By Phillip J. Roundtree, MSW, MS
As I sit here in Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee Shop (Philadelphia, Pa), at 8 pm Est, it’s been approximately 3 hours since Jahseh Dwayne Onfroy aka XXXtentacion (XXX) was pronounced dead after being shot by masked assailants during a robbery. I’ll be honest, I’ve yet to listen to his catalog, I can’t recite lyrics, or even name a song; however, as a Child/Adolescent Therapist, Mental Health Advocate, and father of an 18-year-old Black male, I find it imperative to know who’s influencing our youth, especially those within Black and Brown communities. It was my son who first attempted to introduce me to XXX due to his belief that we have similarities as Black men who live with mental wellness issues, specifically depression and anxiety.
Due to the importance of due diligence, and context for this article, I listen to tracks from his catalog, beginning with “Sad!”, where it became painstakingly obvious that XXX was hyperaware of his mental health, talking candidly about living with depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideations. I heard not only his story, but my own, and the stories of many Black and Brown men. He was candid when discussing trauma, various interpersonal, familial, and systemic stressors, as well as the impact of life’s highs and lows. Flabbergasted at the depths of the music, of the pain, yet still having a desire to be better; it became obvious as to why an entire generation connected to his music.
Why was XXX so angry, sad, hurt in his music and social media videos? The answer is simple, look at the world from the eyes of a disenfranchised Black male. We live in a world where racism, xenophobia, homophobia, sexism, classism all exist and are thriving. When discussing the conditions of the black experience in America, James Baldwin famously said, “To be Black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage”. The impact of “post” slavery, Civil Rights movement, Jim Crow, Brown vs. The Board, and overall trauma on the mental health of Black and Brown generation is undeniable. Neither XXX, nor many other black or brown males who’ve preceded him, could escape the death grip of internal and external oppression.
According to the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH), 1 out of 5 Black and Brown children are living with a mental health condition, with more than half not receiving any direct treatment. Despite the studies, we recognize these statistics are probably low due to mitigating factors such as stigma, access to healthcare, etc. What does this mean? It means, that many young and old men in our community are walking around like grenades, with the pin-release being any undesirable thought, feeling, emotion, or situation they may encounter, resulting in catastrophic events, ranging from arguments to homicide. These young children, adolescents, and men are experiencing “Black Boy Rage”.
“Black Boy Rage” is a very real phenomena and its impact can be life-altering for our community. When we’re discussing the mental health of Black and Brown boys, especially those diagnosed with the most common disorders of depression, anxiety, and the over-diagnosed ADHD, the symptoms look different compared to whites. Society identifies common symptoms of said disorders as being withdrawal, high anxiety, laying in bed for hours-on-end, etc. However, for Black and Brown boys, depression and anxiety tend to manifest itself in anger, rage, and other maladaptive behaviors such as violence. XXX was no different as he’s alleged to have been a perpetrator of physical and verbal abuse against girlfriends, has made aggressive threats towards peers, and has had multiple run-ins with the judicial system. His alleged acts of violence earned him stigma-reinforcing titles such as “crazy”, and his acts against women caused him to be up for “cancellation” in this necessary “Me Too” era, up until his demise at the hands of another “Black boys rage”.
[ALSO READ: XXXTentacion Reportedly Knew His Girlfriend Was Pregnant Before His Death]
Many believed if XXX wasn’t killed, then his death by suicide would’ve occurred sooner than later. He was candid about his ideations, which were prevalent in his lyrics and depicted in his music videos. In addition, his close friend and future muse, Jocelyn Flores, took her own life, with him finding her body in a hotel room. These are some of the warning signs and triggers of someone who’d act on suicidal ideations.
Suicide rates amongst Black children have doubled over the last 10 years when compared to white children.. It’s no coincidence the rates rise as social media becomes more influential in our lives. Poor coping skills, coupled with experiences such as bullying and peer pressure, often create unrealistic expectations and stressors, which negatively impact our children. As I write this, I’m shown a tweet of an adolescent expressing that his younger brother attempted suicide after hearing of the slayed rappers’ death. This reinforces the notion that XXX had enormous impact and maybe of most importance, an urgency to address the mental health of our children within our community,
Addressing “Black boy rage” and suicide in disenfranchised communities who view mental health as an enigmatic idea, reserved only for those with privilege, seems like a tall task. Let’s not kid ourselves, it is! However, solutions to decrease the prevalence and unhealthy expression of “Black boy rage” exist. Healing through therapy, medication management, increasing healthy verbal and physical interactions with peers and adults who look like them, collective accountability by way of community involvement are ways we begin to improve conditions for our young men, to avoid them becoming poorly coping adults.
XXX's memory, much like Tupac and Biggie of my generation, may never be fully rehabilitated; however, if we improve the disconnect within the community, embracing those Black and Brown boys who found solace in his music, then his death will not have been in vain. He gave a voice to the voiceless, offering clarity to concepts that many adults find difficulty understanding. Music was his canvas, pain his vision, and descriptive language the paint. He created vivid unpretty pictures, over melodic notes for the world to see.