Despite his unmatched contribution to music, conversations surrounding the late but great Michael Jackson often speak of one or two things:
- His child molestation charges
- His desire to “unblacken” himself
Ironically, it is Jackson’s reduction to the core traits as magnified by the white media that paints him as a portrait of a caricatured blackness. Furthermore, Michael Jackson— a crucial figure not just for music but the black collective—illustrates the essence of what it means to be black in America.
Pictures of Michael Jackson from 1980 show a handsome and fit Jackson in the moments that would solidify his status as a global icon. Consumed by a figure who seemingly had it all, many could not see someone who failed to see any positive attributes in himself. Nurtured to believe that his nose was too big and his skin was too dark, Jackson sought to do as many blacks have done over the years—consummate a journey to whiteness. His actions are not individualistic but reflect a collective gesture implemented by an oppressed group.
Many chastise Jackson for his altered appearance, failing to acknowledge that Jackson’s appearance mirrors an identity many also desperately sought to consummate through skin bleaching creams, weaves, non-black significant others, education, finances, employment, or affiliation.
Jackson illustrates the beauty, talent, and overall majesty of blackness concealed in a world fixated on caricaturing us negatively. Despite his accolades as a symbol of his talent, and the mirror as a testament to his good looks, Jackson acquired an oppositional gaze and would never see himself as quote good enough for the white world.
Although for a time, the world would make it seem as if he was more than good enough. The white media would use him as a means to erase lines they firmly implemented to segregate music. They’d cast him as a crossover artist, to integrate MTV and create a platform for the hyper sexual and barbaric images that would follow.
Jackson’s success would make him appealing to both blacks and whites—a plantation sensation, praised for entertaining whites and distracting blacks only to be hung and left to dry on the front lawn.
The white world would hang Michael Jackson with the same hyper sexual rope seen in cases like Bill Cosby, Kobe Bryant and Nate Parker. Except Jackson, like R& B legend R Kelly would take on an additional offense— pedophilia. Jackson’s lynching would result from the same reasoning “magical negro” reasoning that brought OJ Simpson up on murder charges. Spike Lee coined the phrase “magical negro” to conceptualize black bodied caricatured by western fantasy. The magical negro posses some form of natural ability that paints him or her as a societal anomaly. This status initially offsets a lucrative career and immense popularity, but eventually functions to criminalize the black body.
Yes, despite once “uniting” the world through his talent, Jackson believed in a world that never believed he was anything more than a criminal. May Jackson be a reminder to those of the black collective the reality of systemic dissonance and the fatality in failing to acknowledge the boundless capabilities of our oppressors.
Some may cite my post an excuse for a man who could care less about the black collective. However, this post functions as a means to empathize with a fellow black person poisoned by white supremacy. Michael Jackson illustrates that the wrath of white supremacy knows no prejudice. Commemorating Jackson’s passing always feels eerie, because truthfully he seems to have transitioned to this ethereal being years ago, as a man with a talent far too big for our small world and ghosted by legal trouble that solely functioned to sully his legacy.
Jackson is you and he is me, and together we are a reflection of all this world has done to minimize our prodigious bequest. But we are also a reflection of greatness, so may Jackson’s talent and kind heart be a reminder of not only the good in him but the good in all of us.
In honoring the good, I’d like to conclude in revisiting Jackson placing a cape onto the shoulders of The Godfather of Soul, the late James Brown at the 2003 BET Awards. I cried when I saw this, as it was a monumental moment for music that occurred during my lifetime. I now see that this was a pillar in powerful black images—a son honoring his father, an artist honoring his inspiration, the youth honoring their elders. I can only hope that that’s how these two black greats reunited in heaven, and that the cycle of black departure may follow a similar pattern.
Our heroes, entertainers, parents, colleagues, and educators may disappoint us and they may even hurt us, but most importantly they teach us. May Jackson’s remarkable life and unfortunate death teach us to have patience with one other, dwell on the good, and to never lose sight of the eminence we achieve in unity.
Sleep in Peace, MJ