pop culture

Empire's Take On Bipolar Disorder is Real by Diamond Coleman

It's no surprise that mental illness is a topic that is not discussed nearly enough in most non-white communities. As a black person who suffers from anxiety and knows others who have a mental disorder, however, I’ve witnessed firsthand the ways in which we generally treat one of our own having one. It’s true that we all know someone—whether it be a brother, sister, best friend, or parent—who is plagued with a mental illness, but I find that the issue is oftentimes swept under the rug. By refusing to educate ourselves and talk about it in a public forum, we inevitably set our community up for failure.

How is one supposed to seek help without the fear of being judged if the issue is rarely talked about in the first place? How does one find solace in knowing that they’re not alone in this kind of suffering if others who have a mental disorder are silenced?

This is why when the TV show Empire unveiled one of its pivotal characters, Andre Lyon, as having bipolar disorder, I was thankful to creators Lee Daniels and Danny Strong for bringing to light a reality that many black individuals face. I cannot remember the last time I saw a black person on TV or in a movie—a dramatization or not—who struggled with a mental disorder. Usually, it’s a white woman à la Toni Collette in United States of Tara, or a severely troubled white teen like Jake Gyllenhaal in the dark-drama film Donnie Darko.

Yes, these stories are real for many individuals regardless of race, but the mere fact that black people are often left out of the narrative makes it seem as if it’s not real for us.

While the show’s portrayal of bipolar disorder has been criticized by many for its inaccuracy and disregard for depicting the nuances of the illness, I believe that there exists someone who battles with it in the same manner that Andre does. That is not to say that his experience is representative of bipolar disorder as a whole, but that it is relatable in one way or another.

Andre’s illness has worsened as of late, mainly due to the fact that he made the irrational decision to stop taking his meds. This choice resulted in his having extreme emotional highs and lows all within the span of a single day, a turning point of the series that criticizers perceive as unrealistic. As someone who doesn’t have bipolar disorder and has never suffered from a mental illness, I cannot deem Andre’s drastic and quick change in moods unreal. It would be unfair of me to draw such a conclusion.

What some criticizers don’t take into account, though, is that Andre’s disorder is unfolding on a half-season TV show, which means that there is an obligation, to a certain extent, to accelerate and exaggerate the progression of his disorder. Empire is a show that is inherently melodramatic, so it’s only natural that some of its characters are hyperbolized. Also, the show only has so much time allotted to engage viewers, so it makes sense that Andre’s character has developed so quickly.

Andre Lyon is not the quintessential depiction of someone who has bipolar disorder; no one who has it is. But he represents some of those financially successful, young black men who, despite the many 0s in their bank account and the obstacles they've overcome in America, also have to deal with a mental disorder. And, quite frankly, I think it’s about damn time that we start a discourse on the role that mental health plays in many black persons' lives.

Instead of picking apart Empire for all the ways in which it fails to convey a more “real” example of bipolar disorder, let’s appreciate it for, at the very least, encouraging our society to examine such a highly ignored and misunderstood issue in the black community.

Images: Ojo de vidrio/Flickr; Dean812/Flickr

Beyoncé is Not Jesus by Diamond Coleman

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It's rare in this day and age to meet someone who isn't obsessed with Beyoncé, or, at the very least, doesn't appreciate her talent. When you go on your Facebook and Twitter feeds, she's there in lyrical and GIF forms. When you turn on the radio, one of her songs is playing, and you inevitably begin bobbing your head and rapping or singing along. When she broke the internet (sorry, Kim K. Jk---I'm not) with the release of her new joint "7/11" a few weeks ago, my Twitter timeline was immediately bombarded with hyperbolic tweets. Because of this song, supposedly several proverbial wigs were "snatched" from the heads of non-believers and "peasants," while members of "The Beyhive" (the name given to the Beyoncé fandom) were seemingly incapable of turning off caps lock as they vividly described the apparent religious experience they were undergoing in real time. I don't think I've ever seen the limit of 140 typographical characters reached in such ways before. Nonetheless, I wasn't at all taken aback by this kind of reaction; in fact, I was expecting it. I mean, after all, it's Beyoncé, a woman whose significance has, through the eyes of several people around the world, surpassed that of Jesus. Yeah, THAT Jesus. I'd like to think of myself as a spiritual person rather than a religious one; the latter implies that I'm devoted to a specific religion and practice it regularly, which isn't the case. If anything, I'm agnostic. Agnostically spiritual? Spiritually agnostic? Clearly I'm a work in progress, but basically what I'm getting at is that even though I'm not devoted to a religion that believes Jesus to be the son or prophet of God, I find it offensive that some equate a human being---yes, contrary to what some of y'all believe, when Beyoncé gets paper cuts, she bleeds red blood just like us, not gold---to Jesus Christ. I mean, homegirl is even called "Beysus." Since when was it ever justifiable to make a mockery of religions that are the very core of many people's lives? Have we become so diluted as a society that we now turn to celebrities for guidance?

Yes, it's true that Beyoncé has saved the lives of many, both actually and figuratively; trust me, I know very well the healing power of music. And I give her some props for having the innate ability to have such a profound effect on hundreds of thousands of people that she hasn't even met. But her fascinating influence on others isn't enough to warrant a comparison to a religious figure whose influence is far greater than hers. Exalting her to a divine level is not only ridiculous, but it's also demeaning to us everyday folks. If people continue to react as if they've just witnessed the resurrection of Jesus when she does, well, anything, it will only give more power to the impression that she transcends humanity. She doesn't. No one does. She knows this, so why don't we?

I am not a Beyoncé hater. Actually, I was a huge Destiny's Child fan growing up and when she went solo, I bought Dangerously In Love as soon as it dropped. I also bought B'Day and when her surprise self-titled album was released last year, I even succumbed to the hype and purchased it and the videos. But my opinion of her has definitely changed over the past 17 years (OMG, has it really been that long?!). No longer is she the woman who can sing and dance her ass off while still maintaining a humble disposition. Now, I don't think she's necessarily pompous, but I get the sense that she and her very famous husband are elitist. Is she a great performer? Absolutely. Can she sing? Uh, obviously. Is she pretty? Of course. She also makes catchy-ass music every now and then. But these attributes don't make her a deity; they just mean that she's really talented and possesses star power, whatever the hell that is.

Here's some truth for us all: Beyoncé wasn't thinking about us yesterday, she wasn't thinking about us during any part of today, and she sure as hell won't be thinking about us tomorrow. Not only is she one of the busiest people in the entire world, but she also has a major business to uphold, which means she has no time to even think about her Beyhivers, let alone grieve with them or hold their hand when they're going through a crisis. So why put so much faith into her? There's nothing wrong with being a hardcore fan; hell, I'm guilty of obsessing over some famous people. But now that I'm older and am fully aware that they, just like me, are human and are not infallible, I've chilled out with treating them like they're saints. They make a lot of money and sure, some days I imagine myself being in their shoes. But all that glitters isn't gold, kids.

Let's do better. Let's stop saying Beyoncé is Jesus, because she isn't, and she will never be.

What Does "Acting Black" Even Mean? by Diamond Coleman

While watching a recent episode of TMZ (don't judge me), I heard Harvey Levin and his crew say something rather ridiculous about the Biebs: that he's "trying to be black" due to his recent behavior and the fact that he has black rappers as friends. I guess smoking weed, talking about sippin' on that sizzurp, drinking Grey Goose and wearing baggy pants (which is a major fashion faux pas, btw) is all us black folks do nowadays, huh? What about our MLKs, Beyoncés, Baracks and Olivia Popes?

Justin Bieber has black friends; big whoop. I have white friends but that doesn't mean I'm trying to be white. It irritates me beyond belief when people say someone is acting black or white just because they talk, behave, or dress a certain way, or have friends of another race. When these false accusations are thrown around so carelessly, stereotypes are further solidified and have an even larger safe haven in which to grow and intensify. But before we delve any deeper into this subject, let's disassemble the actual definition of the word "stereotype" via Merriam-Webster online:

"something conforming to a fixed or general pattern; especially : a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment"

The phrases that stand out most to me in this definition are "oversimplified opinion," "prejudiced attitude," and "uncritical judgment." In other words, to stereotype an entire group of people is to have a prejudice perception of that group that is solely based on generalizations or opinions. So when Harvey Levin said that Justin Bieber is "acting black," I assumed that he was going off of how black people are generally portrayed in media. But as everyone knows (or should know, at least), black people don't just act one way; there's a wider scope of the black experience than what is displayed on TV or heard in some of today's music. I'm not going to lie to you all: I've been guilty of this same ignorance before. And like many of you, I've also been the victim of such ignorance.
I've lost count of how many times I've been told that I "act white" because I sometimes decide to pronounce my -ers and -ings and occasionally exclaim "Oh my god!" in an obnoxious, high-pitched voice. What these people are basically saying is that speaking proper English is unique to only white people and that no one else shouts out God's name in vein. Meanwhile, black people speak in slang and never (or just choose not to) form grammatically-correct sentences.
 
To say one is acting like a certain race is to make a poor generalization of that race based on the behavior of a select few. The same goes for nationalities. For example, it's been said that many people from other countries view Americans as self-indulgent, spoiled and oblivious to the world around them. Of course, not all non-Americans feel this way and not all Americans fit this description. This perception, however, most likely derives from how the supposed "American lifestyle" (I use this term lightly, as not all Americans undergo the same experience) is generally portrayed in media. Thus, it is a generalization. I'm also just going to assume that none of you think that someone can "act American." See where I'm going with this?

It's impossible to act black, white or any other race. There are black people who don't smoke and that wear clothes that fit, just like there are unintelligent Asian people and white people who are poor. Now while I can see where Harvey Levin was attempting to go with this whole Bieber thing, he could've worded his opinions a lot differently. He should've just said that Bieber was acting like a douche, which is a much more accurate adjective in many people's eyes.