Rappers Drake and J Cole are very influential in the world of Hip Hop. The duo have reached number one in the American charts amongst many other achievements. Drake was recently described in USA Today as one of the most talked about rappers in social media. However their recently released song ‘Jodeci Freestyle’ has proven very controversial. One verse of the song uses the word ‘Autistic’ in a derogatory context. This comes at a time when DSM-V has also recategorised Asperger’s Syndrome as an Autistic Spectrum Disorder.
While attention has also been drawn to other aspects of the song, this particular verse has triggered a reaction from the Autistic Community. This reaction raises questions about how stigma is managed in society. Anna Kennedy (OBE) has two sons with Autism and is a leading Autism campaigner. Kennedy recently launched a campaign with the Anti-Bullying Alliance in schools to reduce bullying of Autistic children at lunchtimes as well as launching ‘Autism’s Got Talent‘. In response to ‘Jodeci Freestyle’, Anna Kennedy has started an online petition asking that Drake and J Cole retract the lyrics and apologise to the Autistic community.
How Do You Tackle Stigma?
Many stigma campaigns have aimed to educate the general public about mental illness and conditions such as Autism. There have been very successful campaigns that have built in a positive way. However stigmatisation happens in many different ways. There are people with Autism and who are acutely severely mentally ill who do not have a voice to counter narratives such as those described above. They must rely on others to do this.
Society is filled with people of varying talents and degrees of talents. Drake and J Cole are undoubtedly very talented and highly influential. While Drake and Cole have produced the song above they are not the only ones who have contributed to society’s narrative. In all areas of society, people contribute daily with varying effect. Indeed there are multiple narratives.
Stigmatisation can be thought of as a dynamic process in which one group are disadvantaged in the course of multiple simultaneous narratives. Whilst in Autism this disadvantage has not yet been quantified, in any consideration of narratives those without a voice will always be at a disadvantage. Fortunately there are those with Autism and other conditions who are well able to influence narratives and for those who are not there are courageous people such as Anna Kennedy to speak on their behalf.
This campaign moves beyond the case of simple coexisting narratives and into the realm of confrontational narratives. Such narratives occur in the complexity of freedom of speech discussions. The right to freedom of speech has subtle nuances depending on where it is being considered and how it is balanced with the rights of others.
The other question is about the role of mental health professionals and the organisations that represent them. Anna Kennedy’s petition highlights how concerned parents are able to challenge the stigma as it happens dynamically. This also highlights a possible supporting role for professionals and the organisations representing them to comment in a systematic way on the narrative and to help shape the direction that it takes.
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