Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake at the Super Bowl
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Op-Ed: 15 Years After Super Bowl XXXVIII’s “Nipplegate,” Janet Jackson Still Won

Janet Jackson has stood the test of time in the face of adversity.

Fifteen years ago, on Sunday, Feb. 1, 2004, the Carolina Panthers faced the New England Patriots for Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston, Texas. Outside of the game, the entertainment lineup was superb. Due to the game taking place one year after the shuttle Columbia disaster, multi-platinum singer and actor Josh Groban started the pre-game show by performing “You Raise Me Up” in tribute to the crew who lost their lives. Miss Third Ward Houston native Beyoncé then sang a rousing rendition of the national anthem, and Aerosmith took the stage to perform “Baby, Please Don’t Go” and “Dream On.”

The first half came and went, and then it was time for the part of the Super Bowl that everyone loves: the halftime show, which was produced by MTV and CBS Sports. Jessica Simpson, Diddy, Nelly, Kid Rock, Justin Timberlake, and Janet Jackson were all set to perform during the show centered around the Choose or Lose campaign, which was started by MTV in 1992 to encourage their audience to register to vote.

After doing a solo performance of “Rhythm Nation,” Janet Jackson was joined on stage by Timberlake for a duet of his song “Rock Your Body.” As expected for a song with that title, the duo performed a few suggestive moves much to the audience’s delight. Then, it was time for the song to end, and no one was ready for what came next. With the final line “I’m gonna have you naked by the end of this song,” Justin pulled a part of Janet’s outfit that revealed her right breast which was decorated with a nipple shield. CBS cut away from the stage, and the massive fallout began.

 

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Through her representatives, Jackson issued a statement on Monday following the game. The next day, she issued a video apology for her part in the incident. "The decision to have a costume reveal at the end of my halftime show performance was made after final rehearsals," Jackson said. "MTV was completely unaware of it. It was not my intention that it go as far as it did. I apologize to anyone offended — including the audience, MTV, CBS and the NFL."

MTV followed with a statement that evening, saying, "MTV was as surprised and shocked as anyone last night. Janet Jackson acknowledged that we had no prior knowledge of her plans. We will continue to investigate the circumstances. Our goal with the Super Bowl Halftime show was to produce an entertaining stage experience with a positive message about empowerment and voting. We are disappointed that this message has been overshadowed by the unfortunate incident. MTV apologizes again to anyone who was offended."

However, the apologies weren’t enough to keep CBS from being fined for the incident. Michael Powell, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ordered an investigation insisting that “somebody had knowledge of it.” In the end, the FCC fined CBS an astounding $550,000 (later voided in 2011).

And so began the modern day “He-Man Woman-Haters Club,” or maybe just a He-Man Janet Jackson-Haters Club. No one could guess just how long the fallout would last and how it would affect only one party: Janet Jackson.

The 46th annual Grammy Awards were one week later and were set to also air on CBS. Timberlake was nominated and scheduled to perform, while Jackson was set to present to Luther Vandross. A longer tape delay was also planned due to the Super Bowl incident. However, CBS used the Super Bowl incident to their advantage and allegedly worked behind the scenes to have Jackson removed from the program due to her not agreeing to issue yet another apology. Timberlake stayed in line with the old boys’ club and issued several apologies. One such apology happened on stage during his Grammys acceptance speech where Timberlake stated, “What occurred was unintentional, completely regrettable, and I apologize if you guys were offended.”

It was apparent that due to Janet Jackson not playing by CBS’ rules, she would ultimately face the harsh reality of being shunned and blackballed in the industry. The youngest in the Jackson clan went from superstardom to very little promotion and even less support from those who once praised her every move.

CBS' now former CEO and Viacom’s then co-president and Co-COO, Les Moonves, led the charge in blackballing Janet. In his eyes, Jackson wasn’t “sufficiently repentant” and caused him embarrassment. Reportedly, he demanded her songs and music videos be removed from rotation on VH1, MTV, and all Viacom-owned entities. When it was reported several years later that Jackson secured a book deal through Simon & Schuster once they were under CBS, Moonves was irate. Sources reported him saying, “How the f**k did she slip through?”

Obviously, the same way his sexual misconduct slipped under the radar, that is, until the summer of 2018. The longtime CBS chairman was ousted when he joined a long list of powerful men being brought down by the #MeToo movement. In a detailed report from The New Yorker last August, more than a dozen women including former CBS employees, delivered powerful statements regarding sexual misconduct by Moonves. In turn, he was let go from the position that he held for over 20 years and was denied $120 million in severance pay. He was stripped of the same power that he used to blackball Jackson and deny her the spotlight to advance her career.

However, Moonves wasn’t been the only party to suffer due to their disregard and mistreatment of Jackson. Timberlake, who used the momentum and press from the Super Bowl to catapult his solo career into high gear, also recently suffered in album sales and popularity, particularly in the black community.

Following the Super Bowl mishap, Timberlake’s star was on the rise. Thanks to his laughable apology, he was allowed a spot on the Grammy stage and took home two Grammy awards that year. He went on to grace stages worldwide, star in movies, start a family and release more solo albums. He also eventually admitted to Jackson receiving more criticism for the mishap than he did.

“If you consider it 50-50, then I probably got 10 percent of the blame,” Timberlake said in a 2006 MTV interview. “I think America is harsher on women. I think America is unfairly harsh on ethnic people.”

Then, it was announced that he was performing at last year’s Super Bowl LII and releasing a less than soulful album with Man of the Woods. The album produced the lowest first-week sales Timberlake has ever garnered for his five albums, sans NSYNC, moving 293,000 units in its first week. That was a major drop from the sales of his previous album, The 20/20 Experience, which sold 968,000 units during its first week. His 2018 Super Bowl performance also garnered mixed reviews and ample side eyes. It was preceded with a #JanetJacksonAppreciationDay hashtag, which was one of the top trending topics on Twitter the entire day of the Super Bowl, somewhat overshadowing his return to the Big Game’s stage and rightfully so.

In the midst of the ridicule, shame and complete disdain for an act that involved more than one party, Janet Jackson has held her head high and persevered. She released her eighth studio album Damito Jo two months after the incident with little to no promotion. However, the album still went on to debut at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 charts. Although she suffered a personal loss with the death of her brother Michael in 2009, she still pressed on with hit albums, numerous awards and film and television roles. In 2015, she inked a major partnership with BMG, which included the beginning of her own label, Rhythm Nation.

Since “Nipplegate,” Jackson has rocked arenas around the world on four highly-anticipated tours. For her Unbreakable World Tour, Jackson partnered with Uber to give fans in more than 25 cities the chance to win tickets by just using the app for rides. The State of the World Tour, which included 78 stops between 2017 and 2019, grossed over $44 million in sales.

Jackson even went on to star in a real-life “role” of a lifetime when she welcomed her baby boy, Eissa Al Mana, on Jan. 3, 2017 at 50 years old. Just last year, she won the Icon Award at the Billboard Music Awards, the first black female artist to do so. And most recently, in December 2018, it was announced that she is joining six other inductees for the 2019 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame class.

In addition to her many accomplishments, she is also revered and respected by her music peers, and she has inspired the career of many of today’s pop and R&B stars, including Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, and especially Ciara. During the 2015 BET Awards, the Princess of Crunk & B paid tribute to her idol with rousing performances of “If” and “Rhythm Nation.” Then in 2018, Ciara re-expressed her love for Janet to Billboard saying, “Everything she does is perfection. It says a lot to me. It says you gotta care, you gotta give 100 percent every time... She is queen of creating those iconic moments that we still talk about today. She has been a huge influence in my life.”

That level of impact in a career that spans more than four decades cannot be denied nor held down. Following “Nipplegate,” she may have endured a few hiccups and been shunned, but her star will forever shine brightly. She has proven that much with her success before and definitely with the “Black Girl Magic” she has displayed since then.

What a difference 15 years makes, huh? In the end, Janet “Miss Jackson If You’re Nasty” won.

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The Amber Guygers Of The World Don't Deserve Black Forgiveness

Forgiveness isn’t an easy pill for me to swallow. As a writer, it could be the actual word that rubs me the wrong way. Maybe it's because had it not been “for” one’s actions then I wouldn’t be forced to “give” you, the transgressor, a grace you’ve proven undeserving of.

The mental and emotional gymnastics a victim must complete in order to get to a place of healing is too great for me to believe the offenses—whatever they may be—are mere mistakes, and when you are black in America that realization is crystallized with every acquittal.

Botham Jean was in his apartment watching his television and eating his ice cream on the night of September 6, 2018, when Dallas officer Amber Guyger barged in and shot the St. Lucian businessman because she confused his home for hers.

I remember reading about the Rodney King verdict and can recall exactly where I stood in New York City’s Penn Station when I learned of George Zimmerman’s acquittal. I have accepted that the justice system does not believe in "justice for all" its citizens and was fully prepared for Guyger to be found not guilty.

In a surprising turn of events, she was convicted. However, this is America. Before I could breathe a sigh of relief, I knew a slap in the face wouldn’t be too far away. The next day, it was revealed at Guyger’s sentencing she would serve 10 years in prison, just above the minimum. Prosecutors asked for 28 years, one for each of Jean’s life.

Kalief Browder served a third of Guyger’s 10-year sentence for a book bag that was never found by an accuser who was never publicly named.

Yet among all the topics that trended following Guyger’s sentencing, "forgiveness" was the most pronounced. At the tail end of 2019 and at the height of cancel culture, forgiveness—the act of showing softness and grace to those who deeply puncture you—became a polarizing talking point when Botham Jean’s brother hugged Guyger in the courtroom.

In America, forgiveness has always been a bitter root shoved down the throats of the oppressed by the oppressors, and it is my radical belief that my people’s empathy and breathtaking forgiveness aids in our own mental bondage. We are of flesh and bone just like those who deny us our humanity and kill us, yet even in our own justifiable grief, we’ve been taught (or adapted for survival) to soothe those who kill us. Maybe it’s because we know another blow will come soon and we must make room for future disappointments.

An argument can be made that true healing cannot take place without forgiveness, but who hugged Sybrina Fulton, Lesley McSpadden, Gwen Carr, Geneva Reed-Veal or Samaria Rice? Who draped their arms lovingly around the men and women who buried their children in some instances, a mere 12 years after their birth?

The embrace between Brandt Jean and Guyger will be tokenized as the gold standard in how one should move on from tragedy, but where is the how-to on not shooting and killing an unarmed black person? Where is that righteous symbol of compassion for other police officers to follow?

Surviving family members from the Mother Emanuel AME Church shooting also forgave domestic-terrorist Dylann Storm Roof for killing their loved ones in their place of worship.

There is no beauty in the oppressed having to be bigger and emotionally better than those who cause our oppression and pain. The Samson-like strength needed to simmer one’s rage, sadness and maybe desire for revenge shouldn’t be diluted. And yet, for Guyger to be on the receiving end of a hug after bestowing bullets into Botham Jean’s flesh is a lopsided exchange of humanity that has been our responsibility to bear.

How much social justice currency did the hug heard 'round the world gain us? The oppressed must bear the weight of injustice, teach you how to recognize our humanity, and then shower you with kindness after you wrong us?

Go hug your damn self.

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Paras Griffin

Remy Ma’s Comments On Antonio Brown Show That Conversations On Sexual Violence In Hip Hop Media Lack Range

Following Monday’s episode of Revolt TV’s State of the Culture, Remy Ma’s commentary on former NFL player Antonio Brown’s rape allegations stirred up frustrations with how sexual violence is discussed in hip-hop media. Brown’s situation has been a hot topic so it was no surprise that it was a show segment, but Ma’s soundbite proves conversations in the space on sexual violence desperately need more empathy, nuance, and depth.

Some context: Earlier this month, Britney Taylor, a trainer from Florida, accused Brown of rape in 2018 and filed a federal lawsuit (the amount would be determined in court). She has not filed criminal charges against Brown. Brown denied the allegations and refused to shell out $2 million in a settlement with Taylor, ESPN reported. Remy called out Taylor’s decision to seek money via civil court before filing criminal charges, during the show.

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“If you rape my daugher, my sister...I don’t want your money,” Remy said. “I tell y’all all the time. I want you castrated...the things that I want done are crimes. Worst-case scenario I want something to happen to you to where you’re removed from being able to do this to someone else. When you come to me with a number, and say, ‘Hey give me two million dollars and I’ll go away,’ now to me that’s like you’re being paid.”

“But some people feel that that’s the compensation that they want,” co-host Eboni K Williams, who is also an attorney, rebutted.

But Remy continued to push back. “It seems like in a lot of these alleged sexual assault cases, the women are asking for money, ‘Hey give me some money and I’ll feel better.’ To me in any exchange with sexual acts are being compensated with money that’s prostitution.”

Host Joe Budden corrected Remy, but she doubled down on her comments by mocking victims who recount their traumatic experiences.

The truth is many people think like Remy and see victims who want to be compensated as extortionists scheming for a big check. Brown’s lawyer has chosen this messaging in response to Taylor’s lawsuit. Remy has previously caught heat on the topic when the show discussed Bill Cosby and R. Kelly’s cases in 2018. In both instances, viewers criticized her for being more defensive of the famous men than their alleged victims. This shaming is one reason why most victims don’t come forward with allegations.

Implying that Taylor and others who want compensation are money-hungry and not possibly seeking an alternative route to justice ignores that going the path of filing criminal charges can be a humiliating experience. Last year, President Trump called out professor Christine Blasey Ford for not filing a police report against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh for sexual assault allegations when they were in high school. This birthed the hashtag “#WhyIDidntReport” in which thousands described why they felt isolated and silenced after being assaulted. The stats support their sentiments. Out of every 1000 sexual assaults, 995 perpetrators will walk free, according to the resti (RAINN), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. Three out of four cases go unreported, the organization states. Most don’t report to the police because they fear retaliation and think the police will not help.

Remy also shamed victims of sexual assault who seek compensation by shaming sex workers. Sex workers already face a difficult fight for human rights so these comments harm them too. Firstly, sex work is when money is exchanged for sex between consenting adults — as Joe Budden stated. But once someone’s sexual boundaries have been violated, whether at a party, on a date or during an exchange of sex for money, they have been assaulted. And if the victim seeks compensation in the aftermath, that is called restitution, not prostitution. As Williams brought up during the segment, a victim may seek compensation because they need to pay for medical and or therapy bills or have to be out of work for several months as they cope with the incident.

Ultimately, no one has the right to tell a victim or survivor what justice should look like to them, whether it’s pressing criminal charges, seeking compensation, or restorative justice in which a survivor may want an apology face to face from the person who assaulted them.

What’s also disappointing about Remy Ma’s comments on sexual violence is that they don’t align with her advocacy on behalf of black incarcerated women. Remy was released from prison in 2014 after serving six years for shooting a former friend in 2008. The rapper shed light on how black women in prison are often neglected. “I've gotten to meet women that haven't seen their children in a decade that live 40 minutes from them,” she told Fader in 2017. “Women who have husbands that they haven't seen since they got incarcerated 20 years ago. Women whose friends have signed them off as a loss,” she continued. She said incarcerated men often received so many visitors that visits were cut short. In 2018, Remy also launched a clothing line with VIM Vixen that donates proceeds to her foundation, which is working to empower women and their families who have been negatively affected by incarceration and the re-entry process.

Research shows one obstacle women and girls who are incarcerated face is sexual assault. The sexual abuse to prison pipeline is real and it starts young. Thirty-one percent of girls in the juvenile system have been sexually abused, according to a 2015 report by the Human Rights Project for Girls, Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality, and Ms. Foundation for Women. Eighty-six percent of women in jail have experienced sexual assault prior to being incarcerated, according to the Vera Institute. This especially impacts black women and girls, who are three-and-a-half times more likely to be imprisoned than white women and girls. Their victimization can lead to their incarceration. Take Cynotia Brown and Alexis Martin cases as examples. Not to mention women also face sexual assault while in prison. Given that the issues of incarceration and sexual assault intersect, how can Remy be an advocate for these women while consistently showing little empathy for survivors and victims of sexual violence? It isn’t adding up.

Some have brought up that Remy is also a victim of sexual assault, but that does not make her an authority on the subject. And although women are more likely to face this issue, women can still internalize and preserve misogyny. Discussing sexual violence requires knowledge and sensitivity, and Remy is unfortunately unequipped. The segment was not a top 10 rappers of all-time list, in which people can debate their own tastes. They were discussing something that happens to Americans every 73 seconds, according to RAINN. This means you or someone you know has been assaulted. The issue dates back centuries and intersects with other issues like poverty, gender identity, and sexuality. Sexual violence can result in emotional, physical and generational trauma, lead to economic insecurity, and even more extremely, death. Having researched and or worked with those who have experienced these issues should always be required before speaking on it.

Remy wouldn’t be the first woman in entertainment to be called out for their commentary on sexual violence. Da Brat and Erykah Badu have also been criticized recently. And countless men in the business continue to be rape apologists. But it’s time for platforms like Revolt to make it commonplace to consult organizations that have done work on sexual violence, like Black Women’s Blueprint, Survived and Punished, or the Georgetown Law Center's Initiative on Gender Justice and Opportunity before these discussions. These conversations need more visibility, but if the individuals on the panel lack basic understanding and spew harmful viewpoints, then the message fails viewers. Instead of dismantling sexual violence, these moments uphold it and the culture does not need it.

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Kanye West performs Sunday Service during the 2019 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival on April 21, 2019 in Indio, California.
Rich Fury

Kanye West, ‘Jesus Is King,’ And The Unspoken Bipolarism In Between

Last week, Kanye West brought his California-based Sunday Service event series to his hometown of Chicago. In a clip that’s been making the rounds on social media, West is seen in the middle of the massive crowd, attempting to move toward the stage to watch his assembled choir perform both standard hymns and gospel interpolations of 2000s pop/R&B songs. When a security guard intervenes to lead the way, Kanye grabs him by the shoulders.

“Step back,” Ye says confidently. “Watch this. This is my city.” He then proceeds to walk through the crowd, parting the sea of people with minimal hand movements. As he passes through, fans call him by his alter-ego, Yeezus, while screaming in a manner reserved for the day you finally meet your hero.

“Somebody said #Kanye thought he was Moses,” The Shade Room posted on Instagram along with the video. Naturally, I migrated to the comment section, where it didn’t take long to find one of the most-liked responses: “This isn’t about God or church and it’s sad to witness.”

 

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If you’ve paid even the slightest bit of attention over the past two decades, you’d know by now that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about Kanye—once he’s attached himself to a concept, he’s all in. Religion is no exception.

Last month, Kim Kardashian West announced that her husband would be dropping a new album called Jesus Is King, a 12-track project set to be released on September 27. It will contain tracks featuring titles like “God Is,” “Baptized,” and “Sweet Jesus.”

When I first saw the handwritten tracklist, I wasn’t surprised. Kanye has been hosting Sunday Service since before his Coachella/Easter performance, so it’s only natural that his next effort might be linked to gospel. But once I saw the clip of him moving through the crowd, my stomach twisted in knots: Kanye has always thought highly of himself, but his recent actions, and focal points, border on messianic. He’s not going to make this release low-key or easy.

🙏🏼 pic.twitter.com/ZmGvtN7o7C

— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) August 29, 2019

The past year and change has been challenging for many Kanye West fans, myself included. Look no further than his views on Donald Trump—and, uh, slavery—to understand why a significant portion of his listeners (mostly black) have called it quits. As tempted as I’ve been to follow, my relationship with the rapper is a bit more complex.

We’ve both been diagnosed as bipolar, a mental condition characterized by manic highs and depressive lows. Depending on where you are on the spectrum, mania can either make you feel mildly irritated and erratic, or a deep, yet deceiving, purity that makes you think you’re in touch with God Himself. I fall solidly in the latter group, and my condition began with a grand epiphany that didn’t feel like a mental disability at all.

It came to me as I sat in a Texas church in September 2016, with my arms wrapped around my grandmother at her brother’s funeral. I’ve never heard an unspoken message so loudly, but there it was in my brain: “Your purpose on Earth is to spread the word of God through music.” It was so unmistakable that I looked up at the pulpit with wide eyes, convinced the pastor had spoken directly to me. I was shook, but invigorated by the imaginary prompt, a marked shift from how I felt weeks prior.

Before I flew home to Texas from NYC to be at my grandmother’s side, I was in the darkest depression I’d ever experienced, triggered by a profound disappointment that my life wasn’t panning out the way I had hoped, both professionally and personally. I was jobless and falling out of love, so I spent the majority of my time in bed, curled up in the fetal position and sobbing endlessly.

I felt myself slipping and began to pray nonstop for any kind of change, a thread to hold onto. Seriously: that’s how this all started. When I began my own informal research later, I found that others with bipolar disorder had been set off by the same thing. “What drove me into my first manic episode was me being extremely, unhealthily single-minded in pursuing the Lord more than I ever had,” one YouTube commenter wrote underneath a video titled “A Look at Bipolar Disorder from a Biblical Perspective.”

That’s how focused I was. I surrendered myself to prayer until the tears stopped and I began to experience thoughts and sensations I had never felt before. My depression dissipated, replaced by a divine sense of calm mixed with an insuppressible desire to save the world with my bare hands. As time would tell, I was going through my first bout with mania, but it felt as if my body was crackling with the electricity of a natural-born superpower (albeit one I couldn’t control).

So imagine my surprise last June, when I heard track two of Kanye’s most recent album, ye. “That's my bipolar shit, ni**a what?” he said braggadociously at the end of “Yikes.” “That's my superpower, ni**a. Ain't no disability. I'm a superhero! I'm a superhero!”

It was a hell of a statement—and Kanye’s first admission of his diagnosis. I related so deeply to his revelation that I threw myself into explaining away his distasteful comments and actions. I assumed Kanye would become a poster child for bipolar disorder, and I wanted to protect him at all costs.

Instead, Kanye has rejected the diagnosis (which Kim Kardashian eventually walked back), and given select interviews to people who have no intimate knowledge of living with a mental condition like his. In these conversations, he tip-toes around explaining exactly why being bipolar makes him feel like both a superhero and a warrior for God; the most vocal artist of our generation prefers to instead keep his experiences mysterious and otherworldly.

I want Kanye to open up because not everyone diagnosed with bipolar disorder experiences it in the same way. For many, especially those with bipolar 2, mania manifests on a less intense scale: individuals can feel untethered to the real world, and become irrationally worried and antsy.

As someone with bipolar 1, the extreme iteration of the condition, I mentally skyrocket up to the heavens where I feel one with the universe, and believe I have the ability to connect with anyone through love and spiritual energy. The episodes are intense and disorienting, but those lofty feelings linger indefinitely.

“No matter how many times people told me I was sick, I felt this unshakable knowingness that I had encountered the divine,” Waking Up Bipolar host Chris Cole explained on his podcast in a February episode, “When Depression is Awakening: Attachment, Faith, and God.”

When Kanye first announced he was bipolar, I hoped he would shine a light on the stress of vacillating between grandiose heights and the depths of depression, which Chris Cole broke down on his podcast. “I have an ability as a bipolar person to get really small, and then get really big,” he described. “That can be energetically, that can be my ideas of who I think I am… It could be something like, I don’t need to address anyone—I don’t need to tell my story to anyone—and then all of a sudden, I need to tell my story on the grandest of stages.”

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, diagnosis of bipolar disorder is “based on symptoms rather than brain imaging or other diagnostic tests.” In other words, uncharacteristic behavior is the determining factor that sends red flags to those around you. For example, my family can hear in my voice when I’m starting to become manic: I talk faster, I’m more charismatic and funny, I have no filter, and I make big plans that are clearly out of my reach. Meanwhile, in my brain, the whole world is shedding its old skin and it’s my job to lead people to “the light.”

In the moment, it feels like a responsibility that I never asked for, but a blessing all the same. This kind of experience is exactly why some bipolar people choose to reject their diagnosis altogether: they’d rather run toward God than an illness.

I wholeheartedly believe in science, doctors and psychiatry, but I’ve yet to find a treatment team that is willing to balance “spiritual encounters” with the clinical. I’m typically told to forget that mumbo jumbo, just take your pills and get back in line with society. (Some doctors are nicer than others, but this is always the underlying message.)

As with any condition, perception is a slippery slope—but to ignore the thoughts and observations that bipolar people feel they legitimately experience is to push them away from medical insights and drive them strictly toward faith and religion.

“I think we have to really be careful thinking about faith as something that can be measured in a biological sense,” Cole advised in his podcast. “Then we get in a lot of trouble because we say, ‘Well, I have so much faith—I’m burning so bright, look at me.’”

In my personal experience, heightened mania feels like you're the oracle sent to speak to the rest of the world on behalf of the Most High; like you're the one selected to advance humanity through never-before-seen methods. Sound familiar?

While being manic can make me (and countless others) feel like the Chosen One, it also makes me focus strongly on community, collaboration, love, and kindness. I see all of these qualities in the Sunday Service series.

In an archived live stream of the Chicago Sunday Service, the choir of mostly black millennials swag surfs and milly rocks together while singing God-centered flips of popular songs like the Clipse’s “Grindin’” backed by a drumline and horn section. To keep it a buck, they sound excellent. As many on Twitter have pointed out, though, the approach isn’t exactly new. “Every Black child that grew up in Baptist church has done mashups that sound just like this,” social justice organizer @brownblaze tweeted. “Please don’t call this innovative or creative.”

Halfway through the service, West performs his first attempt at worship music, the 2004 single “Jesus Walks.” To end the song, he changes the repentant line “I wanna talk to God but I’m afraid ‘cause we ain’t spoke in so long” to a defiant “We ain’t afraid to talk to God!” After his proclamation, West surveys the crowd, sunglasses covering his eyes on a rainy day. He takes in the moment he’s created before exiting the stage to continue tinkering with the instruments that got our attention in the first place.

While I don’t have the power to build a viral choir or make an album about Jesus, I do have the power to peek through mania and open the doors to the church in Kanye’s mind, and my mind.

Since the day my religious epiphany was explained to me as a symptom of my condition, I’ve been trying to draw a line from point A to point Z, and drag people from the medical side and others from the spiritual side and have them meet somewhere in the middle for a discussion. As of now, the chasm between the two communities couldn’t be more wide.

So when I see a bipolar person like Kanye, speaking loudly about God and feeling like a superhero, I understand what’s going through his head. But I wonder what his motivation is. I wonder if he will ever make the connection himself and help his listeners understand exactly why he’s releasing an album called Jesus Is King. I wonder about these things constantly because I have a confession: I still believe Kanye West can change the way we talk about mental health.

I just wish he would start a real conversation.

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