Kanye West deserves our compassion, but so do black women like Azealia Banks
Kanye West's wild week of headlines took an especially worrying turn on Monday night when TMZ reported that he'd been checked involuntarily into a psychiatric hospital in Los Angeles.
West is experiencing "severe sleep deprivation," according to reports, but few people are actually buying it. This is Kanye, after all, who, before he declared support of Donald Trump and ranted against BFFs Beyoncé and Jay Z, rapped about being on Lexapro, a popular antidepressant.
Whatever's happening is serious enough that he and the people around him are putting his mental health ahead of the reported $10 million in earnings he's losing by canceling the rest of his Saint Pablo tour. Even his friends said publicly that West needed professional help:
It's also a serious moment for us, his fans and critics. The only thing we love more than celebrating our black stars is basking in the mess of their downfalls. This is true of Kanye, and it's been true of any number of black male celebrities who've preceded him: Michael Jackson and James Brown included. But while we poke and prod black men whose geniuses have animated our cultural imaginations, we absolutely devour black women. And Kanye's closest parallel in this moment is Azealia Banks, who's been permanently exiled to the land of broken black bitches, the place inhabited by pioneering black women who aren't perfect and have neither the interest nor resources to hide that fact.
That sentiment is clear on Twitter:
Now, to be clear, Banks has occasionally referenced struggling with her mental health, but nothing's been confirmed. All fans are left with is a stream of bizarre behavior mixed in with an occasional new song. There were the years of Twitter wars with everyone from Australian rapper Iggy Azalea to then 14-year-old Disney star Skai Jackson. She, too, has on multiple occasions declared her support for Donald Trump and even endorsed skin bleaching creams. She often seems to torpedo her legitimate gripes by doing the absolute most, like when she criticized former One Direction star Zayn Malik of ripping off a visual concept for one of his videos by calling him a "curry-scented bitch."
Most recently, she was kicked out of a Hollywood party after getting into a fight with actor Russell Crowe, who she alleges called her a "nigger." Crowe denies using any racial epithets, but in the grander scheme of things, that's almost beside the point. The real rub was that the altercation happened in front of RZA, who'd invited Banks to the party and recently signed her to a record deal — perhaps her last chance at mainstream success. RZA has publicly defended Crowe and called Banks "obnoxious" and "erratic." The record deal is reportedly kaput. All of this overshadows the fact that her mixtape, Slay-Z, was a brilliant genre-bending ode to black queerness that was one of the year's best.
We've seen this happen before. Just take a look at Lauryn Hill or Nina Simone, black women who've given us their genius at the expense of their stability. In a message to fans four years ago, Hill described her career this way: "Having put the lives and needs of other people before my own for multiple years, and having made hundreds of millions of dollars for certain institutions, under complex and sometimes severe circumstances, I began to require growth and more equitable treatment, but was met with resistance."
Banks, in an Instagram post published shortly after she was suspended from Twitter for calling Malik a racial slur, was even more direct.
"Black folk are the first to discard their own especially when white media/society hangs one of us out for public crucification," she said. "I've been belittled, berated, stolen from, called crazy when making clear and true observations about the world ... I'm not blaming anyone or anything for any of my actions but I think it's really important for people ... to understand the detrimental effects of whiteness and white supremacy ... on black people's mental health."
And white supremacy mixed with white patriarchy is especially toxic.
Men like Kanye West are always one record away from redemption. Their outlandishness is always a product of their undeniable gifts. More often than not, they have the financial success to cushion their falls from grace and carry them through any potential comebacks. Their black female counterparts rarely have those same options. They must fall apart in private or risk being considered by their industries not just crazy, but irreparably broken — and no longer worthy of its investment.
This is more than a double standard. This is how power and patriarchy work.