Racism Is NOT A Mental Illness and It’s Damaging To Say It Is

 

Fuck this this is shit in all the ways it is shit.

Ok, now that I’ve got that out of my system I still make no promises that I will not continue to call it shit over and over again. Because this is a steaming pile of garbage filth feces, and I am not about to censor myself on the way that mental illness gets thrown under the bus time and again to make other people feel good, safe, and normal. The lives of the mentally ill are always seen as less than, wrong, and bad. This kind of bullshit is why even liberals are willing to discriminate against disabled and mentally ill people. I apologize in advance if this is ranty and angry but it has every right to be because this video is senseless drivel, but it’s exactly the kind of senseless drivel that I see coming out of the mouths of people I expect better of.

DEFINITIONS

Let’s start with facts. The video posits that racism is a PTSD like mental health problem because racists exhibit irritability, aggression, and hostility. Let’s talk about what it takes for something to be a diagnosis in the DSM, and why we have diagnoses. First and foremost we have diagnoses so that people can receive treatment. A diagnosis is supposed to help providers understand how they can help someone. Now right off the bat, this video’s suggestion that racism is a mental health problem or that we should treat it as a mental health problem makes very little sense because hey guess what it turns out a. almost everyone has some racist tendencies and b. racists respond to different types of treatment. Some people just need to meet a black person they like, some people need to confront their own traumas and history, some people appear not to be open to any kind of change. There’s no one reason that people are racist or a best practice for interacting with them. These traits vary wildly among racists, and there doesn’t seem to be a higher rate or intensity of them in racists than in the general population (or even associated with instances of racism. People can be racist with a smile on their faces while thinking they’re being kind). So strike one on why we should approach it like a mental health issue.

“Irritability, aggression, hostility,” those are not enough to make up a mental health diagnosis, and NOT EVERY RACIST shows those traits. They would have to be exaggerated beyond all the rest of the population, impact a person’s day to day functioning, and be unique to racists in some way in order to quality as a mental health diagnosis

The other major problem with suggesting that racism is a mental health issue is that in order to be considered a diagnosis, the symptoms have to impair functioning in some major area of life (work, relationships, education, etc.). Now there are some extreme cases in which this happens, but overall racists are pretty functional in our society. In fact, it turns out that you can be openly, disgustingly racist and still get elected president. Our society is one embedded in racism, so the idea that being racist or doing racist things or having racist thoughts will make it hard for you to function is laughable. This is what we’ve been taught all our lives. It only makes sense. In my experience, actively fighting racism is far less functional in our society than accepting the basic racist premises that we grow up with.

There are some other smaller problems, like the fact that not all racist people show irritability, aggression, or hostility (have you seen a sweet racist Minnesotan mom? I have), so if those are supposedly the defining characteristics of “racism”, why aren’t they associated with all instances of racism?

WHY DO PEOPLE DO IT

So factually it doesn’t make tons of sense to assert that racism is a mental health issue because the traits are not out of line with the rest of the population, seen in all racist instances, and don’t impair day to day functioning. What could be motivating this impulse that so many (mostly white) people have to say that racism is a mental illness? What are the larger impacts of this assertion?

The video seems to assert that this label helps us address racism better, because we can use “exposure therapy” a la the therapy for phobias. I personally think it’s a REALLY BAD IDEA to suggest that. First, there’s already a lot of gross misunderstandings about how therapy works, and how exposure therapy in particular works, to the extent that random people will just expose someone to their triggers and call it therapy. Saying that on a society wide level we can engage in exposure therapy by protesting and talking about our past traumas propagates these misunderstandings and suggests that any rando can do therapy. Additionally I don’t see why we need to label racism a mental health problem in order to be willing to talk about it openly and face it head on. We can do that anyway.

The video also seems to suggest that viewing racism as a mental health problem will push people to be more accountable. It says “don’t let your racist friend or uncle off the hook. You wouldn’t abandon them if they had a mental illness.” Now I have to laugh at this because mentally ill people get abandoned all the fucking time so that’s a fucking shitty appeal to people’s decency. But this also implies that people are racist through no fault of their own and we should address racism to help the poor innocent racists. WHAT. THE. FUCK.

STOP CENTERING WHITE PEOPLE DEAR LORD JESUS. The reason not to let racists off the hook is because they are actively hurting people of color. If that’s not a good enough reason for you, then you might be a racist. That’s it. We don’t need to save racists, they’re doing perfectly fucking fine. The more we cater to their fee fees, the worse off we’ll be.

Racism doesn’t HAPPEN to white people. White people CAUSE racism because it benefits us. The end.

SPLASH DAMAGE

Ok ok, so beyond being wrong, what’s so bad about saying that racism is a mental illness? Maybe it can help us understand the phenomenon better or give us ways to approach and change the problem, even if it’s not wholly accurate.

Well in addition to not actually being super helpful, calling racism a mental health problem is seriously hurting a whole lot of people. You know, those people who are ACTUALLY mentally ill. If you label things you disagree with or find offensive “crazy” or “mental illness”, you are part of the stigmatization of mental illness. You’re part of ableism.

Cruelty and dehumanization are not the same as mental illness. People with every diagnosis out there are capable of fighting racism and being good people. When you say that something you find immoral is a mental illness, you are implying that mental illness means violence, means treating people poorly, mean violence, means anger, means hostility. Sure, there are people who are mentally ill who do all these things, but this is the kind of rhetoric that suggests every school shooter has autism or every murderer was just crazy. It takes away people’s responsibility (the video gets it completely wrong on that front. Racism is not a behavior like drunk driving, it’s a belief system and it’s one for which you are responsible), while also opening up the door to mistreat mentally ill people because they are violent and dangerous.

Stop blaming bad actions on mental illness. I don’t appreciate being thrown under the bus so that you can feel like you understand your shitty friends better. It’s complete shit to equate these learned, chosen behaviors with the different way my brain was born.

tldr: it’s not crazy to be racist in our society. It’s not a fluke that so many people in positions of power are racist, it’s part of the system. Calling it crazy only hurts the mentally ill. STOP IT.

 

Categories Are Not Always Negative

So I’m noticing that a lot of people are seeing categorizing as inherently bad because it either a. oversimplifies reality or b. means that you treat people in a category differently. I disagree with both of these criticisms, both on the level that I don’t think they’re always true, and on the level that I don’t think either of them is always negative. There are of course circumstances where labeling things and people is not the most appropriate or helpful thing to do, but there are ABSOLUTELY times that it makes communication and understanding easier. Let’s talk about that.

In both of these cases I want to look at mental illness/neurodiversity/different brains as an example.

Let’s start with the first issue, oversimplification. Are labels an oversimplification? In some ways, all categories must necessarily be an oversimplification. Of course in some ways all individual words are an oversimplification. What a useful label is, is taking a complex idea and shorthanding, giving it a one word name that allows us to refer back to the larger, more complex idea. Let’s take the label “anorexic” as an example. My lived experience of anorexia is far more complex than the word “anorexic” can communicate, but if I tell a stranger “I was anorexic for 5 years,” I have communicated a fairly complex idea to them relatively quickly. I don’t have to explain all the individuals symptoms of anorexia, or the fact that it was a mental illness. I can sum it all up with one tidy word.

Yes, it is possible that you don’t have a good understanding of what anorexia is. Maybe you assume that all people with anorexia are teenage girls, or you really don’t know what anorexia is. That can be a problem and lead to misunderstandings, and when we have a lot of people who are not educated about a particular label, it becomes less and less helpful to use that label. There is some push and pull between brevity and explanation, and in any given conversation it’s good to weigh whether you’d rather explain more to ensure you’re truly understood or be more brief and risk misunderstanding.

Additionally, most words run the risk of misunderstanding. “Smart” is not a label in the traditional sense, but many people have differing understandings of the word smart. It is a natural quirk of language that we don’t all hold the exact same definition of a given word, and to ensure clarity we may need to double check with people. It still seems to me to be easier and faster to use a label like “anorexic” and then check in about specifics rather than starting from the ground up and educating where necessary. It’s useful to have a word that summarizes a complex idea.

As to whether labels push people to treat others differently, I’m going to question that primarily on the basis that sometimes the point of a label IS to receive different treatment. Also we should note that some labels don’t result in people treating others differently, like blue eyed vs. green eyed. Labels don’t ALWAYS change our behavior. But sometimes they do, and let’s talk about that.

In this case let’s take autism. I’m autistic. Many people think that it shows kindness and respect to look someone else in the eye, give them a hug when they’re feeling down, invite them to a party if they’re friends etc. Those are things that make me incredibly uncomfortable, and if I can communicate “please respect my lack of eye contact, please give me more physical space, please don’t take me places that are loud and overstimulating” by telling you that I’m autistic that’s fucking fantastic for me. I WANT people to treat me differently because I have different needs. Many people do. Sometimes labels are important because they help us understand what someone prefers or needs to get by in life (see: introvert/extrovert divide and why we’re so into telling people if introverts or extroverts). It’s why I prefer “Treat others the way they would like to be treated” over “treat others the way you would like to be treated.”

Sometimes that “summing up” usage of a label makes it easier to understand a person’s needs or wants. It turns out that it’s why we use labels in the first place (not just on people either. If something is labelled “hot” we understand more clearly how to behave around it). Yes, it is possible to go overboard on this one. Not every autistic person is the same. You shouldn’t treat all autistic people exactly like each other. We’re all individuals. But until you get to know me, having a particular label can help you get a handle on likely behaviors that will be good for me.

 

Essentially labels cannot be the ONLY way that we understand people, but that doesn’t mean that they’re NEVER helpful to understanding people, and I think that many people who resist labels ignore the fact that without them it’s harder to communicate, harder to find like minded people, and harder to understand yourself.

Tell Your Therapist They’re Wrong

This article is giving me life today, and not just because gratitudes lists make me throw up in my mouth every time I think about them.

It also is giving me life because it reminds me that sometimes mental health professionals are just wrong. Wrongwrongwrong. And it reminds me that it’s rare for us to teach people who are receiving mental health services how to advocate for themselves or determine if their therapist is wrong.

Now before anyone gets huffy, the usual disclaimers: I am PRO mental health professionals. I know these folks work their butts off, and that they can and do save lives. I know that we should encourage folks to see mental health professionals, and to reduce the stigma attached to seeking treatment. Yes to all of that.

But all of that being said, mental health professionals are human. And humans don’t really understand brains all that well just yet. Brains are widely varied, and every technique that we have for treating mental illness will only work on some people. Beyond that, mental health professionals work with hundreds if not thousands of people over the course of their career. Unless you’ve been with them for a hecking long time, you are going to have a MUCH better understanding of your personal quirks and preferences than they are. Sometimes they’re just tired or distracted, or they forget your personal preferences.

Which is all to say that sometimes mental health professionals make mistakes. Or they make a good suggestion but it turns out it doesn’t work for you. Sometimes you need to tell your therapist “No. That doesn’t work for me.” It can be completely mind blowing the first time you realize it’s ok to say no to your therapist sometimes. It’s empowering to realize that you are an individual and sometimes the struggle you’re facing (especially if your mental illness is proving especially difficult to shake) might not be because there’s something inherently wrong with you, it might be because the techniques that have been suggested aren’t right for you. I just want to remind people who are struggling or feeling like therapy isn’t working; you can tell your therapist. You can ask for something different. You deserve strategies that will work for you.

Of course it’s also incredibly hard to say no to your therapist.

The first reason it’s hard is because sometimes things feel uncomfortable or difficult or like they’re not working because growth and change are hard, slow, and difficult. There are times you may WANT to tell your therapist “nope, I’m not going to do that, I don’t like it,” but once you try the suggestion it ends up being helpful. It’s really challenging to suss out when you just don’t WANT to do something, versus when you’re really on target that it won’t be helpful or that it will be actively discouraging and a waste of time or energy.

Part of the work of therapy is tuning up your inner compass so that you can trust it to send you in the right direction. I know after many years of hearing mantras and positive thinking slogans in therapy, that those just make me angry. I’ve tried it, it wasn’t effective. I’ve learned to trust that when people suggest something that sounds saccharine or something that ignores how hard life actually is, it will not be for me. On the other hand, I was very skeptical of mindfulness when I first heard about it, but when it was presented to me in a scientific way it made a lot more sense and has been quite helpful. I’ve become more open to things that have mixed evidence for them.

A big part of doing this is simply trying a lot of different stuff and seeing what works. But once you’ve done that, you start to have evidence of what is effective for you and what isn’t, and you can start to trust your instincts about what types of treatment you want to put your time, energy, and money into.

Which means that you can start advocating for yourself.

Here’s where I want to get practical, and it’s the second element of why saying no to your therapist is hard. It’s because self advocacy is a skill. There are absolutely things that everyone can do to advocate for themselves in therapy from the very beginning, but there are also skills you need to practice and things to learn about yourself before you’ll be really effective.

Telling your therapist that they’re wrong is one of the more challenging pieces of self advocacy, because it can often feel like the therapist has the power in any given situation, or like you need to respect their position. It can be helpful to remember that you are paying them for a service, and beyond that that BOTH parties are integral for the success of that service. The trust you feel for your therapist is one of the highest predictors of success in therapy, and if you can’t let them know you disagree, that trust is breaking down somehow.

But there are things you can do to make it a little bit easier. There are lots of ways to advocate for yourself in therapy, and I may touch on those in future posts, but for now I’m going to focus on speaking up when you think something isn’t working or you disagree with your therapist.

A good way to start is by simply disagreeing about small things. I don’t mean be argumentative, but if your therapist says something that you normally might have let slide, practice just saying “I don’t agree with that, but here’s what I think.” I’ve started to do this a lot in therapy, and I find that it’s far more productive than trying to argue with the therapist. It actually has made me feel a lot more comfortable when I say that and the session goes on without any kind of major repercussions. Those smaller, less important disagreements are a way to practice and to teach yourself that the world won’t end if you tell your therapist no, or let them know something isn’t working for you.

Another helpful thing to do if you’re worried that the strategies you’re getting aren’t helpful is to gather some data. I like to track things, which is why I use a daily mood tracker, a sleep tracker, a habit tracker…I like data. But it can be really helpful to note your mood or a target behavior before your therapist suggests something (e.g. a gratitude log), and then note if your mood improves or your self harm decreases over time after you’ve started using the technique. If not, you can bring that in to the therapist and say “hey, this isn’t working for me.” Having hard numbers to back you up can feel a lot more empowering than just a vague “I don’t feel better.”

Sometimes I like to try to think like a therapist to be a good self advocate. In that, I mean setting goals for myself, thinking of the steps that I can try to reach those goals, and checking in periodically to see if I’m making progress. Most therapists are required to have a treatment plan, but not all therapists share that with their clients. If my therapist is suggesting a new technique or skill, I want to know what it’s supposed to accomplish, what goal it’s bringing me closer to. You can ask to see your treatment plan, or just ask what the outcome is supposed to be for a given technique. That helps you evaluate if it’s working.

All of these are concrete actions, but for me the biggest shift was one in mindset, and it’s a mindset that the article I started with shows off well. Therapy isn’t about doing what’s “right”. It’s about doing what works for you. There are thousands of different therapeutic techniques, skills, and practices. If one doesn’t make you feel better, then STOP DOING IT. Tell your therapist. You deserve something that helps. Realizing that therapy wasn’t a class I needed to ace, but rather a service FOR ME was revolutionary. If it’s not working for you, you’re not broken. It is.

 

Woman

This is the final post in a series about Kesha’s album Rainbow. You can find the rest of the series here: 1, 2, 3, 4.

I have not addressed every song on Rainbow, but I think that this post is going to be the final post of the series, because I feel I’ve addressed most of the elements that are important to me. I’m going to wrap up with my favorite song, as well as a short discussion of why Kesha’s choice to release essays in conjunction with the album was, I think, absolutely brilliant.

So let’s talk about Woman.

Just take a moment with that.

Take a moment with Kesha’s fucking gold motherfucking outfit.

Take a moment with every single bird that Kesha flips.

Take a moment with backup singer Saundra Williams and how utterly glorious her side eye is.

Just take a moment.

I’m going to quote a big old chunk from Kesha’s essay about this song, because this essay is one of my favorites.

“I realized that for most of my life I was intimidated to even try and run in the leagues of the people I look up to. With “Woman,” I hope my fans will hear that wild spirit still strong inside me but this time it was created more raw, spontaneously and with all live instrumentation, which I found was a huge reason I loved the records I did love. There were one or two or 12 different people playing real instruments together, and all that real human energy is exciting and very fun to listen to. I wanted this song to capture that organic, raw, soulful sound and keep the imperfect moments in the recordings because I find the magic in the imperfections.”

This song is all about those organic moments, and I think that’s why I love it so much. I love the horns. I love the syncopation in the chorus. I love how many times she says motherfuckin’. This is a song that came straight from someone’s heart, with so much joy that she couldn’t seem to contain it. I LOVE that it is a song about being independent, adult, and responsible without being boring or stodgy, and without feeling a need to put down men (it just says she doesn’t need a man to hold her too tight. You can still have a relationship and be independent).

Perhaps my favorite thing about this song is that it’s tacky. I mean that in a totally loving way. Kesha is wearing an entirely gold, sparkly outfit. It’s ridiculous and my absolute favorite thing. She swears. She is unabashed. But that’s the thing: she doesn’t have to be some kind of put together lady to be an adult who is confident, beautiful, self sufficient, and AMAZING. This song sends the message that independence doesn’t mean one thing. It can mean what feels right and empowering to YOU.

To complement that message, in her essay Kesha writes “I really have to thank Stephen Wrabel and Drew Pearson for helping me through the past few years and making writing songs a beautiful thing again. Both of those men made my art/work safe and fun, and every session with the two of them was so healing.” First, way to give a huge middle finger to Dr. Doucheface without actually ever having to mention him, second, thank you for making me cry at the fact that you had to do art and work in a place that didn’t make you feel safe, and third, kudos for recognizing that THIS was what felt safe and healing for you, then putting that out there. It doesn’t look the same to everyone, but working with these two men was empowering for her, and I so appreciate her speaking openly about her process. Her use of the word “safe” feels incredibly important when we have folks freaking out about phrases like “safe space”.

The final thing I’d like to touch on in regards to Rainbow is Kesha’s choice(s) of media.

Assault and trauma are both incredibly complex things. Many people express their experiences of them through art. That art is often incredibly helpful to other people and can start a dialogue around trauma and assault. What’s interesting about that process is that more often than not the artist does not really join in the conversation ABOUT their art. Kesha has taken control of the dialogue from the start by writing essays that give more depth to her art.

Each of the essays allows readers to see how Kesha herself views the song, the stories behind the songs, and the history of her depression and eating disorder. Songs are not the best medium for a narrative or explanation, which is why I think Kesha’s choice to include essays is really useful to the overall understanding of this album as a process of healing. Combined with the visual elements of four music videos (which is a lot for an album that’s only 14 songs long), Kesha has created something that is truly multimedia. Especially since she released four songs early, each accompanied by a video and an essay, we got a tone for the album that said “this is bigger than the individual songs.”

Not only that, but there is play between the songs. Kesha repeatedly references herself as a kitty or cat (classic jazz language that plays into her change in genre in this album), in Rainbow she sings “You gotta learn to let go, put the past behind you”, a clear reference to Learn to Let Go (which helps us see the relationship between the two: Rainbow is your motivation for Learn to Let G0), and generally creates an album in which you know that the songs do not stand alone but are meant to be taken as a whole.

When Kesha writes in her essay on Hymn: “This song is dedicated to all the idealistic people around the world who refuse to turn their backs on progress, love and equality whenever they are challenged. It’s dedicated to the people who went out into the streets all over the world to protest against racism, hate and division of any kind. It’s also dedicated to anyone who feels like they are not understood by the world or respected for exactly who they are. It’s a hopeful song about all of these people — which I consider myself one of — and the power that we all have when we all come together,” you know that she’s paying attention. She knows that her album is about more than herself, and she is inviting a conversation. She says that she is creating a space for others. It makes the song bigger than a simple squad anthem and into an anthem for the oppressed.

These essays have turned a simple piece of art into a powerhouse of social justice work in my opinion. I am so impressed with everything Kesha has done to make this album not simply musically powerful, but also powerful in its message. I love you Kesha. This album is so important.

Rainbow, Spaceship, Learn to Let Go

This is part four in an exploration of Kesha’s new album ‘Rainbow’. Find parts 1, 2, and 3.

I’m not going to spend as much time on each individual song as I did on Praying and Boots, but instead will be clumping a few songs of similar themes together where it makes sense. In this case, there are quite a few songs on Rainbow that are about moving on, finding hope, or growing and changing after a challenging time. I’m going to focus on Rainbow, Spaceship, and Learn to Let Go for this post, as all three of these songs circulate around this attitude of healing and growing.

If I were to place these songs, they would be the songs of recovery, the ones that come after trauma, depression, an eating disorder, the darkest places. These are the songs that you can write when you’re coming out the other side. They are the joyful songs of the album, and I love that they coexist on an album with songs as honestly painful as Praying.

This is a side of Kesha that we don’t see very often and I really appreciate that she felt empowered to show it, to let us in to a sweet, naive version of herself. I love that part of her healing is not about being aggressive or strong or any of those things, but just being a kid again. She seems so intensely free in these songs and it feels very hopeful to me in a way that goes beyond the “you’ll find a rainbow” but in a way that says “you get to have joy after trauma.”

In her essay about Learn to Let Go, she writes “I’ve looked at this record, ‘Rainbow,’ as me being myself, Kesha Rose Sebert, my name without the dollar sign, genuinely for the first time ever. I mean that on every level but especially musically ― and that’s really scary for me.” This really comes through, especially in the video for Learn to Let Go, which puts home videos of Kesha as a child next to an adult Kesha reenacting the scenes.

It gives a depth to the song that says “I’m not just letting go, I’m remembering who I used to be, I’m uplifting the parts of myself that give me life.” This video is 100% my favorite of the videos for this album. It is so unself-conscious, so free, so wonderfully joyful. Watch it. Watch it again. It’s so good.

Rainbow was written while she was in rehab for her eating disorder. She describes it as her promise to herself. I personally don’t love it when people say “oh it will get better, just think about the future”, but knowing that this is her reminder to herself, her mantra that she can return to changes it for me. And there are some amazingly honest lines in it:

“And I know that I’m still fucked up
But aren’t we all, my love?
Darling, our scars make us who we are, are”

Even as the message of “you’ll find a rainbow” is far from deep, there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface here, and you can see it in the musicality that happens around the lines “so when the winds are howling strong…”. It’s vivid, orchestral, intense. The rainbow she’s looking for isn’t trite or small. It’s a respite from the chaos you can hear in these lines. I love the imagery of color everywhere, of kaleidoscopes, of seeing everything the world has to offer again. There’s more here than the silly phrases that many people use to describe gratitude or the good parts of life. Instead, there’s a recognition that the world holds layers of wonder and beauty. It speaks to the ways that many people who feel broken or hurt often experience the world differently from other people, which brings me to Spaceship.

Spaceship reads very neurodivergent to me. It’s a song about feeling as if you belong somewhere else, and waiting for your people to come and get you, bring you home. That experience is so common in the autistic community, as well as for others who deal with mental illness. While Rainbow is about finding joy in this world, Spaceship seems to be about finding a place that doesn’t exist in this world: somewhere that is safe and where you feel normal and acceptable. When paired with a lot of Kesha’s more youthful songs on this album, it speaks to the ways that we’re expected to conform as adults, and how often that means losing an innocence that doesn’t need to go.

Even as this album is more musically complex than her past two, it seems to have less “polish”. It’s less produced. It’s more authentic. These songs get to the heart of that and are in many ways the heart of this album. They are not dealing with the past or the trauma, they’re an adult reclaiming their identity and their self, regardless of what has happened or the difficulties of what has happened in their life. I find the vulnerable emotions and unrestrained joy really refreshing.

Praying

This is the third part of a series on Kesha’s new album ‘Rainbow’. Click for parts one and two.

Let’s start by all taking a look at the essay that she wrote to go along with the song. It starts by quoting the opening lines of her video. One of the things that has stuck out to me about this album is the decidedly upbeat tone of it. What has surprised me about that is the fact that it doesn’t annoy me. I think the reason for this is that while this album appears to be coming from a place where Kesha seems ok, it doesn’t shy away from where she has been before. This essay speaks very frankly of depression, and the intro to the video gave me chills: “Please just let me die. Being alive hurts too much.” 

Praying is one of the few songs in which Kesha openly and vulnerably lays out how bad it was for her, and in the essay she is even more open about how in recent years she has struggled mightily with depression. She never mentions why; we all know. The information she provides in the essay goes a long way towards understanding the power of Praying: while the song is about moving on, the essay tells us what she’s moving on from.

The depth of this song doesn’t come from poetic lyrics, but from simplicity. Kesha doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know (especially if you are one of the many people who has dealt with abuse or assault), but what’s important is that she is making art out of it: she has created a beautiful song and she is sharing this experience in a wildly public way. She’s taken a personal and vulnerable experience and become powerful through it.

Kesha’s voice in this song is something else entirely and is what creates a truly transcendent experience here. She writes about learning how to trust her voice throughout her prior tour, and that in this album she really wants to show it off. In Praying she does amazing things with her voice. There are layers of meaning when you understand that she was not confident of her instrument, her very body, until just recently, and then you hear her carrying an amazing ballad with the lyrics “You said that I was done. But you were wrong and now the best is yet to come.” She is not only asserting that, she’s fucking proving it with the musical quality of this song.

My favorite thing about Praying is that when you first hear it, it sounds a bit like a song of forgiveness. I don’t think this coulid be further from the truth. Even if Kesha says “I hope you find your peace”, the very next line is “falling on your knees”, implying that he needs to ask for forgiveness, he needs to change, he has not earned his peace or his forgiveness yet. She even says “Some things only God can forgive”. No, this is not a song about Kesha being the bigger person because FUCK the idea that she even needs to be. This is a song of Kesha saying “sometimes I think about you but mostly just to remember that I’m so much better without you.” She is speaking from the position of power, where for most of her relationship with Dr. Jerkwad she had little to no power.

Speaking of Dr. Jerkwad, my favorite thing about this song is that she doesn’t even bother to hide the fact that she’s talking about him. We all know it, we all know that she’s giving him the middle finger, and we all know that this song is her getting the final word.

The second half of this song is a fucking ANTHEM for all the people who have been hurt and abused, who were told that they were worthless. I have been amazed time and again at how much applause the line “I’m proud of who I am” gets (yes I’ve watched multiple live performances of this song). I can only imagine singing that line when you’re a woman of color or a trans woman or a disabled woman, feeling that those words get to be yours. Feeling that you get to tell the world, which has oppressed you for so long, “when I’m finished, they won’t even know your name.”

Whenever I hear Praying, I like to imagine an army of oppressed people singing that line to Neo Nazis and White Supremacists. I like to imagine singing it to my abusive ex. I like to imagine singing it to the asshole who raped my best friend. So rarely do women really get to be angry at their abusers, or throw threats of any kind at their abusers. Honestly it’s really fucking refreshing. Even more refreshing is a song that can move from raw depression to this kind of empowerment. Praying is pretty fucking amazing.

Boots

This is the second of a series about Kesha’s new album Rainbow. For the first post, click here.

Boots seems to be out of place in Rainbow. It doesn’t address the past, pain, or moving forward. But listening to Boots feels delightfully powerful to me. After sexual assault, it’s easy to feel like your sexuality, and especially your joy in your own body and sexuality has been stolen. I’ve known too many people who before sexual assault were joyfully, intensely sexual, and their sex life was a major part of their identity. Following assault, they have described the experience as “I don’t know how to do it anymore.” There’s insecurity, fear, and a sense that the ability to enjoy their own body has been taken away.

Which is why I love Boots.

Kesha has always been an artist who is unabashedly hedonistic. Her earlier albums were about drinking, partying, and sexing. Typically these topics have been reserved for male artists, and one of the reasons I love Kesha is that she isn’t afraid to say “yes I party and I have a good time, and you still need my consent.” Boots feels like a return to some essential parts of Kesha. I’m glad that Rainbow is a more mature album overall, and I think it’s got a lot more depth, but Kesha also strikes me as a simply joyful and fun loving human being (check out little Kesha’s dance moves in the Learn to Let Go video for reference). One of the hardest things about depression and trauma is finding things that make you joyful, reclaiming things in an untainted way.

Boots to me is that anthem. It’s the recognition that Kesha is still a sexual being and someone who is happily so. It feels so wonderfully joyful to have a song on this album about healing in which she reclaims her sexuality. When assault can rob someone of their connection to their body, can leave them with PTSD, can mean that sex more often than not ends in tears or flashbacks, a song that finds joy again is so powerful.

Even more importantly, when she made her accusations there were some folks who decided to make a big deal out of the fact that she sang about partying and sex. That doesn’t fucking matter. She can love sex and still be assaulted. She does not have to be some kind of “gold star” victim to be a victim, and this song in context shows that she is not willing to give up her open, loud sexuality just to get people on her side.

In this respect, one line sticks out to me: “If you can’t handle these claws you don’t get this kitty.” I’ve seen friends criticize this kind of sentiment as a way for excusing bad behavior, but in this particular album it doesn’t read that way. Claws are associated with aggression, fighting back, defending yourself, and the kitty language has some obvious parallels to pussy and sex. To me this line reads as a message to people who want to ignore her boundaries; you do not get her body if you are not willing to respect her boundaries. I hear Kesha saying “I will fight back if you try to take what’s not yours.” In the middle of a song about reclaiming sexuality, that is a fucking anthem. It’s a slap in the face to Dr. Buttface.

My final impression of Boots is the recognition that not all of healing is painful or difficult. Some days you feel joyful. You find people that make you feel better. It might be simply be a distraction, and that’s ok. Feeling good sometimes is HUGE, and it doesn’t invalidate that you might be depressed or that you’re really struggling. It feels so good within this album to have a moment of unabashed sensuality. It’s a good reminder to all of us who have been hurt that our bodies don’t have to be dangerous or feel broken. It’s possible to reclaim them. And that is fucking awesome.