Let me have permission
I promise to clean up any mess, that might
occur in the aftermath of unbridled self-expression
——– ‘Permission to scream’, Lisa Bellear (Goenpul)
Here’s something I don’t tell everybody: I want to be a psycho white girl.
It’s 2001 and my best friend Josh says girls aren’t as good as boys at soccer. We are in front of my house, an old army barracks just behind Arthur Gorrie (no relation) Correctional Centre. With the Ipswich Motorway humming in the background, I ask him: what did you say? I was giving him a chance to retreat but hoping he wouldn’t. He probably repeats it because he believes it. And I’m fuzzy on the details but I know this: there is so much delicious rage in my stomach that it pours out of my mouth until I become my totem, the sea eagle, in flight circling my terrain for prey. I push and provoke and prod until Josh swings a right hook that lands on my cheek. For half a second I am stunned, and then I smile. Left jab and right hook – my psycho bursts through my skin, trained during Mum’s boxing lessons, and my bony brown knuckles connect with flesh. When I’m done, Josh has a bloody lip and a plum bruise around his eye. Mum drags me over the road to apologise to Josh and his mother, but even that can’t stop me from feeling proud. I am victorious.
Here’s something I don’t tell everybody: Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted was fucking hot, all tits and charisma. So was Kirsten Dunst in The Virgin Suicides (this was an age-appropriate hot because I was fifteen when I watched it). Coked-up Sarah Michelle Gellar in Cruel Intentions. Rachel McAdams in Mean Girls is a hot white psycho even when (especially when) she gains weight. Even Helena Bonham Carter’s Bellatrix Lestrange can get it. I don’t know if I want to fuck them or if I want to be them. I do know that I want to be an uncomplicated white crazy; not the kind that gets you arrested or sectioned and institutionalised or that you cross the street to avoid – the one you want to fuck. I want to be your white psycho dream girl.
I want to be an uncomplicated white crazy; not the kind that gets you arrested or sectioned and institutionalised or that you cross the street to avoid – the one you want to fuck.
It’s 2002 and I am losing it. I’m in Year 7 now and I simply won’t take it anymore. Wearing my maroon and cop-blue school uniform I am standing over a freckled, insecure white germ called Rhys Jackson. He keeps calling me ‘Apolicki,’ which means ‘Aboriginal’ in Samoan but he is not Samoan, and he is not using it as a descriptor, he is using it as a slur, because moments before I had corrected him on something – and like I already said, he’s insecure – so instead of copping it on the chin like that stoic bullshit white Australians are on, he slings ‘Apolicki’ my way so that I’ll feel small. And we all know big and small is a zero-sum game, so if I’m small he gets to be big. But I don’t get small this time, I get psycho. Instead of smacking his dumb freckled face like I want to, I yell at him and it still feels good. I tell him what I feel in a moment of unrestrained psycho. The germ leaks tears and I am powerful.
Here’s something I just Googled: hot psycho white girls. MTV has an article, ‘our favourite white psycho females’. My boyfriend finds ‘The hottest fictional crazy girls you would probably bang anyway’. Yes Google, I would. I search for hot crazy white girls and PornHub comes up first.
Here’s something I don’t tell everybody: I want to be a Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf kind of melancholy psycho white girl. I want to write about my sadness. I want to let you in on my depressing neuroses. I want to write about how sometimes while I am walking on the tram tracks that snake my city, I slow down while a tram or car comes past, and I think that if it takes me then so be it.
It’s 2007, the start of Year 12, and here I am yelling at yet another insecure Rhys, except this time he’s black. It’s the middle of the night in middle class suburban Brisbane and we’ve stumbled away from a party. He is threatening to kill himself because I am apparently ashamed of him, and I don’t accept him for who he is, because earlier that day he had wanted to spend his backpaid Abstudy money on clothes from Jay Jays, and I’d said, ‘Ew, let’s go to General Pants’. He starts a fight with our friend George over something I can’t even remember anymore, and passes out in the middle of the Taringa Rovers soccer field. Before he passes out, I yell at him. What I yell at him is a mystery because, if it isn’t clear yet, we are both sloppy-slurry drunk. My friends watch this entire scene play out and decide to give me a new nickname when we go back to school. Here’s something I only just stopped being embarrassed about: that nickname was ‘Crazy Aboriginal Lady,’ or CAL for short.
Here’s something I don’t tell everybody: I want to write like psycho white girls like Melissa Broder and her vomit fetish, and the less psycho and more self-centred Lena Dunham writing about her nipple hair and doing weird sibling vaginal shit. I want to be a self-centred psycho white girl whose career wouldn’t end if I wrote weird shit about myself. Maybe I’d even be celebrated.
Real life pyschos get locked up. Instead of treating these women with love and compassion we fuck them up even more.
My favourite line in Jordan Peele’s film Us is this: ‘If you want to get crazy, we can get crazy.’ Yes, Jordan, I want to get crazy. Psycho is cathartic, and I am forever stitched up and constrained. What I am in love with, though, is an ivory veneer. Real life psycho white girls aren’t fun or sexy. Real life psycho white girl Virginia Woolf was sexually abused as a child, poor sexy Sylvia Plath was in an abusive relationship, and was only a year older than me when she killed herself. While her writing is brilliant, Melissa Broder’s interior sounds excruciating. Lena Dunham is punishing. Bhad Bhabie is a real life psycho white girl, whose psycho clearly has commercial and meme appeal – but implicitly (and we all know it without saying it) unless she undergoes a radical transformation, like Cardi B’s recent motherhood, her particular brand of psycho has a short lifespan.
Real life white psycho isn’t hot. And there obviously isn’t freedom – institutions and prisons are full of what we call ‘psycho’ instead of naming it for what it really is: traumatised. Research conducted by the organisation Sisters Inside, which works with criminalised and incarcerated women in Queensland, has found that over 90 per cent of the incarcerated women they work with have experienced family violence. The majority of incarcerated women are inside due to homelessness, poverty and drug related offences. In 2015 the federal government reported that 62 per cent of incarcerated women reported mental health issues. Victoria has invested $173 million in mental health but committed $1.8 billion to new prisons. Real life pyschos get locked up. Instead of treating these women with love and compassion we fuck them up even more. Why then is the world full of hot psycho white girl representation? And why am I jealous of them? Where are the hot black psychos?
Kelis was 21 in 1999 when the film clip for her first single ‘Caught Out There’ dropped. It starts off with her watching the surgery of a man we later learn is her cheating partner. Her eyebrows are fuchsia and her afro is out. She screams into the camera, ‘I hate you so much right now!’ I was nine and already had a lot to hate, and so the film clip was intoxicating. Kelis maims the cheating man, smashes up her house and later takes to the streets recruiting women to join her. I imagined myself walking with swagger next to her, screaming into the camera too. At her second, ‘I hate you so much right now,’ she is dancing in a straightjacket with quick jagged movements.
The straightjacket was a motif also employed by Missy Elliot in her 2005 music video for ‘Teary Eyed’. Like Kelis she is driven to madness by a cheating boyfriend, and the film clip jumps between loving scenes, murder plots and institutionalisation. The straightjacket is designed to reduce movement, but both women incorporate it into their choreography in a way that makes their confinement appealing. In the universes of these film clips, black women pay for their brief moments of angry freedom with confinement.
This is the third YouTube comment on ‘Caught Out There’:
Beyoncé’s Lemonade was a complete artistic departure from her previous loved-up narrative. Where she had been hurt before, this time she allowed herself to be angry. In the music video for ‘Hold Up’ she takes a baseball bat, walks along a sidewalk and smashes up the windows of parked cars. Windows shatter, glass flies. Later, on ‘Don’t Hurt Yourself’, a collaboration with Jack White, she yells over fast drums and a heavy riff, ‘Who the fuck do you think I am?’ She throws her wedding ring at the camera. It is liberating to watch her finally lose it, but when you consider the slick production and no doubt numerous takes to get it right, the film clip starts to lose any sense of catharsis. It’s entertaining but it’s not raw. For raw, I turn to her little sister Solange.
Solange, Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s greyscale CCTV elevator departure from the 2014 Met Gala is now famous. The doors close and Solange lays into Jay-Z while a stony faced Beyoncé watches on. Every black woman watching on asked themselves, what did he do? The Carter-Knowles dynasty never responded, save only for Beyoncé rapping, ‘Of course sometimes shit goes down when there’s a billion dollars on the elevator.’ We eventually got our answer in the visual album Lemonade.
Music is seemingly the one domain where black women can be psychos and we will still love them.
Music is seemingly the one domain where black women can be psychos and we will still love them. Black women remain underrepresented in film and television but have currency in music. This might account for different narratives, including that of black psychos, in film clips. Rihanna directed her 2015 film clip for the song ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’. It begins with her kidnapping a wealthy white woman; the partner of a character called The Accountant. It shows Rihanna attempting to extract ransom money, and ends with her slaughtering both the accountant and his partner. At various points the white woman dangles upside down from the ceiling, her bare tits flying. It is visceral. This film clip was made after she had taken her own accountant to court for the mismanagement of her funds. While it is a manufactured bloodletting like Beyoncé’s ‘Don’t Hurt Yourself’, there is something else in this film clip we don’t get with Beyoncé. What we are seeing is a risk for a young black woman; revenge. Not just revenge though, revenge on white people. This is what I am after. Psychos get revenge. Revenge is a place anger goes when it can be directed at the aggressor. In Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye a young black girl, Pecola, is raped several times and eventually impregnated by her father. There is no moment of psycho, no moment of revenge. Pecola’s psycho directs inwards until her character is the sort of woman people cross the road to avoid. Her psycho consumes her.
At this point, I need to acknowledge that ‘psycho’ is a disparaging word. It also has limitations, as Esmé Weijun Wang points out in The Collected Schizophrenias: ‘the words “psycho” and “psychotic” are used to refer to everything from obnoxious ex-girlfriends to bloodthirsty serial killers.’ It is time that I get specific. Most days I want to be Rihanna but often end up Pecola. Not literally, but you know what I mean – I am not allowed to be angry, lest I be seen as ‘Crazy Aboriginal Lady’. But anger is tasty. I have over 200 years of it in my DNA, and it begs to be expressed. Anger is often positioned as an emotion that needs to be managed but my anger is special; it has a lineage. It is this anger and where it goes to that I am interested in. Yellowknives Dene scholar Glen Sean Coulthard, responding to Frantz Fanon’s 1952 Black Skin, White Masks (in his own book Red Skin, White Masks), discusses the representation and importance of anger and revenge for Indigenous peoples:
The colonised begin to desire what has been denied them: land, freedom, and dignity. They begin dreaming of revenge. […] Although Fanon is quick to insist that the ‘legitimate desire for revenge’ born of the colonised subject’s nascent ‘hatred’ and ‘resentment’ toward the colonist cannot alone ‘nurture a war of liberation,’ I suggest that these negative emotions nonetheless mark an important turning point in the individual and collective coming-to-consciousness of the colonised. More specifically, I think that they represent the externalisation of that which was previously internalised: a purging, if you will, of the so-called ‘inferiority complex’ of the colonised subject.
Outside of my anxiety and depression spirals, I have never felt inferior. I briefly stumble at the putrid stench of a stranger’s question of my humanity. After these moments, I want Rihanna revenge. Revenge is unconstrained emotionality. Revenge, I am realising, is a kind of emotional freedom, and this freedom is the psycho I lust after.
I am not allowed to be angry, lest I be seen as ‘Crazy Aboriginal Lady’. But anger is tasty. I have over 200 years of it in my DNA, and it begs to be expressed.
I am a colonised person, and freedom, no matter how brief and even in the form of revenge, is seductive. I pay rent, taxes and am monitored in public. Freedom for the colonised subject is a sun setting in the horizon; unreachable. In ‘”You cunts can do as you like”: the obscenity and absurdity of free speech to Blackfullas’, Dr Chelsea Bond, Bryan Mukandi and Shane Coghill explore the futility of Indigenous peoples in a settler colonial society such as Australia:
Freedom for First Nations people cannot be countenanced so long as the setters maintain power and remain in place. The difference between Blackfullas and Black folk is that Blackfullas are First Nations peoples too. It is Australia, not slavery, that is the cage from within which Blackfullas sing.
In Australia today, therefore, the notion of being free is as fictitious to Blackfullas as the notion of being young.
I know I can never truly be free, but this doesn’t stop me chasing freedom. I’ll take it in drugs, utopian dancefloors, sex, online shopping and posting my titties on Instagram. I’ll take it in telling people to fuck off, getting drunk on someone else’s coin, jumping trams and pouring drinks on the backs of white men after they’ve been racist at the bar. At its most pure, I take it when I go back to my country’s embrace. Like Hanif Abdurraqib says on grieving his mother in They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us: I’ll take my healing where I can get it. I want my reparations in the form of revenge. And if I can’t get that, I’ll watch hot fictional pyschos get theirs.
Here’s a final image for you: Picture me in the smoker’s section. It’s gotta be about 3am and we are both fucked and I am asking you for a rollie but can you please roll because I don’t know how (imagine I’ve said this in a charming fashion). And so, I decide to tell you a story because I’m fucking high and if I don’t move my mouth I’m going to chew the cunt off. I tell you I fucking love black women. I come from a strong line of black women, man. I move towards you because the music is loud and you have become my co-conspirator. I tell you I come from a real line of psychos, man. I lean in closer. Can you believe my great great something once cut the dick off a man who tried to rape her? What a bad bitch huh? And we both laugh.
Permission to scream
who needs it!