It seems the world is getting a show it didn’t pay for and it’s at the expense of Kanye West.
Kanye and I have something in common: We lost our mothers the same week in 2007. My wonderful mom passed away after a two-year battle with cancer. His beloved momma, Donda West, passed due to complications from a surgery. It was unexpected. It was likely avoidable. And perhaps, most significant, in some part connected to her son’s expected yet still unbelievable meteoric rise to fame.
Now, I ask all of those folks who are so quick to vilify the rapper’s behavior to consider the magnitude of this trauma, his trauma.
Put yourself in Kanye’s shoes: You are experiencing the height of success and the doors that you’ve spent years speaking into existence aren’t simply opening, there is red carpet and genie bottle waiting. The universe has given you everything you wanted. Record deal. Business opportunities. World travel. Your talent has paved the way. Best of all, your coach, Mama West, drops everything to take this journey with you.
Your mommy —the woman who reared you everyday, instilled your self-esteem pushing you to be a proud Black man, your safeguard for every risk, your first champion— gets to live this dream with you. And thanks to that, you get to honor her in every way possible. You bring her on stage. You add her in your videos. You consult with her for your biggest decisions. Life is great. Then your amazing mother decides to change what you already see as perfect, and you are alone. No warning. No time to say goodbye. No last words. Even worse, as you grieve you begin to realize that every star quarterback, has a kick-ass coach to impart wisdom, help them strategize and, perhaps, most important, pace his ego. On November 10, 2007, Kanye West didn’t just lose his mother. He lost his confidante. His accountability partner. His friend. His leader. His love.
There are five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance), and over the years we’ve seen West battle with most of them. Still, anger, which becomes depression when internalized, remains his frequent companion. Folks will say he’s bi-polar (a condition where a person experiences extreme bouts of manic and depressive states) but we don’t know that to be 100 percent accurate. What we do know is that Kanye West has experienced two severely traumatic events. First, he unexpectedly lost his mother. Second, he’s successful in Hollywood.
Trauma, best defined as a deeply disturbing or distressing experience, impacts folks in different ways. Even worse, a group of individuals can experience the same event and have completely different outcomes due to two under discussed factors: perspective and resilience.
As I look at Kanye West, I see a brother who really still needed his mother and likely still hasn’t dealt with “life after Donda.” While Kanye’s celebrity is unique, his response to trauma is not. He simply has a platform, talent and a lot of money to waste. But we meet “Kanyes” in our neighborhoods, schools and families. These are the folks who are tremendously talented but hit a fracture in life, whether it seems big (death) or small (a failure), and they believe they have no choice but to exist in a perpetual state of crumbling. They are standing, but bit-by-bit pieces of their spirit, will and confidence fall by the wayside. It doesn’t help that the Black community makes little room for counseling or therapy. People die. Folks get shot. We get attacked. Get over it. Life is hard. Pray about and keep moving.
And lets not forget the Hollywood factor. By default, most entertainers befriend their staff, which eliminates checks and balances (every idea is great!). Additionally, for men such as Kanye, who have grand financial/business ambition, it’s easy to be outgunned by folks who seem to be supportive, but have financial resources, strategies and a lack of moral consequences for predatory behavior. In spite of all of his Black brilliance there are bound to be failures.
My advice for Kanye West is simple: Do the work!
Go to therapy. Sign a confidentiality agreement with someone, go to the mountains and be courageously honest with yourself. Cry about missing your mom. Voice any guilt you feel. Accept that God’s plan was unfair. Acknowledge your failures. Then get off the pity pot and make a damn plan. Be grateful. Thank the ancestors for their protection and your mom for her time and guidance. Figure out what you need to do thrive. What are the coping mechanisms you can put in place to address your shit when it comes up before a breakdown? Is it regular counseling sessions? Is it a manager who can tell you no? What do you need to change about you to live a life that truly honors your purpose?
Know this to be true, being sad or losing control doesn’t make you weak but fighting for your happy will always make you… well, Stronger.
S. Tia Brown is EBONY magazine’s Lifestyle Director, a licensed therapist and a proponent of solutions-based therapy. #BeCourageouslyHonest