In recent weeks, my mind has remained fixated on Frankie Lymon, the lead vocalist on “Why do Fools Fall in Love,” who died at only twenty-five. He joined a long list of black entertainers who also died prematurely—exploited for their talent then left for dead.
Young Michael Jackson, with his high- pitched voice and big smile proved reminiscent of a Young Frankie. Although exalted for successfully embarking on a solo career after achieving success as a child star, Jackson’s death was just as sudden and untimely as Lymon—a young black man that seemingly never quite got the chance to culminate his time on earth.
Jackson teaches his black fanbase that love is far more significant than money. Namely, Jackson’s life illustrates that money is far too invaluable a resource to the black collective. Instead, as a collective lacking self-love, money is seldom a bridge to get over a burdens but a means to fester an open wound.
Jackson teaches the black collective that we all suffer, yet most of us suffer in the silence of familial and work environments, not in front of the world. Jackson was one of, if not the greatest of all time, but he was human.
His humanity, though sullied by racist gossip, was largely stripped in his larger than life status that seemingly emerged after the Thriller album.
Yet, Jackson was born to shine, not to entertain. As an entertainer, Jackson is a dehumanized entity that exists solely to entertain whites. As one who shines, Jackson shines a light of exposition on blackness—enabling the black collective to be better in the lessons he taught us in-between producing the soundtrack to our lives.
Nevertheless, contemplating the late and great Michael Jackson for any long period of time stirs up a hurt that only seems to hurt more, not less over time. His life functions to teach blacks that talent is a shared experience and a collective gift—but it is not enough. Jackson serves as a reminder that what should bring us together as “Americans” merely exposes who the true “Americans” are, and they aren’t us.
The black genius in an American context must also exist in the shadow of degeneracy. So while hailed as a musical genius, Jackson’s legacy was also sullied by allegations that I refuse to articulate in this post due to the ugliness they surfaced to impose on the beauty of black greatness. Furthermore, Jackson illustrates that black greatness is never good enough to alleviate the burdens of a caricatured blackness.
So on what would have been Jackson’s 59th birthday, let us collectively remember Michael Jackson and not just as a tokenized facet of “American” greatness, but as a black man impeded with the same demons that burden us daily. In choosing to see the best in Jackson, may we also see the best in ourselves. He was handsome, soulful, talented, humble, and an inspiration.
So while his systemic lynching functioned to suggest that he was not “one of them,” it solidified that he was in fact one of us–and that’s alright with me.
To the man that rocked the world with his talent and ethereal aura, sleep in peace.