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  • http://blogs.uptownlife.net/michaelagonzales Michael A. Gonzales

    that was one of the best posts ever; i wish we could both talk to her and tell her it’s cool to be different. i can so remember being the oddball out as i blasted kiss, queen and elton john in my harlem bedroom.

  • http://www.lainad.typepad.com Lainad

    Awesome post! I’m not that accessible to NPR in Canada but I wished I had known about that piece. Gonna check that out.

    This is exactly why I feel that black folks should reconsider rock music. Sometimes it allows you the freedom of individuality that real life and other genres of music do not allow. I think that the whole race-identified music thing is pretty played out. I wish this woman well and I’m going to see if I can track her down. Thanks again Rob for the insightful stories – as always!

  • http://profile.typepad.com/robfields Rob Fields

    Thanks, Laina. Yeah, we need to feel free to embrace whatever moves us. You’re right, the whole race-based orthodoxies can be limiting.

    And, thanks so much for your kind words. I really appreciate the encouragement.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/robfields Rob Fields

    Mike G!

    I actually sent her a message thru WNYC. There was this very cool receptionist who helped me track down the story, so I sent an email to Josetta with a bunch of links that will, hopefully, inspire and encourage her. It’s just about letting folks know that they’re not out here alone.

  • Seki

    I am also a Josetta. I listen to more rock then hip hop for the reasons that were already mentioned. I am 44 years old and still get crap for listening to rock and roll, but like her, it saved me. Is is never easy being a black who listens to rock and roll but having that music around makes the hard days better and the easier days fun.

    Keep sticking up for yourself Josetta. I got your back!!!

  • http://profile.typepad.com/robfields Rob Fields

    I think it’s important that folks know that they’re not alone out here, that there experiences were not anomalies. Thanks much for confirming that by sharing your story.

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