NPR ran a piece this week by teenager Josetta Adams (right), a Caribbean-American
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:
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!
PATRICK: You never use to be like that. You were regular, wearing hip hop clothing, you were actually just like me.
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.