Mind Playing Tricks on Me

by Dashinika Poindexter

Geto Boys, a rap group, consisting of Big Mike, Willie D, and Scarface, released a song entitled “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” featured on their 1991 album We Can’t Be Stopped. The record is one of the greatest hip hop songs to come out of the 90s. The 5-minute song vividly portrays three black men, experiencing various mental illnesses. Within the first minute of the song, Scarface, admits to hallucinating at night to the extent that his body begins to show physical signs of distress:

See, everytime my eyes close

I start sweatin’, and blood starts comin’ out my nose

It’s somebody watchin’ the Ak’

But I don’t know who it is, so I’m watchin’ my back

I can see him when I’m deep in the covers

When I awake I don’t see the motherfucker

He owns a black hat like I own

A black suit and a cane like my ownSome might say, Take a chill, b

But fuck that shit!  There’s a nigga trying to kill me [1]

The mind is constantly interpreting the conditions of the body. It is a continuous cycle that makes the mind and body inseparable to achieving wholeness. David Satcher, the former surgeon general, defines mental health as, “the ability to adapt to change and deal with adversity…The four components we listed in the definition: productive activities, fulfilling relationships, adapting to change in one’s life and finally, dealing with adversity.”[2] Dr. Satcher’s definition of mental health is an outline of what it means to have a healthy lifestyle. Mental health includes meaningful relationships, healthy transitions into various stages of life, and the ability to deal with ill fortune. Each one of the four components consists of a physical and mental aspect that makes up the whole-person.

Black Americans are 20% more likely to be diagnosed with a mental illness than the general population and 50% less likely to seek outpatient treatment as whites. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, African Americans are also more likely to experience specific factors that increase the risk of developing a mental health condition such as poverty and exposure to violence.[3] In verse 2, Willie D has become accustomed to living a life of luxury by way of selling drugs:

I make big money, I drive big cars

Everybody know me; it’s like I’m a movie star

But late at night, somethin’ ain’t right

I feel I’m bein’ tailed by the same sucker’s headlights

Is it that fool that I ran off the block?

Or is it that nigga last week that I shot?

Or is it the one I beat for 5000 dollars?

Thought he had ‘caine, but it was Gold Medal four [4]

The vicious cycle of poverty lures young Black people into selling drugs and committing petty crimes to survive. Also, those generations of historical oppression have become an embodied phenomenon affecting Black Americans’ mental health. I believe that if the church is going to seek justice for the Black community, then it is imperative that the church also respond to the mental health crises that stem from decades of injustice.

For many, Sunday is the day to put all your burdens down and be restored to face the world once more. While communing with God provides the body with strength to overcome, it is important to mention that for some the Black church has been a source of pain. That is why the church should not be the single source that one utilizes for mental health services. At the request of the patient, the church should be able to come alongside healthcare professionals to combine spiritual practices with mental health treatment. While not the norm, some healthcare providers will allow or encourage the participation of clergy in mental health treatment plans. In the meantime, the church should be providing spaces for its congregants to intentionally practice spiritual disciplines such as those found in Howard Thurman’s, Disciplines of the Spirit, where Thurman describes five characteristics of the spirit: commitment, growing in wisdom and stature, suffering, prayer, and reconciliation.[5] Spiritual practices such as these are not cures for mental health illnesses, but these practices demand that we recognize ourselves as holistic beings comprised of a mind, body, and soul.

When we begin to recognize ourselves as holistic beings, we are provided a gateway to the presence of God. The spirit can commune with God on behalf of the individual. In Romans 8:28, Apostle Paul writes that “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”[6] The spirit can connect people to God in such a way that allows people to gain a more in-depth knowledge of self. Spiritual disciplines could help Black Americans first to remember their divinity and then realign their core self-back to the divinity of God.

As mentioned above, Dr. David Satcher defines mental health as being able to deal with adversity. Through communing with God, we are given fresh eyes to see our situation, to transcend our socially entrapped bodies and commune with God, to obtain the wisdom to deal with adversity. Spiritual disciplines help to provide further insight to the reader that was not once available. In “Simmering on the Calm Presence and Profound Wisdom of Howard Thurman” Ronald L. Carter, et al, says, “God becomes the subject and I become the humble object of His consciousness. Thurman’s meditations reach toward the goal of experiencing me as the object of divine concern.”[7] The centering down that spiritual disciplines require uplifts Black Americans to a higher self-awareness that allows them to release the pain of being stripped of their dignity and self-worth and humiliated for over four hundred years.

At the end of “Mind Playing Tricks on Me,” Bushwick Bill describes a physical altercation between Geto Boys and an unidentified law professional. The song does not have a happy ending as it becomes clear that Bushwick Bill is hallucinating the fight and is punching the concrete. We are left with three personal stories from the Geto Boys that summed up the dangerous life of selling drugs, living in poverty and suffering from mental illnesses. The Geto Boys exposed the reality of injustice as a being a physical form of bondage that restricts not only the body but also the mind.

Dashinika Poindexter (‘19) holds a Master of Science in Healthcare Administration from Cal State University, Bakersfield and is a 2nd year MDiv student at BU School of Theology. Dashinika’s research interests include access to care for vulnerable populations, disparities in health and health care delivery, and health politics and policy. On her free time, and if her budget allows for it, she enjoys traveling, watching 90’s sitcoms Living Single, Martin, and A Different World, eating popcorn, and discussing the intersection of spirituality and Black mental health.


 

Endnotes

[1] Geto Boys, “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” (Houston: Rap-A-Lot Records, 1991).

[2] Brendon McLean, “Speaking with Former Surgeon General David Satcher a Leader in Mental Health,”. National Alliance on Mental Illness, February 3, 2014.

[3] “African American Mental Health,” National Alliance on Mental Illness, last modified November 6, 2017, accessed November 6, 2017, https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/Diverse-Communities/African-Americans.

[4] Geto Boys, “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” (Houston: Rap-A-Lot Records, 1991).

[5] Howard Thurman, The Disciplines of the Spirt (Richmond: Friends United Press, 1963).

[6] Romans 8:26-27: New International Version (NIV),” Bible Gateway, last modified November 14, 2017, accessed November 14, 2017, http://www.press.uchicago.edu/books/turabian/turabian_citationguide.html

[7] Ronald L. Carter., Ricardo A. Millett., Conley H. Hughes., & Zondra Howard, “Simmering on the Calm Presence and Profound Wisdom of Howard Thurman,” Journal for the Study of Minority Americans’ Economic, Political, Social, and Religious Development (Spring 1982): 24.

Bibliography

National Alliance on Mental Illness. “African American Mental Health.” Last modified November 6, 2017. Accessed November 6, 2017. https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/Diverse-Communities/African-Americans.

Bible Gateway, “Romans 8:26-27: New International Version (NIV).” Bible Gateway. Last modified November 14, 2017. Accessed November 14, 2017.

Carter, Ronald L., Millett, Ricardo A., Hughes, Conley H., Howard, Zondra. “Simmering on the Calm Presence and Profound Wisdom of Howard Thurman.” Journal for the Study of Minority Americans’ Economic, Political, Social, and Religious Development (Spring 1982).

Geto Boys, “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” (Houston: Rap-A-Lot Records, 1991).

McLean, Brendon. “Speaking with Former Surgeon General David Satcher a Leader in Mental Health.” National Alliance on Mental Illness, February 3, 2014.

Thurman, Howard. The Disciplines of the Spirt. Richmond: Friends United Press, 1963.

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