About Leslye Joy Allen (Ayọ)

Leslye Joy Allen is a fourth generation native of Atlanta. A historian, oral historian, dramaturg, consultant, and environmentalist (better known by her middle name "Joy"), she holds Bachelor and Master of Arts degrees in History from Agnes Scott College and Georgia State University, respectively. She is currently a Candidate for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree in History at Georgia State University. She is a charter member of Agnes Scott College’s Alpha-Theta-Psi chapter of Phi Alpha Theta National History Honor Society and is a former Coca-Cola Foundation Museum Fellow at The Atlanta History Center. She was a 2015-2016 Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) Dissertation Fellow and Scholar; and is currently finishing her dissertation. She specializes in twentieth century Georgia History, Atlanta History, and Performance Arts History with a specific emphasis on Theatre.

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by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

As a historian, I waited to write this because if I had not waited, I would have missed observations that only come with the passage of time. (Areas highlighted in Blue have hyperlinks to other pertinent information.)

In March of this year, when actor Will Smith walked on the stage at the 92nd Academy Awards and slapped comedian Chris Rock there was an absence of visible security. Even though there was security that addressed this spectacle, the viewing public never witnessed any security personnel rush to the stage to stop Smith or to even check to see if Rock was okay. During the broadcast, if Smith was ever restrained, the viewing audience never saw it; and he was not removed from the ceremony.

For several months after this slap, people speculated about why Smith got so angry over Rock’s joke about Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett-Smith. The rumor mill went into overdrive about his marriage, his personal life, and whether he previously had a beef with Chris Rock. I have yet to hear, however, anyone with a large public following seriously speculate about his mental health.

Later on May 3rd, Isaiah Lee bounded on the Hollywood Bowl stage with a fake gun that concealed a knife, and tackled comedian Dave Chappelle. He admitted he was inspired by Will Smith. Lee was quickly grabbed, however, by Chappelle’s security team who promptly beat him up. They blackened his eye and broke his arm. He looked like he had been pummeled by Muhammad Ali when Ali was in his prime. Although Lee never physically harmed Chappelle, he has been charged with assault. Now here’s the spin…

After the incident, the first stories about Lee suggested he was mentally unstable and attacked Chappelle to bring attention to Lee’s grandmother who lost her home due to gentrification. Chappelle privately spoke with this young man, but the story about gentrification sounded fishy. Who the hell attacks a comedian for such a reason? In the weeks that followed, Lee (who identifies as Bisexual) explained that he was tired of and triggered by Chappelle’s offensive jokes about the LGBTQIA community.

I am aware that Chappelle has taken more than a few comedic shots at LGBTQIA people, particularly members of the Transgender community that he obviously does not know have histories as long as humans have been in existence. When he argued that the public cares more about the LGBTQIA community’s feelings than about the sanctity of Black lives, he conveniently forgot that there are Black LGBTQIA people too. Black transgender women bear the brunt of other people’s misunderstanding, misinformation, violence, sexism, and often racism from many white LGBTQIA. Additionally, they face transphobia and violence from many Black folks.

In a conversation with scholar Marc Lamont Hill, Black transgender activist and writer Hope Giselle pointed out that Chappelle might not have meant any harm but his words negatively affected Black Transgender women in particular, and other Black LGBTQIA people in general, precisely because his words granted license to people who already want any excuse to harm them. She pointed out that while white transgender individuals do experience transphobia and discrimination, they still enjoy white privileges that Black and Brown transgender women do not. But, I digress.

The media story of Isaiah Lee began with him described as a potentially mentally unstable young Black man angry over what happened to his Grandmother’s home. Then the story was clarified. He is a young Black Bisexual man fed up with Chappelle’s jokes about LGBTQIA people. Why were there two such drastically different stories? Who knows? Yet, here’s why we should care.

Will Smith has had thousands of his fans look for every excuse to explain his virulent behavior because they like him and enjoy his films. The problem is that Smith could also be mentally unstable; and that slap he gave Rock could have been a lot worse. I can only imagine what might have happened if Rock had hit Smith back.

Even though Isaiah Lee had a knife and Will Smith had only his hands, they both did practically the same thing—they went on a stage with the intent of harming comedians whose commentary/jokes they found offensive. Yet, we looked at both of these scenarios and both of these men quite differently. Smith’s celebrity shielded him from immediately being labeled “crazy”, while Lee’s status as a private citizen—and a bisexual one at that—guaranteed that he would be criminally charged and seen as mentally unbalanced. We need to think hard and long about this because none of these unfortunate incidents (or the manner in which we view them) help Will Smith or Isaiah Lee or the public.

I wrote this piece to emphasize that erratic and violent behavior conducted in public are often symptoms of desperation that neither celebrity nor anonymity can shield anyone from. Importantly, we, the public, can be convinced that an individual’s momentary lapse in good judgement is just temporary depending on who has the lapse and how the story is covered.—And that is dangerous because it grants some people an excuse to act on their anger in inappropriate and volatile ways while permanently condemning others for the exact same behavior. So…

when you read about or witness odd and/or disappointing and/or strange behavior, take a deep breath and pause and think about it because we have always lived in a world where information needs to be processed over days, but media and social media suggest you can digest it in a few minutes. Yet, you cannot. Peace.

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives-4.0 International License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

Sidebar: Deconstructing Will Smith: Race, Masculinity and Global Stardom by Dr. Willie Tolliver is an exceptional (and prescient) analysis of Smith’s career that was published in January of 2022.

Covid, Cuba, and Human Rights

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

As we approach what many people hope is the end of the COVID-19, or I should say the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, let us consider a few things that we need to think about. First, while it is imperative that everyone be vaccinated, we still do not have a vaccination against this virus for children. Second, coronaviruses mutate. There are over 200 head cold viruses and most of them are coronaviruses. So, SARS-CoV-2 is probably endemic, meaning that we will have to contend with it in some form in perpetuity. Remember the Influenza Pandemic of 1918 killed roughly 50,000,000 million people worldwide. Yet, we no longer fear the flu because the flu is easily diagnosed and treatable. So, here’s the skinny: We need a couple of highly successful treatments for SARS-CoV-2; and we also need a test that can be administered where any healthcare professional can tell you whether you tested positive or negative in a matter of minutes. We’re not quite there yet, so be careful. This brings me to the crisis unfolding in Cuba.

As a Black American historian with some Afro-Cuban roots, the island nation has always been of interest to me personally. As I type this, however, the romanticized idea of Cuba that so many of us Black Americans hold—myself included—is dissolving before our eyes as Cubans, and particularly Afro-Cubans, have taken to the streets in protest against the harsh abuses they experience courtesy of state-sponsored police. The pandemic has exacerbated an old problem. While it would be easy to blame the USA for its decades-long (and unnecessarily punitive) embargo against Cuba, I am learning from Afro-Cubans on the ground that the USA’s embargo is not the primary cause of their hardships and grievances.

Many Black Americans are all too familiar with the late Fidel Castro’s visit to the USA where he deliberately stayed in Harlem with us. I remember the late Kwame Ture (né Stokely Carmichael) received medical care on the island. Then there is Black activist and fugitive Assata Shakur who received asylum on the island and has lived there for decades. Therefore, we Black Americans were not prepared to hear or fully accept what we were seeing on the ground in Cuba, namely young Cubans throwing rocks and bottles at police officers, marching in the streets, denouncing Castro, and telling Black American pundits to hush up because none of us have a clue what these young folks have been dealing with. And I have to agree; it is time for us Black Americans to stand down, shut up, and listen without the American-centricity we all carry but often fail to acknowledge.

I wrote back in January of this year that I wanted President Joe Biden to return to Obama-era normalization with Cuba. I still stand by that wish because as the government of Cuba has exported its best doctors to other countries to pay the island’s bills, it has also done so at the expense of the health and well-being of Cubans on the island. The medical miracle that Cuban medicine has been (a vaccination for meningitis, successfully preventing an HIV-positive mother from transmitting the virus to her unborn child, and fighting Ebola) is threatened by a more systemic problem that we do not want to face—plain, old-fashioned racism that Cuba claimed was finished decades ago, and a government that silences anyone that disagrees with its policies, which has apparently been in place for decades.

Right now the American Embassy in Cuba warns Americans not to visit Cuba due to potential violence and the continued spread of SARS-CoV-2. Biden unfortunately intends to sanction individual members of Cuban government. Sanctions have not worked, ever. As material shortages have always been a problem on the island for at least 5 decades, the pandemic has pushed everyone to their limits. Many Cuban protestors have stated that the folks in the government are eating and living just fine. Yet, the masses of Cubans now face severe food and medical shortages, and incarceration and/or death for daring to speak out about the abuses they suffer. Even worse, many Afro-Cubans complain that we don’t listen to what they are truly trying to tell us.

I still believe that the coordinated efforts of Cuban doctors, American doctors, and scientists from around the world can help us stem the tide of this pandemic, where, at minimum this disease only remains as a treatable and preventable disease. Yet, I also know that history tells us that any revolution that goes on too long eventually imitates the regime it was trying to replace. We must also be prepared to acknowledge and work toward a future where we Black Americans listen first to our kith and kin Afro-Cubans to stem the tide of state-sponsored racism, murder, and deprivation that they face—And those diseases are far more difficult to treat than any virus.

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives-4.0 International License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

The Other DMX Lesson

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

Let me first extend my deepest sympathies to the family, friends, and fans of DMX (né Earl Simmons). Full disclosure: I am a Traditional Jazz, Bebop, CuBop, Afro-Latin Jazz, Tin Pan Alley, Soul/R&B, Johnny Mathis music fan. Aside from a couple of Rap tunes, I am not much of a Rap/Hip Hop fan. My former students keep me up-to-date on the genre. So, this blog is not going to be filled with memories about when I first heard this very talented man who died too soon. I do hope, however, that DMX’s passing does more than have us publicly bemoan the perils of substance abuse, but rather, we Black folks start thinking seriously about mental health. I have no way of knowing if DMX had any form of mental disease, but a lot of drug users do…

Way back in the day, a friend as close as a brother, had a pattern of woofing down about FOUR 16-ounce Schlitz Malt Liquor Beers, coupled with about a fifth of Vodka, in one sitting over a couple of hours. Yet, I never saw him drunk. He would sleep 8 hours, then get up fresh as a daisy and go to work the next day. This was his daily ritual. He never had a hangover, if you can believe that. I couldn’t understand how he did it. Later, he was diagnosed with “Mania,” often an early symptom of Bipolar Disorder. The excessive booze was his way of self-medicating, of literally slowing down his brain that was constantly racing on all cylinders. The excessive alcohol made it possible for him to function, even if it was an unhealthy way to get some relief.

Now, drug abuse can cause mania, but drug use can also be a response to the mania itself. When I learned that DMX—a long term, off-and-on-again substance abuser—had a massive heart attack that put him in a coma with little brain function, I wondered if the source of his inability to permanently kick his drug habit was rooted in an undiagnosed mental illness. I don’t know. We may never know, but it is certainly a possibility.

We, in the Black community, have a serious mental health crisis precisely because, en masse, we don’t take mental illness seriously enough. Mental illness is not prayed away; it has to be treated. We casually and often humorously say that people have “lost their minds,” but sometimes they have actually done just that—lost their minds. A failure to seek treatment or to encourage someone to seek treatment means the disease gets worse. Sometimes, as in the case with my old friend, using both legal and illegal substances are signs of a larger problem that, if identified, can be successfully treated.

As of this writing, it has not yet been confirmed whether DMX’s heart attack, subsequent coma and death were the results of an overdose on opioids or some other drug. Even though the majority of opioid addicts are white, we have too often dismissed opioid addiction as strictly a “white” phenomenon, forgetting that there were/are glaring racial disparities in opioid addiction diagnosis and in addiction treatment. We can’t even afford to recall, with nostalgia, those days back in the mid-20th century, when there were virtually no statistics on “Black Suicide” because back then, for the most part, Black folks rarely, if ever, committed suicide. That day is dead and gone too.

Today, the second leading cause of death for Black youngsters from the ages of 10 to 14 is suicide. Let me repeat that: Today, the second leading cause of death for Black youngsters from the ages of 10 to 14 is suicide. And now it is estimated that Black children are more likely to commit suicide than white kids. When you have time, just read the data: Addressing the Crisis of Black Youth Suicide.

No matter what mental or physical problems led to DMX’s erratic drug habits and premature death, it was fairly obvious that he was an immensely talented man. We will read one tribute after another in his honor. Inevitably, people will mention how he “battled his demons.” They will easily recall when they heard DMX say something profound, something that changed their lives. What too many of them will not say is when they noticed a change in his behavior or habits or health or moods, and then tried to do something about it. And that’s not just a problem, it’s a shame.

Let’s do something more palpable than wring our hands and hang our heads in prayer. Say something to friends and family members when you witness erratic behavior and/or substance abuse. Pay attention to your own mental and physical health. Pay attention to your children’s mental and physical health. Call a psychiatrist, a physician whenever you believe it necessary. Ignore people who tell you that you are over-reacting. Help stop the trend of us losing too many of our people much too soon. Àṣẹ.

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives-4.0 International License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

A Micro-History: The 3rd Gender

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This is an extremely tiny micro-history of Gender that is almost never covered in classrooms. While there is enough data available on this subject that fills thousands of libraries, it is particularly important information in light of the recent excessive violence and neglect of our/my transgender sisters and brothers. It is important to remember that many ancient African, Asian, and Native American civiliations tended to identify and accept people who were not easily lumped into a single category defined strictly as male and female. There were (and always will be) a tiny minority of individuals who were/are best defined and/or recognized as not fitting into either of the two gender categories emphasized by the Western world.

As difficult as it may be to accept, gender is a social construct and has an entirely different meaning from biological sex. Western ideologies, which were largely dispersed through domination and conquest, have their value. Yet, Western colonization of parts of Africa, Asia and the Americas also replaced, altered, and in some cases, destroyed indigenous belief systems and cosmologies that were beneficial to the peoples that created them. Hopefully, the following 9 frames will provoke further study about this topic, gender dysphoria (a very real human status), and a greater understanding of people and peoples who do not neatly fit this very Western concept of being either one thing or the other.

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives-4.0 International License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

Biden, Harris and Cuba

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

It has been over a year since I posted a blog about what Joe Biden needed to do to win the Democratic nomination and the election; and HE DID IT.  He appropriately rewarded the many young women, and many young Black women, who helped get him elected.  He made the woman who shellacked him in the first Democratic debate, Kamala Harris his Vice-President.  He’s smarter than a lot of men I know.  For a change, we Black women do not feel so utterly unacknowledged and unappreciated.  Thanks President Biden for listening to young people, young women, young Black women, and for taking a different path than the typical time-worn, racist and sexist “Good Ol’ Boys” route to victory.  This blog is written, however, in the age of COVID19 and here is some quick information for you to think about in 2021.

President Joe Biden has already begun the process of correcting much of the damage done to this nation by his predecessor, but I want him to do at least one more thing.  I want him to re-establish relations with Cuba.  Obama began the process of normalizing relations with Cuba, and ’45’s’ administration rolled that process back.  Here’s why Cuba is important:  Cuban medicine focuses on prevention first.  Cuba has a surplus of doctors; more Black doctors than the United States; and over 2,000 doctors treating COVID19 patients in over 20 countries…As of this writing, on February 5, 2021, Cuba has had 225 deaths from COVID19 in a nation of 11 million+ people that have a longer life expectancy and lower infant mortality rates than the United States.  During a pandemic, medical knowledge needs to be shared, not politicized.   Pay attention.  Stay safe.  Wear a mask.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives-4.0 International License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.