If you aren’t steeped in the mental health blogosphere, you probably missed the story of a Waunakee, WI high school dance team’s recent prize-winning performance, “We Get Crazy.” The LaCrosse Tribune says that the routine featured “all 18 dancers bouncing to hip-hop music, their hair wild, heavy black makeup on their snarling faces, and costumes made to resemble straitjackets and restraints with the words “Psych Ward” on them.”
News and pictures of the performance upset a number of people, to which dance coach Erin Cotter responded, “The whole point is to get people pumped up and energized. Our intent had nothing to do with mental illness.”
So, the coach (and, presumably, the dancers) don’t get it. I can get my head around that; I mean, you can’t be sensitive in a situation if you don’t know sensitivity is needed.
No, what’s most deeply disturbing to me is the backlash against the mental health advocates and others who have raised their voices in concern. NBC Sports blogger Rich Chandler titled his piece about the incident “You crazy! Mental health advocates in uproar over high school dance team’s ‘psych ward’ routine.” The most telling line in his article is, “[t]eaching our children to back down under pressure is not cool.”
So, we shouldn’t back down under pressure on principle. To hell with the source or causes of the pressure. To hell with being sensitive because we strive to be people who act with integrity and kindness. One memorable commentator on this article said, “Political correctness has destroyed America.” Ahh, so that’s the problem!
Most people think they know what mental illness looks like — that people with it look “crazy,” like those dancers looked. That we all have wild hair and mumble to ourselves and, if we’re not in mental institutions, we should be. That’s how stereotyping works; we don’t know it when we’re doing it because it feels true, and even if it’s not true, we think it doesn’t matter; that it’s no big deal.
People with mental illness are more similar than different to people without mental illnesses. Some are profoundly ill; many more are moderately or mildly ill. We are in hospitals, yes, and in prisons and on the streets, and also at your church and in your schools, standing behind you in line at the grocery and sitting in the office next door to yours at work.
I’d like to think that most of us are smart enough to laugh and have a good time and entertain each other without hurting others in the process.
Just this once, I will reel in my verbosity because I want you to go read a wonderful piece over at my friend Chrisa’s blog, The Mindstorm: Raising a Mentally Ill Child. She has a guest post up by Erika, a fourteen-year-old who describes far more eloquently than I ever could why this matters.