Sunday, July 12, 2009


I've been thinking a lot about the way that Michael Jackson's life and death have been covered by the media and perceived by the public, and how the way he's been covered/perceived is shaped by our "mental health" system.

The way that we perceive folks with drug abuse problems is that the problem stems from some private struggle or individual neurosis. That's the idea that our entire "mental health" system is based on - that if you feel, experience, or show a difficulty in a way to makes others uncomfortable or seemingly interferes with your ability to be a "productive member of society" then you are seen as having a personal problem.

People's individual struggles are often connected to bigger societal hurts, to different kinds of oppressions. Racism is one of the biggest forms of oppression. Racism and internalized racism had a lot to do with Michael Jackson's struggles. So did the expectations that are placed on men to act and behave in a certain way.

It looks to me that the pressures put on high-profile Black male entertainers are brutal. I'm thinking about Michael Jackson, and I'm also thinking about Dave Chappelle and Martin Lawrence. When things got tough for them (e.g. when Chappelle left his show and went to Africa or when Martin Lawrence had skirmishes with the law), there were a lot of media references to mental instability.

We need a more accurate framework for seeing the struggles of Black men. Struggles around visibility, or with drugs, or with the tremendous pressure to absorb the expectations and longings of the public or entertainment execs, are intertwined with the deep blows of racism and also the small box of behaviors that is labelled as "acceptable" for men.
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