Michael Jackson In Death
Is Now Blacker Than Obama
(Not That It Counts For Much)
Please, please forgive the setup premise, but imagine:
It’s July 3, 2019, about two and a half years after Barack Hussein Obama’s history changing two terms as President of the United States. His challenges were many and some were not well met, and perhaps some tragic personal flaws were exposed in the process. Nevertheless, assume his objective accomplishments will have secured his place along our greatest presidents:
His legacy as an agent and avatar of a fundamental change in American socio-political identity--love it or hate that change--is now a matter of history.
Then, at age 57, he dies suddenly. I don’t even want to name the hypothetical cause, except that while it might be called tragic, it was in no way shameful. The world mourns even more openly than it appeared to celebrate when Obama was elected.
Then Black Entertainment Television decides to put on a special, emotional tribute to his life. Denzel Washington is more than the host; he takes it upon himself to channel for the BET audience what Obama meant for African-America. He knows he’s making a statement not just to black America, but to the non-black American majority as well as the world.
Imagine, then, the reaction when he begins by declaring, as Jamie Foxx declared in the recent BET tribute to Michael Jackson that:
“We want to celebrate this black man... (H)e belongs to us and we shared him with everybody else.”
So, what, exactly, is the existential truth that the black political psyche identity seems so desperate to defend here? Why would, in the wake of America’s embrace of Obama, black America feel so vulnerable that we would go into such open public denial of the profound hypocracy that abounds in our new-born adoration for Michael Jackson?
Watching the images on the proud chests of young men on 125th Street in Harlem —the ubiquitous Obamas now spelled for a while by the new but especially the old, young, black face of Michael Jackson—it occurs to me:
The music and good times aside, our group pride and affirmation in Michael— as in any black person that appears hermetically embraced by white America—is once again proven to be oceans wide but just inches deep.
The more the media cannot help itself from recalling the headlines from the dark side of Jackson’s post-Thriller career, the better African-America comes to terms with what has always been a troubled relationship with “The King of Pop”. (See and hear one of a very few good treatments of this by Karen Grigsby Bates on NPR today.)
As if black folks have EVER even had any use for the word “pop.”
No, we feel much more affirmed defending Michael as a transcendent victim, betrayed by his own embrace of the title and white America’s false love in bestowing it. Just remember O.J. if you doubt me.
Forget the grammys, the wealth and the legendary performances. Michael’s greatest triumph, pushing himself, his race and his music beyond the particularity of black ethnic identity, is the one thing that the beating heart of black political, ethnic and cultural nationalism could never accept.
I’m not saying anyone wanted to see him beat down so badly—the blows often self-inflicted—in the years long media coverage of Jackson’s downward spiral. But I am saying that the spectacle had much more meaning, much more empathetic resonance in the black “heartland” than Jackson’s mid-80’s ascent to the pop throne.
It’s safe, even important to own Michael now, because, it would seem, white folks have used him up and are done with him. New York Congressman Peter King decided to put a face on these white folks when he threw up a 4th of July video on YouTube yesterday calling Jackson a "low-life" and:
“... a pervert, a child molester; he was a pedophile. And to be giving this much coverage to him, day in and day out, what does it say about us as a country? I just think we're too politically correct."
News reports say Jackson fans have already started fund raising to oust the conservative Republican—one of the few left in the New York delegation—from his seat in suburban Long Island.
That’s not the brothers from 125th Street, or even Hempstead to the rescue. It’s the generation of white kids, now in their 30’s and 40’s, who assumed Michael belonged to everyone, however bizarre and tragic he had become.
The real tragedy: even after 25 plus years these branches of the global Jackson family still haven’t really met. I can't say if the fault lies in the stars or in men, but I do know who controls them both.