So another Black History Month is here, and for artists, writers, musicians, and other creative types that hail from the Black community, it’s an opportunity that comes with a burden.
February is a time when your workplace, school, or church might be more open to forms of artistic expression that highlights the achievements of Black people, particularly for those of you who live and/or work in a predominantly White community. And while it’s obviously a great opportunity to highlight the best of our tradition as a community, it also means that from an exposure standpoint, it’s an opening to get your songs, poems, plays, or paintings seen and heard by people who might be able to support you financially.
But the burden is the challenge of successfully executing your art without being swallowed whole by the bitterness of the struggle. I mean, let’s just be honest: struggle might be the catalyst that serves to incubate powerful works of art, but it’s terrible as a sales technique. No one can alienate their audience through their art and simultaneously persuade them to become financial supporters.
The truth is, we’ve come a long way as African Americans. No longer are we restricted to the kinds of gigs and roles that kept us docile and subservient in the minds of the majority. In recent years, there has been a greater level of visibility to the everyday struggle that Black Americans endure, and it’s also helped place a premium on authentic Black art that helps to articulate that struggle.
Still, if we’re not careful, we’ll fall into a false dichotomy, where we feel like either we must keep it fully 100 at all times with our art, or we’re selling out for the money.
But there’s a middle ground.
Discerning the Difference
Ten years ago, I was in a hip-hop duo traveling to a Christian camp to do a concert for a bunch of youth from the inner city. When I arrived onto the campus, I headed to the most logical place for music performance—the chapel.
As I walked into the chapel, I walked up to the sound booth, and told the guy that I was with the hip-hop group that was supposed to perform. He gave me this blank stare, so I thought, “Hey, it’s loud in here, so maybe he can’t hear me that well.” I tried again, a bit louder.
“I’m with the Iccsters… y’know, the hip-hop group.”
Again, he gives me this confused stare. And then he says, “This is Christian camp.”
Right then and there, I almost lost it. I could tell that he didn’t really mean to say anything offensive to me, but it was like all the years of being stereotyped as a young Black man, overlooked and misunderstood as a rap artist, all the times hip-hop had been blamed for all of society’s problems—by other Christians, no less!—almost overwhelmed me. I wanted to set him straight and tell him that there are Christians who perform hip-hop, and his assumption was shortsighted, racist, and insulting.
But I had somewhere to go, so I swallowed that rage, walked out of the room, called my contact, and located my actual destination (a different building with a smaller setup).
Often, when I’m invited to share hip-hop as a form of worship music and find myself in spaces that remind me of that day, I’m tempted to go back to that moment, tap into that rage, and give the audience a piece of my pain.
The wisdom and maturity of age helped me learn how to posture myself, not as someone with an axe to grind, but as someone with something of value to share. And when I share my pain, I do it with an eye toward giving others an opportunity to join me in my struggle, instead of guilting them for not already being onboard.
Sometimes God calls us to stand up and fight; other times, He simply gives as an opportunity to share who we are and how we got here. As an artist, my prayer is for us to flip the script and learn to discern the difference.
When you see a man walking down the street talking to himself, what is your first thought? Most likely it’s, “He is crazy!” What about the lady at the bus stop yelling strange phases? You immediately become guarded and move as far away from her as possible. I know you’ve done it. We all have.
We are so quick to judge others on the surface level without taking the time to think that maybe God is placing us in a situation for a reason. Maybe it is a test and in order to pass, you must show love and compassion for something or someone that you do not understand.
Perhaps the man or woman you judge are suffering from a mental illness. However, do not be deceived by appearances, because mental illness does not have “a look.”
More Than What Meets The Eye
When most people look at me, they see a successful, 20-something-year-old woman who is giving of herself and her time. In the past, they would only see a bubbly, out-going, praying and saved young lady who is grounded in her faith. When outsiders look at me, they often see someone with two degrees from two of America’s most prestigious institutions, an entrepreneur who prides herself on inspiring others to live life on purpose, and simply lets her light shine despite all obstacles.
However, what so many do not know is that there was a time when I was dying on the inside. On a beautiful summer morning, at the tender age of 25, I suddenly felt sick. It was not the kind of sick where one is coughing with a fever and chills. I felt as if there were a ton of bricks on top of my body and I could not move my feet from the bed to the floor.
Then, there were times when I was unable to stop my mind from racing. I had a hard time concentrating on simple tasks and making decisions. My right leg would shake uncontrollably and I would get so overwhelmed by my mind.
It was in those moments when I inspired to begin researching depression and anxiety. I had the following thoughts as I read the symptoms: “This sounds like me. But, if I’m diagnosed with depression and anxiety, does this mean I am no longer grounded in my faith? Would I walk around claiming something that the Christians deemed as not being a “real” disease? Am I speaking this illness into existence?”
NAMI also describes anxiety as chronic and exaggerated worrying about everyday life. This can consume hours each day, making it hard to concentrate or finish routine daily tasks.
As the months passed, my symptoms became progressively worse and I became so numb to life. I slowly began to open up to my church family and some of the responses I received were so hurtful. I received a variety of suggestions on everything from speaking in tongues for 20 minutes to avoiding medication because it would make my condition worse.
As a result, I did not know what to do. I felt lost and alone, because a community that I turned to first in my time of trial and tribulation did not understand me. I was so deep in my depression that praying and reading my Bible was too difficult of a task to complete.
As time went on, I eventually went to the doctor and guess what? I was right. I went undiagnosed for over 10 years. Imagine the consequences if a person with cancer, AIDS/HIV or diabetes went undiagnosed.
The Breaking Point
I eventually found myself in the hospital after a friend called 911 to notify them of my suicide attempt. I was so removed from life that when the doctor asked me the day of the week and date, I could not tell him.
Honestly, I can tell you a number of reasons why I tried to commit suicide. Some of them were external factors, such as finances. Some of it was burn-out. Some of it was unresolved childhood issues and genetics.
However, after learning my family medical history, I discovered that several members of my family battled mental illness during their lifetime. Both of my parents battled mental illness, and my grandfather informed me about the time he tried to commit suicide at the age of 14. My uncle was admitted to the hospital due to schizophrenia.
A Bright Future
Over time, I’ve come to the conclusion that I have no reason to feel ashamed or embarrassed. God has placed amazing people in my life from family members, friends who are simply extended family, doctors, therapists, and medication.
While my goal is not to rely on medication for the rest of my life, I am grateful that I found something that works while I work through recovery. Looking back to where I was about two years ago, I would have never saw myself living life with depression and anxiety.
I believe in the power of prayer and God’s word. As the scripture states in James 2:17, “Faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” This leads me to believe that no matter how difficult the situation is, I will have to work towards healing and recovery even though I have a strong foundation and faith.
Do you have words of encouragement for someone who is battling mental illness? Share your thoughts below.
It’s not easy to be hated by the person who is supposed to love you most, and unfortunately, being toxic has become normalized in our culture.
Many see misdirected aggravation, gaslighting, physical abuse, and more as “love tactics.” When a child only knows pain as a source of love, then they too love in that way and any other form of healthy love seems abnormal.
However, the question is, can a person ever love authentically if they were raised to be toxic?
The assumption is no. When someone is exposed to consistent, toxic stress, they are vulnerable to mental and physical illness that can sometimes develop into a genetic trait, according to Hey Sigmund; therefore this behavior is biologically passed on through generations.
However, despite the science behind the effects of toxic love, there is always hope for a better life.
Fighting for Love
“I just felt like I wasn’t loved by my mom, says Monique, a woman in her 40s who was often told she wasn’t good enough. “I felt growing up in my mom’s house I wasn’t allowed to be me, an individual.”
To suit her mother’s perfect image of a family, Monique, was to participate in certain activities without any consideration of her talents or desires. While at the same time, her brother was given free reign to participate in activities of his choice throughout their childhood.
And to make matters worse, Monique’s father suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and would often abuse her. She recalls him touching her to satisfy his physical desires and severely beating her when she reported it to her incredulous mother.
Fortunately, Monique found refuge in her grandmother’s home, where she found the kind of love her mother envied. Monique remembers her mother punishing and verbally abusing her as a result of the love she received from her grandmother.
Like many girls, Monique found herself looking for love in empty relationships during her teen years that lead to a forced, terminated pregnancy and physical and emotional abuse similar to the treatment she received from her own father.
Eventually, Monique met a gentle and caring man named Laz. However, Laz’s compassion and gentleness were unfamiliar to her, which ultimately lead to Monique returning to one of her previous, toxic relationships.
She went on to marry a former flame named Xavier and stayed in her abusive marriage for eight years.
“Towards the end of my [3rd] pregnancy, I found out he was cheating and when I confronted him, he hit me,” says Monique who recalls her toxic relationship that mirrored her childhood. “He asked, ‘Who are you to question me?’…It felt like because of the way I grew up, if I wasn’t getting hit, then it wasn’t love,”
After her divorce, Monique fought against her toxic past. She made the decision to rise above her father’s mental illness, her mother’s jealousy and apathy, and their collective effort to make her their emotional punching bag for their marriage troubles.
Although the struggle did not end after her marriage when it came to love, her children, and health, she remains hopeful enough to fight for the love she deserves. She charges her will to carry on to God, because without Him, she would have taken the final blow to end her suffering.
Turning Off the Gaslight
Bella was born to a Catholic family that rejected her mother for having a baby with a man that she later learned was married. The rejection caused her mother to make multiple attempts to prove her worth to the family by making Bella seem exceptional, but in private her mother was spiteful and unloving as the list of accomplishments grew.
“[My mother] did everything for me to prove herself, but not for the love of me,” Bella explains. “She worked hard to put me through private school and extracurricular activities, but at home I was repeatedly told I was nothing; sometimes she even called me a waste of a human being. To this day, she has never told me she loves me.”
Whenever something would go wrong in Bella’s life, she would automatically blame herself as a result of her relationship with her mother. Even when her husband and father of their two children committed adultery, she took the blame.
As time went on, Bella lost the love of her life, her job, and believed that she would never be loved which drove her into a suicidal state .
Until one day, Bella decided that she had enough and began to fight for her life, beauty, and self-love through therapy. “Once I figured out that I wasn’t this awful, unlovable monster that I was made to believe as a reality by someone who was unloved, it turned my world upside down in a great way,” Bella says. “It never would have happened without me doing the work in therapy.”
As a result of her treatment, Bella was led to a love that she has been enveloped in for the last four years. Even though the pain of rejection transcended through two generations, love won in the end.
“In the middle of all of this, I met a man who just rained love on me,” Bella joyfully exclaims.
Is there hope after a toxic upbringing?
“But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of [your abuser], which I also hate” (Revelations 2:6, NIV).
In the beginning of this article, the question was, can a person love authentically if they were raised to be toxic? The answer is yes, but you must fight for it.
It is easy to nurse the scars of someone that you love, because love is to be unconditional, right? But what good is unconditional love when a person’s pain has replaced the spirit that you desperately want to love?
That is spiritual warfare and it is best to back away and allow God to handle it if they are unwilling to get help. It is important to recognize the signs of someone who has been abused and trying to regain power, which can include verbally sharing memories of their toxic loved ones.
Fortunately, Bella and Monique worked past those painful memories found a way to defeat them so that the tradition of toxicity ended with them and a reign of love could begin.