“Can I Be Me”: Ode To Whitney Houston

by Sheila Dianne Jackson

I’ve been thinking a lot about Whitney lately. The anniversary of her death was a couple of weeks before this article posted. When her death was first announced, many said she died of a broken heart. From the outside, looking in, we could see a tumultuous life filled with family drama and betrayal, marital ups and downs, drug abuse, and bouts with the law. She was obviously not happy.

Whitney was no different than many of us who finally make it, in terms of material wealth, but are still not able to fully express and be our selves – our true, authentic selves.

Imagine how suffocating it would be to ‘make it’ and be surrounded by people who only love the sliver of a person you are ‘allowed’ to be – who have no idea or interest in who you really are.

Whitey was suffering from what I call, Imposter Syndrome. An illness of the psyche that, without intervention, leads to depression and destructive behaviors, including addiction – and sometimes suicide.

Whitney cherished her gospel roots and soulful sound. But any music that was too black and did not fit solidly into the mainstream, money-making pop genre was sent back. And she suffered, as she was systematically alienated from R & B music, and set apart from the Black community – on a pedestal.

That well-known moment of being booed by the audience, at a Soul Train appearance, broke Whitney’s heart. Her favorite saying was, “Can I be me?” She said it so much that her crew sampled it, and made it into a song.

Whitney said, “I’ve always got to be the ballerina on the stage, singing pulling in the money to take care of everybody else – and everybody else is working for me. So where do I find time to take care of me? Who’s taking care of me?”

Whitney was her family’s “success story.” She had to reign in her authentic self to succeed. And she beared the added pressure and the very real feeling that people were dependent on her to ‘maintain the act’ to survive.

She was 49. If only Whitney could’ve made it to 50, and beyond. Something happens when Eve turns 50. Eve is no longer willing to function in two worlds. The filter is off, and the urge to tolerate bull-shit and bear the expectations of others  is done – at least for the lion’s share of us.

Maybe Whitney felt the stakes of fully being her self were too high? Was the world ready for a bi-sexual, Urban, Pop-Diva? After watching the documentary about her life, “Can I Be Me,” I believe Whitney was at that transitional threshold – of looking at the life she  lived and the life she wanted. Her cry, “I have made all this money and made all these people happy and I still can’t be me,” was a powerful testament to her awareness. If only she could’ve hung on for a new day, a new moment, a new friend, a new awakening, a new relationship to life…

“Money doesn’t make you happy Fame doesn’t make you happy. The expectation people have of the wealthy is that they have a beautiful perfect life and nothing is ever on a low. You have to find the happiness within yourself. You have to know who you are.”

-Whitney Houston




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