Bentley was the most popular and infamous speakeasy performer in Prohibition-era New York. A large, masculine, Black woman—a “bulldagger,” in the language of her day—she was known for wearing a white tuxedo and top hat onstage while expertly playing the piano and singing dirty versions of popular songs to rapt“slumming” audiences. She even married her white girlfriend in a well-publicized Atlantic City wedding ceremony.
The early 20th century was still a conservative time in many ways, but the banning of alcohol from 1920 to 1933 created illicit spaces in northern cities like speakeasies and rent parties, which offered temporary freedom from social norms. Hundreds of thousands of Southern African Americans went to these cities in search of new opportunities, in what became known as the Great Migration. And Black soldiers who had served in World War I came home with a renewed sense of racial pride. This led to an explosion of Black literature, music, art, and performance often referred to as the Harlem Renaissance. All these factors helped make Harlem the epicenter of the era, where Gladys Bentley rose to fame.
Personal life and death
In 1930, Bentley lived with a woman named Beatrice Robert. In 1931, Bentley had a civil ceremony in New Jersey, in a public union with a white woman whose identity is unknown. When Bentley relocated to Los Angeles, she allegedly married J. T. Gibson, who died in 1952, the same year in which she married Charles Roberts, a cook in Los Angeles; they were married in Santa Barbara, California, went on a honeymoon in Mexico. Gibson denied ever marrying her.
Bentley died of pneumonia unexpectedly at her home in Los Angeles on January 18, 1960, aged 52. It was initially believed to be the "Asian flu" but later turned into "pneumonia". At the time of her death, she had been more involved in the church and had just been ordained as a minister despite never getting her official paperwork. She is buried beside her mother at Lincoln Memorial Park in Carson, California.
Aside from her musical talent and success, Bentley is a significant and inspiring figure for some in the LGBT community and African Americans, and she was a prominent figure during the Harlem Renaissance. She was revolutionary in her masculinity: "Differing from the traditional male impersonator, or drag king, in the popular theater, Gladys Bentley did not try to 'pass' as a man, nor did she playfully try to deceive her audience into believing she was biologically male. Instead, she exerted a 'black female masculinity' that troubled the distinctions between black and white and masculine and feminine".
Fictional characters based on Bentley appeared in Carl Van Vechten's novel Parties, Clement Woods' novel Deep River, and Blair Niles' novel Strange Brother.
In 2016, musician Shirlette Ammons released an album entitled Twilight for Gladys Bentley, that paid tribute to Bentley's legacy and "reimagined" Bentley in relationship to hip hop culture.
In 2019, The New York Times newspaper began a series called "Overlooked No More," in which the editorial staff aims to correct a perceived bias in reporting by republishing obituaries for historical minorities and women. Bentley was one of the featured obituaries in Overlooked No More.
Patton told WTVF that Hale had previously spoken to others about feeling suicidal so she knew to take the messages seriously. At her father’s instruction, Patton said she contacted the Suicide Prevention Help Line at 10:08 a.m. before calling the Nashville Davidson County Sheriff’s Office five minutes later. They in turn told her to call Nashville’s non-emergency line, Patton said.
“I called Nashville’s non-emergency line at 10:14 a.m. and was on hold for nearly seven minutes before speaking with someone who said that they would send an officer to my home,” Patton said. “An officer did not come to my home until 3:29 p.m.”
Patton said she shared Hale’s messages because she thinks officials should have responded to her information with more urgency. “After phone calls from friends and Audrey’s name was released as the shooter at Covenant Nashville school, I learned that Audrey was the shooter and that she had reached out to me prior to the shooting,” Patton said. “My heart is with all of the families affected and I’m devastated by what has happened.”
The reality is that people with mental illness account for a very small proportion of perpetrators of mass shootings in the U.S., says Ragy Girgis, MD, associate professor of clinical psychiatry in the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry and the New York State Psychiatric Institute.
In 2021, Dr. Girgis, an expert in severe mental illness, and colleagues from Columbia’s Center of Prevention and Evaluation authored the first report on mass shootings using the Columbia Mass Murder Database (CMMD), which examined the relationship between serious mental illness and mass shootings.
Columbia Psychiatry News spoke with Dr. Girgis about the role of mental illness in mass shootings, the motivations behind mass murder, why the perpetrators of mass violence use guns, and more.
Are people with mental health disorders more likely to commit mass shootings or mass murder?
The public tends to link serious mental illnesses, like schizophrenia or psychotic disorders, with violence and mass shootings. But serious mental illness—specifically psychosis—is not a key factor in most mass shootings or other types of mass murder. Approximately 5% of mass shootings are related to severe mental illness. And although a much larger number of mass shootings (about 25%) are associated with non-psychotic psychiatric or neurological illnesses, including depression, and an estimated 23% with substance use, in most cases these conditions are incidental.
Additionally, as we demonstrated in our paper, the contribution of mental illness to mass shootings has decreased over time. The data suggest that while it is critical that we continue to identify those individuals with mental illness and substance use disorders at high risk for violence and prevent the perpetration of violence, other risk factors, such as a history of legal problems, challenges coping with severe and acute life stressors, and the epidemic of the combination of nihilism, emptiness, anger, and a desire for notoriety among young men, seem a more useful focus for prevention and policy than an emphasis on serious mental illness, which leads to public fear and stigmatization.
The U.S. media has recently been filled with retrospectives on the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War. Most of these outlets eagerly helped the George W. Bush administration sell the war, publishing lavish falsehoods about how Iraq posed a terrible danger to the U.S. (It did not.)
So you might hope that in the past two decades, the same publications have learned the most basic facts about Iraq — and would steer clear of publishing obvious and stupendous errors yet again. You would hope in vain.
One incredible example appeared in a March 13 article in The Atlantic by David Frum, who is best known for serving as a speechwriter for President Bush and coming up with the phrase “axis of evil” in the 2002 State of the Union address. Frum is now a staff writer at The Atlantic, which is probably the most prestigious magazine in America behind the New Yorker. The Atlantic is forthrightly endorsing Frum’s fabrication and will not respond to basic questions about it.
As you may have heard, Bush’s case for war was that Iraq had programs to produce “weapons of mass destruction” — that is, biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons. In his article, “The Iraq War Reconsidered,” Frum tells us in the first paragraph that Iraq was found to possess “an arsenal of chemical-warfare shells and warheads.”
This is false. You don’t even need to know the details to understand why.
Bush and his vice president, Dick Cheney, never said a word about this arsenal of chemical weapons that Frum says were discovered by the U.S. This means there are two possibilities:
- Iraq did have an arsenal of chemical weapons, thus totally vindicating Bush and Cheney and proving that they were right about the most famous political issue on Earth. However, they never mentioned this because they’re super-modest.
- Iraq did not have an arsenal of chemical weapons.
If you’d like to understand this subject in detail, you can read this long explanation I wrote a few years ago.
Journalists and commentators echoed these fact-free claims making it the dominant narrative. Most politicians cowered, and because the overwhelming majority of the public couldn’t find Iraq on a map (according to a survey conducted days before the invasion was to begin), they went along.
During the months leading up to the start of the war, my wife and I were in North Carolina where I was teaching at Davidson College. At one point, I flew back to Washington to debate a resolution I had submitted to the Democratic National Committee urging the party to oppose sending our young people into a war without knowing its costs, terms of engagement, and consequences, in a country whose history and culture we did not know. The party leaders allowed me to present it but wouldn’t permit a vote. One even said: “We don’t want to appear weak.”
At the time, I was hosting a weekly live television call-in programme on Abu Dhabi TV and Direct TV in the US. ADTV arranged two live satellite shows connecting students at Davidson with students at Baghdad University. While the exchange exposed the Iraqi students to the debate about the war taking place on campus, my students had their eyes opened to Iraqi history, culture and sensitivities. After the programme, one of the Davidson students told me that it was so hard to be speaking with the Iraqis knowing that we were going to bombing them.
Because North Carolina is also home to military bases that were staging areas for US troops being sent to Iraq, it was especially painful to watch local news programmes interviewing family members about their loved ones heading to the war. Because of the lies they had been told, in interview after interview they tearfully repeated lines like “he’s a hero fighting to keep our country safe”, or “he’s fighting to make the world freer”. I feared for these young soldiers and their families, and in my heart I damned those who had taken advantage of their goodness (and lack of understanding) putting these young people at risk to fulfil their own blind ideology.
With the UK’s unconscionable decision to send Depleted Uranium ammunition to Ukraine, it’s perhaps useful to revisit the environmental and health consequences of the US’s widespread use of such weapons in Iraq and Kuwait during the first Gulf War. This short essay is adapted from my book, Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature.
At the close of the first Gulf War, Saddam Hussein was denounced as a ferocious villain for ordering his retreating troops to destroy Kuwaiti oil fields, clotting the air with poisonous clouds of black smoke and saturating the ground with swamps of crude. It was justly called an environmental war crime.
But months of bombing of Iraq by US and British planes and cruise missiles has left behind an even more deadly and insidious legacy: tons of shell casings, bullets and bomb fragments laced with depleted uranium. In all, the US hit Iraqi targets with more than 970 radioactive bombs and missiles.
It took less than a decade for the health consequences from this radioactive bombing campaign to begin to coming into focus. And they are dire, indeed. Iraqi physicians call it “the white death”-leukemia. Since 1990, the incident rate of leukemia in Iraq has grown by more than 600 percent. The situation is compounded by Iraq’s forced isolations and the sadistic sanctions regime, recently described by UN secretary general Kofi Annan as “a humanitarian crisis”, that makes detection and treatment of the cancers all the more difficult.
“We have proof of traces of DU in samples taken for analysis and that is really bad for those who assert that cancer cases have grown for other reasons,” said Dr. Umid Mubarak, Iraq’s health minister.
Mubarak contends that the US’s fear of facing the health and environmental consequences of its DU bombing campaign is partly behind its failure to follow through on its commitments under a deal allowing Iraq to sell some of its vast oil reserves in return for food and medical supplies.
“The desert dust carries death,” said Dr. Jawad Al-Ali, an oncologist and member England’s Royal Society of Physicians. “Our studies indicate that more than forty percent of the population around Basra will get cancer. We are living through another Hiroshima.”
Most of the leukemia and cancer victims aren’t soldiers. They are civilians. And many of them are children. The US-dominated Iraqi Sanctions Committee in New York has denied Iraq’s repeated requests for cancer treatment equipment and drugs, even painkillers such as morphine. As a result, the overflowing hospitals in towns such as Basra are left to treat the cancer-stricken with aspirin.
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