Last month I lead a discussion around a book chapter titled “The People inside My Head too” Ms. Lauryn Hill Sings Truth to Power in The Key of Madness” which comes out of La Marr Jurelle Bruce’s 2021 book titled How to Go Mad without Losing Your Mind Madness and Black Radical Creativity. In this chapter Bruce, he says he traces “Hill’s trajectory briefly before and mostly after she supposedly crossed the genius/ madness border. I carefully watch and listen for phenomenal madness in her 2001 MTV Unplugged No. 2.0 performance” (p.140). Through tracing these trajectories he “track(s) the “voices” that speak to Hill, I read for philosophy where pundits seek pathology, I find critical praxis where naysayers see only disruptive or “diva” misbehavior, and I glean incisive message where many merely perceive mess” (p. 140). In doing this tracing and tracking Bruce enters and participates in a very tough and urgent conversation. Bruce is asking us really to think about ideas of genius, Blackness, gender, creativity, and money. These ideas are complicated just standing alone but then they get even more complicated when they are fused together to build one’s identity. We have been able and are able to see these complications play out in real-time every time we hear the media call a Black creative “crazy”, “insane”, a “diva”, or “mad” like Kanye West, Michael Jackson, Richard Sherman, Prince Erykah Badu, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Rihanna, Cardi B, Mike Tyson, or Mod Def, etc. Therefore, when we hear these accusations of crazy or insanity we must ask ourselves are these individuals in fact “crazy” or is it actually the system that is crazy and it thrives from these accusations? It appears Bruce is urging the latter saying Hill invokes “the people inside her head” as a counterpublic set apart from normative public spheres; she brandishes craziness to fend off interlopers and pursue peace; she erupts into tears that erode and slosh away “forbiddingly perfect” façades; she raises her cracked voice in an effort to crack and shatter complacency; she overhauls hit records to disturb easy listening and demand critical listening instead; and she presents an Afro-alienated and Afro-alienating persona to challenge presumptions about how black womanhood can look, sound, and be in the world. Sometimes an assertion of freedom looks and sounds like an outburst of madness” ( p. 171). In wrapping this up I want to pose the questions of what does it mean to call Black folks crazy? Alternatively, how can Black folks express themselves freely if they are often told not to express ideas of mental health, and when they do they are called crazy? I hope you begin to ponder the questions with me as you read How to Go Mad without Losing Your Mind Madness and Black Radical Creativity by Dr. La Marr Jurelle Bruce. And here is a playlist I have created to enhance the reading experience. Peace!
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