On our way home from spring break, my roommates and I passed through Atlanta. I had slept during our initial trek through the city, so when we began to see the exit signs, I gave the view from the passenger window my full attention.
One of the first things I saw was the metallic glow of the parked MARTA trains — which instantly reminded me of my favorite YouTube clip of all time, “Crazy Girl on Train.”
The video was taken by a MARTA patron and features a young woman, “Crazy Girl,” cussing out an older female passenger. “Crazy Girl” is at times just inches away from the elderly woman’s face screaming incomprehensible rap lyrics, waving her fists, and dancing aggressively.
The older woman must have said something that offended “crazy girl,” but it’s tough to imagine whatever she had told her could possibly have warranted such an outrageous response.
The original clip has been viewed more than 2.5 million times, and a YouTube search of the title will yield dozens of parodies, complete with reaction videos and remixed musical versions of her wild chanting.
“Crazy Girl” was charged with assault and disorderly conduct and subsequently arrested and jailed. Local news later revealed her identity as Nafiza Ziyad, a 25-year-old mother suffering from bipolar disorder.
I asked my cousin, who works at a mental health facility in Chicago, to watch the video and describe signals of her condition within the clip.
She explained that mood swings, active delusions, grandiose behavior and rapid speech are all indicators of the manic stage of bipolar disorder.
Bipolar individuals also exhibit “loose association” or “slight of ideas” that allow for them to bind non-related items — such as when Ziyad references the rapper Young Jeezy and President George W. Bush in the same sentence.
Ziyad’s outburst is worth watching, and it’s garnered an online cult following, but that same following only knows her as “Crazy Girl on Train.”
In 2005, when comedian Dave Chappelle left his popular television show mid-season and took a private vacation to Africa, he was immediately labeled “crazy” and was accused of using drugs. Months later, in an interview on “Inside the Actor’s Studio” Chappelle responded, “the worst thing to call someone is crazy, it’s dismissive.”
“Crazy” is a label used extremely loosely in our society and serves to distance people from ideas and others they lack a curiosity to investigate. We use the word to point out absurdities, but its utterance also reflects our own incapacities to understand.
At one point in the clip, Ziyad becomes particularly enraged and screams, “ain’t got no right!” — I will never forget her impassioned intonation.
While her anger in this instance is misdirected, when viewing the video it’s hard not to believe that it comes from a genuine place.
In a radio interview following Ziyad’s incarceration, her boyfriend attempted to defend her character: “That girl’s got a good heart. The city don’t help her, man. They just kick her back out on the streets. The city don’t help folks like that. Once you get in that stage you can’t help yourself. It messes with your mind, man. Once your mind’s gone it’s a wrap.”
Knowing Zayid as “Crazy Girl on Train” is convenient for us. When we laugh and flatter her with mimicry we superficially absolve ourselves of the pressure to understand her.
It’s not too outlandish to infer that Nafiza has witnessed injustice in her lifetime, and a “crazy” chanting of “ain’t got no right!” might just perfectly articulate her circumstance.
The adage that when you point a finger, three point back at you has survived into the 21st century because it’s true — our capacity to deem things “crazy” reveals as much about ourselves as it does the recipient.
If we have a choice to engage in understanding one another, let us make the choice with compassion — especially if those we deem “crazy” are without an advocate.