Don’t Stop the King of Pop: Michael Jackson and White Racism
by Goddess Oya – Released : March 2003
Since when is being a victim of White racism funny?
Enter White supremacy victim #99925340—Michael Jackson. It is now all fun and games to laugh at Michael Jackson, the newest clown of the hour in the biggest minstrel-meets-reality show on the major networks. It started off with the one clearly biased and ridiculous documentary by Martin Bashir, then onto ABC, VH-1 and now every major network (including 20/20!), making sure they air their newest expose on Michael Jackson, how many nose jobs he’s had, what other plastic surgery he might have had, what his relationship with his children is like, if they are his children at all and the number one question — did he have SEX with her? “Her,” of course, is yet another White woman involved in the inner circle of Michael Jackson’s life. First Diane Sawyer asked Lisa Marie Presley this same question. Someone else asked Debbie Rowe. And then Barbara Walters asked the current woman who claims to be the mother of Michael’s children. Now they’re back to Lisa Marie Presley who claims she had a “normal” relationship with Michael (read: sexual). I don’t know what was real, who is surrogate, who was the lover, what happened one way or another, if there’s a Black one involved or not. But that’s not the point. Now, you tell me . . . following the decades-long and continued lynching of Black men for even winking at a White woman, let alone having sex with her — since when did White America become keenly interested, invested and even hopeful about a Black man having sex with a White woman? When you’re Michael Jackson, of course!
There has always been this obsession with the Black man’s penis, his (real or imagined) sexual prowess and a monitoring of his level of intimacy with White women. But apparently this is a new day. Even Snoop Doggy Dogg is sponsoring a “Girls Gone Wild” video and based on the commercials, there doesn’t appear to be anyone else except White women in the video and he looks like a sly pimp letting all his hoes show off their wares. Yes, this is definitely a new day in America. Either the “powers that be” are so disgusted with “independent” White women that they are exhibiting blind neglect to see just how far this might go; or this is a major setup to lynch and imprison Black men even further during the 21st century. I vote for Plan B because history and a keen understanding of the system of white supremacy and the people who perpetuate it tells me this is the case. It’s no surprise that this is a setup. I just don’t know why we keep fallin’ for the okey-doke as if we don’t know any better. And then it dawns on me that these people out here don’t know any better because their stupid asses don’t read and don’t even watch documentaries these days.
I know this is true because were you to see the documentary, you would not find the current “gang rape” of Michael Jackson to be funny at all. Oh, you don’t like for me to use that term? Well, is he or is he not the typology of a White woman? You know, the standard of beauty? Still on the pedestal? The single reason why ignorant (and not so ignorant) White men in White cloaks and cone hats ran around burning crosses on Black people’s lawns and dragging Black men to their favourite oak tree? For hundreds of years, White folks have held up White women to be the creme de la creme and all of a sudden it’s the epitome of hilarity that someone may want to look like one? Do they laugh this much at the drag queens in Hollywood or South Beach, Miami? No, they celebrate them. But Michael Jackson;s cosmetic changes are simply beyond belief, right? Right.
For the record, I do not believe Michael Jackson is guilty of child molestation one bit. I also do not find it problematic that he is a “forty-something” year old man who sleeps on the floor in the same room with the children who come to “Never Never Land” to see him. Indeed, when I was growing up, we all wanted to be with Michael Jackson. We always knew he would play with us and we all admired Peter Pan as well. When the media celebrated him, they painted him as a modern day Peter Pan whom everyone knew was in their 20’s and 30’s yet had such a gentle, loving, child-like, innocent spirit that everyone loved anyway. He exploded on stage because he had so much beauty and passion built up inside of him. Since so many White women were falling out and crying over what he offered to the world, it was important to keep him in the limelight as a desexualized, asexual type of man-child so that their love for him would not carry over into the bedroom. This is why every time he grabbed his penis or reached near his crotch, we just skipped over it and saw him as mimicking what grown male baseball players do and for which they are celebrated, not that he meant anything by it or demonstrated that he was some sort of sexual threat. WE all knew better. For the last ten years, we have all laughed at Al Bundy sitting on the sofa and digging his hand into his crotch, clearly underneath the belt of his pants and unabashedly so. Yet, a few years ago, there was a huge uproar about Michael Jackson’s grabbing and crotch-feeling in one of his newest videos. But even that would not have been a big deal had it not been for the child molestation charges.
It was following the settlement for those charges that Michael Jackson began to exhibit “socially acceptable” yet strangely familiar heterosexual behaviours such as marriage, fatherhood and young male mentorship. He married Lisa Presley and kissed her on an Awards show—a kiss we all thought was fake and merely a show for the cameras. We knew that our desexualized Michael, our asexual, child-like Michael was not really kissing her. It was the stuff videos were made of. Heck, he kissed model, Iman, better in the “Remember the Time” video than he kissed his own wife. We didn’t accept any of it as real because we know that Michael wants to be a perpetual child, recapturing so much of what he lost his entire life. Remember, Jackson was on top of the world by the time he was eight years old. Everybody knew “The Jackson Five” and their leading boy singer with the powerhouse voice. Following the settlement for child molestation (which was a civil suit, mind you, not a criminal trial), I can imagine his “advisors” telling him how important it is to NOT be seen as a man-child anymore, to develop himself into the societal standard of a heterosexual male who, while not the standard of manhood, could be removed from the stigma of paedophilia. Thus, the marriages, the divorces, the mothers of his children and his now single parenthood.
Yet, what if the child molestation charges really were false? What if he really did just want to move on with his life? Would it be okay for Michael Jackson to continue living his asexual lifestyle as the Peter Pan figure who created a vacuous fountain of youth in his private “Never Never Land?” Would it be acceptable as long as when he emerged from his private lair, he still remained the King of Pop—spinning, falling, screaming and moonwalking his way into our hearts? Indeed, what we love so much about Michael Jackson is that he has often sung so much about love, suffering, pain, love, redemption, love, saving children and more love. That he doesn’t think it’s a problem for children to sleep in his room is not cause for alarm, is because he is still Peter Pan who doesn’t want to grow up. But the confusion, anxiety and mayhem surrounding the charges forced him into a sexualized role he clearly never wanted to play. Read the coverage by Mary A. Fischer entitled, “ Was Michael Jackson Framed?: The Untold Story,” surrounding those molestation charges and you will find a White man and a White woman, on the verge of a divorce and using their son (and Michael Jackson) as the fodder for their own version of the movie, “War of the Roses.” Keep in mind that if YOUR child was being molested, would you want for that offender to do some jail time or would you just want some money? After that initial charge, a few people just started coming out of the woodwork, none of them ever filing criminal charges, just civil charges to get some money. And, while I have no proof one way or the other, everything that I know from the paparazzi prying into his private life, everything that I know from what he sings about, dances about, cries about and gives to the world with a tremendous amount of generosity—all of it points to a man who simply sought to turn his suffering into lyrics filled with hope, stage shows filled with magical realism and his tremendous wealth into healing the world by healing the children that would be its future adult population. To give children a life he never had. And to be a father figure or just a play pal to all of the children in the world who have never had either. Any of you attacking him or getting so much glee out of this situation should all be ashamed of yourselves and you need to get up off of Michael Jackson. Being insecure or emotionally immature, struggling with your identity, liking animals and children and building amusement parks in your backyard are not crimes. White folks have even left OJ alone for a little while just to pick with Michael Jackson, so you know there is definitely something wrong here. They are ridiculing one Black man for sleeping with (and perhaps killing!) a white woman but with Michael, they are angry and stalking him if he is not sleeping with a white woman?! Gimme a damn break!
We could all relate to Michael Jackson because we know he put his pain, his worries, his anxiety and his love into his music and stage performances. How dare you forget (especially if you’re a White American) what he offered to you and what he gave to the world. Now you want to count how many nose jobs he’s had but ask yourself, how many children did you feed yesterday? Or last year? Or how about the last ten to twenty years? How many times did you single-handedly hug a child who was without hope, who had lost their father or mother or sister or brother? How many times did you take a child under your wing and show them a fantastic time on a God-given, beautiful Saturday morning full of activities wherein they did not have to pay for a single thing and their only requirement was to have fun? Oh, you hypocrites! You sat up there and waved your hand to Michael Jackson, you cried to him, you made hundreds of millions of dollars off of him and you were so thankful that even though he had a troubled childhood, even though it was clear he was suffering, even though he wanted to take a break when he was younger, you pushed and pushed and pushed so that he could continue to perform for the rest of his life since he began at five years old.
Oh, you hypocrites! You know now, based on the countless showings of “E! True Hollywood Story”, “VH-1 Behind the Music”, “Extra!”, “Inside Edition” and “A & E Biography” that child stars in America have had an extremely rough time. Who would think to sit back, point and laugh at the screen as Drew Barrymore became an alcoholic at ten years old? Who would have the audacity to chuckle at Todd Bridge’s struggles with cocaine addiction? Who would even smirk at the way in which Dana Plato talked about wanting to commit suicide— ended up robbing a store and then finally overdosing on pills years later? And while he remains the butt of some jokes, we all know that Gary Coleman is bitter, angry and also broke, based upon his treatment in Hollywood and the high-thievery that seems to have characterized the young cast of “Different Strokes.”
And I can go on, can’t I? How funny is it that Mackauley Caulkin really did become “home alone” when he emancipated himself from his parents in his teens? And isn’t it riotously humorous how Shirley Temple described the manner in which she was swept out of Hollywood and the extent of her substance abuse? How about that Brooke Shields? Wasn’t she just a riot when she explained how she battled her drug abuse? Remember the Hemingways? Wasn’t that fantastic how they had both been childhood models and then Muriel ended up with a drug problem and her older sister, Margaux, committed suicide? Wow! Talk about lipstick and sibling rivalry! Remember the great rock-music-meets-vampire film, “The Lost Boys?” Wasn’t it great how favourites, Corey Haim and Corey Feldmen both had drug problems? Hey, they must have really been brothers! Remember River Phoenix? Wasn’t that so cool how he died on a hotel room floor of a drug overdose? I know that must have been a magical adolescent moment for him. Too bad we couldn’t catch that on tape.
What about Winona Ryder? That was definitely a knee-slapper when she talked about her abuse of alcohol and when she got sentenced for shoplifting at Sak’s. And did you all catch MTV’s “Real Life: I’m having plastic surgery” where two girlfriends had their breasts done, one finished it off with redoing her nose and the white male who spent more time in the mirror than in his own spirit, was so insecure about his legs that he had “calf implants” to balance out his muscular stature? That was certainly a real crowd pleaser, especially when they topped off the show with a morbidly obese woman who had her stomach stapled. So much pathos, so much tragedy, so much downright narcissism. I can’t wait to see how Julia Stiles, Natalie Portman, Anna Pacquin, Kirsten Dunst and Kate Hudson turn out and whether or not they choose to commit suicide by drugs, alcohol, food (or the lack thereof) or unprotected sex—or if any of them will simply decide to go the easy route and jump off of a building or blow their brains out. Can’t you see the commercials now? “Julia Stiles “Last Dance” “Kate Hudson’s How-To-Lose-Your-Mind-In-Ten-Days,” “Spiderman Couldn’t Save Kirsten Dunst When She Jumped From the Tall Building,” “Natalie Portman Saw Stars Just Before Her Leap to Lunacy,” Yeah, I’ll be sitting on the edge of my seat to watch the Reality TV re-enactment and catch some of the blood and gore on any of the major networks!
Had enough, White America? Don’t think any of the above was too funny? Well, neither do I. Yet, despite testimony after testimony, revelation upon revelation, therapy session upon therapy session, countless healing retreats, abuse centres and the (famous and not-so-famous) clinics, you all have somehow managed to paint Michael Jackson as the epitome of dysfunction and the poster-child for spiritual mayhem and inner turmoil. Get real! At least the King of Pop poured his hurt, pain, frustration and exploitation into a product that you have enjoyed for decades—and still do. At least he made many of you rich or at least better off than you were, had you the good fortune of having anything to do with promotions, sales, media blitzes, paraphernalia or the documentaries you now enjoy using to bash him and make mockery of his pain. You act like you don’t understand what it could be like to be a child star. Yet none of the people that I named above can touch Michael Jackson’s fame or fortune. They can’t even sniff his armpits, he so far surpassed them in notoriety, artistic production, genius and fame. But that’s just being a child star in America.
Let’s talk about the system of white supremacy and how that compounded issues for Michael Jackson. When he was the young singer in “The Jackson Five,” he was the cutest little boy with a voice that could knock out grown women. His face was adorable with a wide, bright smile, full lips, a stellar broad nose, flawless brown skin and a glorious afro crown to top it all off. He was the King, even then. But he didn’t know it. While we are now aware that his father was (mentally and physically) abusive, controlling and manipulative, we are also aware that Joe Jackson wanted so much to mean something, to do something, to be a credit to society and to earn a living with such a beautiful and talented family. Joe Jackson is not just some ambiguous monstrosity yet neither was he untouched or untapped by White racism. We have yet to hear his story because he remains in denial about his abusiveness. However, were he to confront such and its origins, we would definitely see at least one White face behind that confused and troubled, Black mask. Thus, when Michael Jackson became a teenager and had problems with his acne, it would have been an otherwise typical problem for adolescents; but it became a heightened issue for him not only because his father told him his nose was too big and he looked unattractive; but also because White America told him that his nose was too big and he looked unattractive. They were not showing constant reruns of infomercials for “Proactive” yet. And they didn’t come with beautiful brown skin ala Vanessa Williams yet either. In an effort to combat the Civil Rights and Black Power movements in this country, media pundits did everything they could to continue to assert that the system of white supremacy and all of its standards (including the White woman as the standard of beauty) would not change. Michael Jackson is as much a product of white racism as he is the product of an abusive father, as he is a product of the entertainment industry and Hollywood—none of which is his fault nor should be the source of anyone’s amusement.
So let’s talk plastic surgery. Wasn’t the movie, “Dirty Dancing” great? It would have been even better had Jennifer Grey gotten her nose job before the film! But that didn’t do much for her career anyway, did it? And what about America’s all-time favorite, the man’s man, the brute of all brutes, the gun-slinger, the heartbreaker, the wilderness-tamer, the Indian-killer, the king of the saloon and the ultimate Western hero? That’s right, good ole John Wayne. Ask his surgeon how many face lifts he got and how many times he went under the knife! Yet just because we know Michael Jackson lied about how many times he went under the knife, it is now the funniest of all funnies that he battles with self-hatred? Come on . . . Sure, we know he wasn’t telling the truth but if you were being held up for mockery by White Americans who were at least partially responsible for your feeling the way you do about yourself, wouldn’t you lie? And how many stars have gone under the knife? As good as Cher looks, why isn’t she being ridiculed for how much plastic surgery she has had? What about Joan Rivers? Just recently I saw a documentary on Robert Redford and how audiences said he looked so “old” when he was on the screen. Well, he was old. What is so wrong with looking your age? Thank goodness he didn’t succumb to the pressure and get plastic surgery (that I know of) but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. Either way, he is not being raked over the coals about it.
They tease Michael Jackson about being so white and looking like a white woman. You’ve heard all the jokes about “back when Michael Jackson was Black.” Yet he can’t help the fact that he now has white skin. The man does have vitiligo. Ask anyone who has vitiligo and who has been to the national center whether or not Michael Jackson is a poster child for that. I think the reason why people cannot believe he has the disease is because his skin appears to be so smooth and so white now. But that is what depigmentation is all about. When you have vitiligo, your only two options are to engage in a program of repigmentation (getting your melanin back) or depigmentation (waving goodbye to your melanin and letting the condition take its natural course) and you can only go through the process of repigmentation if your condition is not as bad as Michael Jackson’s. And what adds to the loss of melanin for someone with vitiligo? S-T-R-E-S-S and/or Emotional Trauma. Y’all are stressin’ this man, been stressin’ this man and then when he loses all of his melanin, you want to tease him about it or about the fact that he grew even more insecure about his looks? It’s a shame the National Vitiligo Foundation can’t speak up on his behalf. Now that he is being ridiculed, why the silence? When you all were asking him to raise money for the Foundation, you had no problem confirming his condition and educating the public, yet now mum’s the word? Okay, remember that the next time you need some cash. In the long run, I have a serious problem with White people, in particular, who are finding Michael’s extreme battles with self-hatred so problematic. There are far more dysfunctional people in the world who have done far less than he. And if Black people chose to focus on Elvis Presley’s weight gain, battles with alcohol and drugs and heavy dependence upon Black art for inspiration, they would rally around their King and be hurt that anyone would insinuate that Graceland was a place of iniquity and crime. You would say that Elvis Presley is still the King. Well, that’s the way I feel about Michael Jackson and Never Never Land. He is still the King of Pop, children enjoy visiting his home and anybody who can tolerate as much as he did and not completely fall apart or lose themselves in drugs, alcohol, food and crime deserves recognition and some credit, no matter what other ways they have struggled with their identity. And white skin or not, Michael Jackson is still a Black man. If he ever forget that he was for one moment (even though he insisted that he is a Black man on all of the documentaries), this situation ought to prove to him that his identity remains unchanged despite the numerous changes to his physical appearance.
So why the proverbial lynching of Michael Jackson? It seems that after the Tommy Mottolla incident, the media mob really began to circle Jackson. I don’t know if Mottola is really a racist or not but we know all of these major record labels are pimping their artists, so what is new? Mariah left him so who knows? Prince wrote the word, “slave” on his cheek for a reason, people. I’m sure the media pundits were hoping he would just go away because Prince is, well, the Prince, coming in second place just under the King. But it seems as though there is a shady list of activities that have followed Michael Jackson to culminate in this attempt to castrate him now that he insists that he has a grown man’s penis. And it started long before the Mottolla incident.
While Michael Jackson has always been a humanist and he doesn’t think it matters whether you’re “Black or White,” he cast all Black people in his video for “Remember the Time”, placing us squarely within our Egyptian-Kemetic-Nubian ancestry—and rightly so. He also recorded the song and the video, “They Don’t Care About Us” in Brazil with the drum group, “OLODUM.” This is important because he could have chosen any drum group in any country; but he chose Brazil, the country with the largest African population outside of the continent of Africa and Bahia, one of the areas in Brazil most heavily populated with African people. And he did not film the video in Rio de Janiero—the [White] American tourist fantasy—he went to Pelourinho (The Pillory), an area that housed former slave castles and the capital of Bahia. And OLODUM is not just any drum group. Even their name is an abbreviation of “Oludumare”, the chief God of the Yoruba spiritual tradition from Africa. According to Pravina Shukla in her article entitled, “The heartbeat of Bahia,” OLODUM essentially plays the soundtrack for the “Movimento Negro” or “The Black Movement” and the group says that, “Olodum is an entity that seeks the recovery, value and preservation of the Black culture, having anti-racist struggle as one of its principle [goals].” So, Michael’s association with this group sent a clear message to the entire world. Deep, hunh? Let’s keep in mind that when “They Don’t Care About Us” was released, the Anti-Defamation League criticized Jackson and insisted that he take out the phrase “Jew Me” even though the song was about surviving in the face of racist adversity and not a disparaging reference to Jews. In addition, the song addressed police brutality in a strong manner. And what is one of the most important issues the African Diaspora is dealing with today’s Police brutality and government repression—even in America. And when he almost united with a Saudi prince to build a theme park in the Middle East that must have been too much. Was Michael Jackson tapping into the oil reserves here? Whatever the reason for this onslaught against Jackson, it is neither justified nor warranted—unless as a tactic for White racism. And I am almost positive it is not about his plastic surgery or his children. That is something that serves as a diversion but Michael’s own naivetéι has allowed him to feed into some of this nonsense and put him in a defensive position that sometimes contributes to him looking ridiculous. If you can think of other reasons why he’s being attacked, let me know. The ultimate reason, for me, is that he is a Black man who chose (even awkwardly at times) to maintain his ethnic consciousness while asserting his humanitarianism. Michael Jackson’s popularity is unmatched. He is more popular than any U.S. President and perhaps the most popular personality in the entire world. They say you should keep a wise man poor and a foolish man rich. Michael Jackson proved not to be so foolish after all. He single-handedly changed conditions for children all over the world. But other folks were hoping he would just sing and dance—and then shut up. But he used his art to further the cause of humanity and speak/act on behalf of some of the poorest and most downtrodden in the world in so doing—most of which happen to be people of color. He then began to critique these unequal power relationships and address his relationship to the music industry. Were it someone else, they may be able to be dismissed as media pundits attempted to do to Sean Penn and Sonny Bono in their anti-war efforts. Michael Jackson hasn’t done anything near that blatant. But with that much power, he had to be checked.
And some of us who do not understand what is going on laugh at him too even though we know it’s wrong. People of color find it somewhat amusing because, in many ways, we can relate. We can all point back to times in which we felt less than 100% positive about ourselves. We can all point back to some kind of struggle with our hair, our skin color, our speech patterns and aspects of our culture in dealing with the ignorance of White America and the inferiority complexes of our own peers. We called each other “African booty scratchers” and we laughed at the countless hungry Africans we saw marketed to us as children—and as the only representation of Africa. We were bombarded with ignorant Bugs Bunny cartoons that had him singing “Dixie and Carry Me Back to Ole Virginny.” We grew up with Cheech & Chong as the poster boys for getting high and now we have Redman & Method Man. If we did not grow up around Latinos, we only “met” them through Speedy Gonzalez. So, sometimes, when we laugh, we are laughing at our own pain and our own suffering. But deep down inside, we all have a piece of Michael Jackson in us. It’s true he is an extreme example but none of us can say that we cannot relate to him in some form or fashion, especially if we have had other family members who ridiculed our quest for self-enlightenment and discovery. When we started to flow with natural hairstyles, there was always some ignorant and self-hating family member who said it was unattractive. When we changed our diets, there was always some negative family member who accused us of losing touch with our roots. When we began to reaffirm ourselves in our own language, culture and traditional customs, some of our own family members looked at us funny. We have all been there, so as we laugh and point fingers at Michael Jackson right along with the rest of White Americans who have never had to wrestle with the same kind of mental issues as us, we might want to reconsider our position and stop using the raucous laughter to hide the fact that we are really fighting back tears.
Michael Jackson, if your eyes ever find their way to this essay, please keep your head up and your heart strong. And “remember the time” when you knew for sure that you were the King because you still are. There are millions of brothers and sisters out there who can feel your pain and want you to seek help. Find a way to love yourself and embrace that man in the mirror. You have brought the world so much joy, hope and inspiration. Now you need to save some for yourself. Keep the faith.