Dear Hollywood: Michael Jackson Was Black (and Proud)

Published on Huffington Post Blog

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The casting of a white man as Michael Jackson in a TV series set in 2001 is more than unnerving. It is actually a complete contradiction of who MJ was in 2001 and throughout his life. The year 2001 was a year, that if you look and listen to Jackson himself, he was nothing but a black man ringing the alarm about racism in the music industry. The industry was shaken by his outing of racist practices pertaining to black artists and, in a way, retaliated with MJ once again being portrayed as a druggie whose accusations were the rantings indicative of an addict and by 2003, an accused child molester. The latter, if you research the charges, the district attorney’s office, the witnesses and the testimony of others, was nothing more than an aberration of his character and a clear attempt to permanently tarnish his legacy. It was, if you will, the beginning of a very tragic ending. Still, it wasn’t the whole picture.

In July of 2001, Jackson spoke to an audience at a conference sponsored by Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. He was blatant in telling his truth about the racism that he and other black artists face. He told how he was viewed as a threat for having broken the records of Elvis and The Beatles. These records he not only broke, but he also bought and retained ownership of in the late 1980’s. To be honest, Michael Jackson has always been viewed as the least threatening black man in entertainment. On the surface, he was, but it was all imagery. He knew how to generate mass appeal. He was tactful in how he created his image because having the best selling record of all time was something he avowed to himself when Off The Wall did not generate the type of acknowledgment he thought it deserved. Jackson was a phenomenal talent, but he also was a very skillful businessman who, in his black skin, maneuvered the best deal ever in the history of American music when he bought into the Sony/ATV catalogs. He knew this was the reason they came after him. He knew it and he said it.

In a moment of total unfettered blackness, Michael Jackson said before the National Action Network audience, “I know my race. I just look in the mirror. I know I’m black.” It was pride, personified. It was also one of many statements Jackson had made affirming and reaffirming his position in this world as a black man.

It isn’t hard to find evidence of this. Google “MJ and racism” and you will find at every speech, interview, and opportunity he had, Michael Jackson said, “I am black.” He said it and he meant it. You cannot ignore that, still Hollywood is choosing to do so. They are “whitesplaining” who he was and Columbusing his legacy. Essentially, they are deliberately choosing to ignore who he was and distort the truth based solely upon the depigmentation of his skin due to the skin disorder vitiligo. Jackson had been plagued with it the majority of his life. If you want evidence, look at some photos in the Motown archives, one can see its beginnings on his fingers and hands at the age of 11. Still, Hollywood has decided that they, alone, will define and explain MJ’s blackness in a way that is comfortable for them and concealing the truth about who he really was.

So, who was Michael Jackson?

Michael Jackson was a black man who was born in one of the most black populated cities in the midwest, Gary, Indiana. He was a black man who has helped hundreds of black students attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) through a United Negro College Fund scholarship bearing his name. He was a black man who reportedly made the single biggest financial contribution to the 1995 Million Man March. He was a black man who has an honorary doctorate from my alma mater, Fisk University, an HBCU. He was a black man who wrote a song to raise money for famine relief in Africa in 1985 and 20 years later, he did the same to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina who were disproportionately black.

Michael Jackson was a black man who dated black women, like Stephanie Mills, but respected their privacy enough to not place their business in the press and make them vulnerable to the ridicule he often suffered. He was a black man who supported the movement to end apartheid in South Africa and was friends with Nelson Mandela. He was a black man who hired the Fruit of Islam to provide security for his family and advise him on certain issues. He was a black man who has had black children visit Neverland regularly, and was never accused of anything inappropriate or sexual.

Remember how his friend Elizabeth Taylor, who will also be portrayed in this series, played Cleopatra, a black woman? MJ was a black man who “fixed” that with his video for “Remember The Time,” which was set in ancient Egypt where Nefertiti and Ramses were black, as were the rest of those who were cast, including the director, John Singleton. He was a black man who shot a “short film” in Brazil with Spike Lee that highlighted the existence of black Brazilians. MJ was a black man who paid for the funeral of David Ruffin of the Temptations, one of his idols. He was a black man who, upon purchasing his massive catalog of music, gave back to Rock & Roll pioneer Little Richard the ownership of the music that had been stolen from him. Like many of us, Michael Jackson was a black man who cried when president Obama was elected and is said to have explained to his children why it was so important and something he was told would never come to be in his lifetime. In the words of another of his idol’s, James Brown, Michael Jackson was a black man who was unafraid in his actions and in his speech to say out loud “I’m black and I’m proud.”

Who he was cannot be erased by the many attempts to rob him of his character and dignity. They tried to do it while he was alive and now, in death, they are trying to rob him of his identity with this show and that cannot be overlooked

There is no “playing black.” Even Jackson, himself thought it was “stupid” to cast a white actor to play him and admitted as much in an interview with Oprah in 1993. If Joseph Fiennes is an actor of merit, he will do his research on the “character” he has been chosen to play. If he does, he will see MJ as he really was and, hopefully, realize that he cannot play this role. It’s not an actor’s biggest challenge, it is a fabrication of the truth and quite possibly one final attempt to paint Michael Jackson not as the “King of Pop,” but as someone who was a lesser than human freak of nature. I am inclined to agree with Reverend Al, who at MJ’s memorial service, said unto his children, “Wasn’t nothing strange about your Daddy. It was strange what your Daddy had to deal with. But he dealt with it –He dealt with it anyway.” And it seems that even seven years after his passing, he still is dealing with it when he really shouldn’t have to.

 

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34 thoughts on “Dear Hollywood: Michael Jackson Was Black (and Proud)

  1. Very well written. Couldn’t have put it across any better. I only hope for a day when people will finally see the real Michael. Extremely talented, proud of his race and definitely not a ‘feak’ or ‘crazy’.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you. Well said! I particularly like the line, “It’s not an actor’s biggest challenge, it is a fabrication of the truth” and Al Sharpton’s wise words to MJ’s children.

    Getting white actors to portray people of color is a tired old Hollywood tactic. When will this industry learn to respect the lives of the people they portray? And when will white actors stop auditioning for these roles?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am the biggest Michael Jackson fan I know, and never once thought he wasn’t black, in race. I guess I never realized how sensitive the black community would be about this acting role. Acting is about pretending to be someone you are not. Michael looked very white in color, in 2001. There are many many superb Caucasian and Hispanic Michael Jackson impersonators that do him justice. What about them? I am actually so irritated that we have made this about race, more than we have made it about focusing on a comedy following 9/11. When’s the truth about how Michael cared about his fans and the victims is the story that really needs to be heard

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    1. You have to understand that it is more than just playing a “character.” Blackness cannot be defined in that way, as I said it is more than just an appearance. There are also many talented black actors who are very light skinned. NO ONE would stand for a black actor to portray Elvis, he is revered by many who look like him. The same is true for MJ. Our community has always viewed the Jacksons as our version of royalty. And that is why I wrote this because it does matter. His life is being written about, still all these things are left out. We have been told for a long time by the mainstream media (that is not black-owned) that he didn’t love his people or was not proud of who he is. Everything I wrote is true and that is why it is here. I appreciate your comment, however, you point to the very thing I spoke about: “Hollywood has decided that they, alone, will define and explain MJ’s blackness in a way that is comfortable for them and concealing the truth about who he really was.” The truth about MJ isn’t JUST that he cared about his fans, it was ALSO that he was proud of who he was and his heritage. People often overlook that and forget that before Thriller, it was the black community that was his and the J5’s biggest audience, black women in particular. Also understand, I was born in 1974, there was never a time in my life where he and his music weren’t present. I had the poster from The Jackson’s first Columbia album produced by Gamble and Huff (pioneers of Philly Soul) on my wall when I was two. I loved seeing him in The Wiz when I was four, that’s when I fell in love with him! But all that aside, if you listen to the link to the video from the National Action Network conference, that was from 2001, the same year this series is supposed to take place. That is who he was at that time and to ignore it does nothing to preserve his legacy.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Also, please understand that being rooted in one’s blackness doesn’t mean one cannot and does not have love for all people regardless of race. I think this is the biggest challenge for non-black people, to understand our experience in this country is not the same as yours. It is understandable because wherever we go in this country, everything defaults to white, therefore, one always has the opportunity to be proud of their heritage. Whether people admit it or not, our society makes blackness something that should be feared, especially blackness that is male. Michael understood this and crafted his public image such that it was benign, but privately… were you aware that one of his favorite Stevie Wonder songs from “Songs In The Key of Life” is one entitled “Blackman”? Just because one’s complexion changes, it does not mean what they hold dear inside will follow, it doesn’t mean that their identity is in crisis. Madonna constantly reinvents herself and no one expects her to be any different as a person just because her physical appearance has been altered. So why isn’t MJ given the same? Vitiligo is devastating to black people because our melanin is part of our identity. Imagine the amount of strength it took for him to wear that glove? To draw attention to the very thing you feel makes you deformed and unattractive? The world thought it was a trend, but he was hiding an imperfection. I get it. I was born with a depigmented mark above my left eye and into my scalp. It has never left me, but it can be covered with make up. I don’t cover it, instead I am fortunate that it is in a place where one highlights, so I just make my other eye look the same. But growing up, before I accepted it as part of my unique beauty, kids picked at me. We see how he was picked on about his sexuality, his commitment to improving the lives of children and so many other things. Imagine having to be picked on because of your skin changing? And I always remind people that in the early 1970s, when J5 toured, the south still wasn’t fully integrated so when they went to these states, he saw first hand how he was treated and having to be turned away by hotels, etc. All Motown artists have expressed this at one time or another. So know that what he internalized and experienced as a black man did not make him bitter, but a more loving individual— but it also didn’t make him race neutral or less conscious or aware of who he was and how the world viewed him.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. No question that he held his blackness to high standards, regardless of what the media portrayed him as, he was, is and always will be unparalleled, he was the greatest.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Reblogged this on Anti-Defamation Legacy Law Advocates (AdLLaw/Cadeflaw Initiatives) and commented:
    Glad to reblog this fantastic post. I particular am interested in this paragraph being highlighted: “Who he was cannot be erased by the many attempts to rob him of his character and dignity. They tried to do it while he was alive and now, in death, they are trying to rob him of his identity with this show and that cannot be overlooked.”

    Again, thank you.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Thank you for this excellent post. The same people who doubted, mocked and ridiculed Michael for his changing skin color – some of whom were well known black celebrities – conspicuously chose to ignore his heart where the real Michael Jackson lived. How convenient for those who still continue to dehumanize him. When people focus on the external and a condition he coudln’t change instead of the internal where he lived in love and respect for all people, they have cheated him twice. They deny him his race and heritage which he loved and they ignore a heart full of love and compassion. What’s left?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You will be amazed how many people, who were white, responded in disrespectful ways I won’t allow on my site, but have decided to explain blackness as solely skin color imply that I misunderstand it more than they do (clearly they haven’t read my other pieces on this site). Everything I said that WAS NOT an indication of one’s self-awareness in my piece, they tried to tell me was. But I guess it is so easy to say what is reality for those whose skin you never walked in. The man is dead, people have got to let him be. None of us would want this for ourselves.

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  7. .” Michael Jackson wanted to be white” was one of the worst of the many sticks they tried to beat him with. No-one should have to go what he went through. I totally get the point of your excellent article . thankyou. I am not black by the way.

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    1. I think it is the one that hurt him most and ended up being a self-fulfilling prophecy. I think that criticism hurt him. People, black people as well, have said this. My theory since the 1990s wasn’t that he was trying not to be black, but trying to disappear. There is a difference. I think he was anxious to get away from the ridicule.

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      1. I understand, but how could MJ be proud to be black if he only married all white women, and had 3 non-black kids? Some people say that the kids are his, but they know in their heart that those kids are not black, they are white. Well, Blanket is not white, but he isn’t black either. I don’t understand how a proud black person can not have any black children and not marry any black women. Can you explain this?

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      2. I can best explain this by asking this question: why are you only defining blackness and racial pride in the context of marriage or relationships? I think Tyrese’s comments today were despicable, he’s made these comments before about black women yet no one asked him if he wasn’t proud of being black. I said in a tweet that he should stop telling women how to be women and start telling men how to be men since he actually has experience being a man. Do you know only black men responded and asked me if I hate black men? No, I don’t and that was a leap to make from that when in truth, I hate sexism and anti-black woman hatred.

        Blackness isn’t only measured in whom we decide to date, it is in our souls, it’s in our art, it’s in the legacies we leave behind for future generations. If you can safely say that MJ did NOT accomplish that, I will concede that perhaps I was wrong. You can’t, no one can, he left a legacy that black artists are still emulating and will for generations to come.

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      3. Well, I’m not speaking about “blackness” I’m speaking about “black pride”. I just don’t see how a black man can be proud to be black with black pride when he only marries white women and have all non-black children. That does not add up. MJ said he was proud to be black, but actions speak louder than words, his actions say very differently when he had all non-black children and married two white women. Something is not right. How do you explain this as being proud to be pride?

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      4. You cannot have black pride unless you have a clear black identity (blackness). Black pride is not shown just by whom we choose to marry and procreate with. It is in self-identity, it’s about an appreciation for the heritage and the struggles of those who opened doors, and made our path a bit easier because of their sacrifice. I don’t want to assume anything about you but because you separated blackness (how one identifies as a black person) from black pride (the pride one has in their blackness/identity as a black person), I am going to venture out here and guess you aren’t a black person. If that is true, you should understand that being black and identifying with black culture is a diverse experience.

        We are not a monolith of people. We are as diverse as white people, yet no one ever says white people have to act this way in order to be proud of themselves or that someone isn’t really white if they date this person or have children with that one. I used a phrase in this article that many scholars like myself use, “unfettered blackness”. You should look it up and read some of the literature on it. There’s also a documentary about Jack Johnson, a black boxer in the early 20th century who dated and married a white woman, but never forgot his heritage. Then we can talk.

        See, it doesn’t matter who MJ married or had children with and that applies to any black person because regardless, the world, and American culture in particular, does NOT let you forget you are black and you have to decide if you are going to feel shame about that or are you going to show different representations, positive images of what it means to be black and proud. He did that.

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      5. Well having black pride in MJ’s case isn’t much if it’s just regarding an appreciation for the heritage and the struggles of those who opened doors, and made our path a bit easier because of their sacrifice, and does not regard pride of black people’s beauty. Anyone can be thankful and prideful for heritage and having a paved way for themselves due to the hard work of others. What people talk about most regarding MJ is his appearance, in which people believe he did not like being black because of his changed appearance, topped with him marrying all white women and having all non-black children. Even Quincy Jones said MJ didn’t like being black because all his children were white. So if you are saying MJ had black pride regarding him knowing that he is black and love the heritage of black people, but didn’t appreciate black people’s beauty, than that’s nothing, and is just as bad as him wanting to be white. If he thought white children were better looking than black children, which is why he decided to have not one, not two, but three non-black children when he is black, the pride he had in being black is nothing. What black man has all non-black children? Very abnormal. It only makes a statement that he sees non-black children more appealing than black children, why else would he have all non-black children? And same with his wives, why marry all white women? Obviously he saw white women more appealing than black women.

        And it’s definately something wrong with the Jackson family, because not only did MJ marry non-black women, but just about all his siblings and neices and nephews, such as Jermaine Jackson, Randy Jackson, Janet Jackson, Jackie Jackson, and his nephews 3T, Jermaine Jr., and some others all have non-black partners. It’s clear that the Jackson family sees other races as more beautiful than their own black race, why else would all three of Tito Jackson’s son have mexican partners? I can see if it were one or even two of them who had non-black partners, but all three of them have mexican wives. Maybe because seeing how their uncle Michael Jackson changed himself to look more white and had all white wives and children they did it too, because MJ was a power influence. MJ had a bad influence of self-hate for black beauty which dropped off on his entire family almost. And did you know that Taj Jackson just admitted on Latalkradio.com, on their “Power of Love” show, that he felt lower than other races because he was black, wishing he was another race other than black? He even told the lie that he is half mexican and black, when he’s not, his mother Dee Dee Jackson was not full blood mexican, she was half mexican, but Taj claimed she is full mexican. I was so shocked to actually here this coming from a Jackson. So if Taj sees other races as better looking than blacks, I’m sure MJ did too, which is manifested in him having all white children and wives. I mean this is just so sad. I never knew that the Michael Jackson with Thriller and Off the Wall could turn out the way he did. The Jacksons really do bring shame to blacks on every level. If I’m wrong and there’s an explanation for this can you explain it to me?

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      6. What black man has all non-black children you ask. Thomas Jefferson, a U.S. President had 16 children with Sally Hemmings and let his own children remain enslaved, as property. Yet no one questions his allegiance to his skinfolk.

        Are you a black person? Why are you still narrowly defining racial pride by marriage and what one’s children look like? Have you even factored into your assessment the fact that for centuries the beauty standard in this country defaulted to white? That black people who could approximate the look of the main stream white beauty aesthetic were given more options and that this continues to persist? Kim Kardashian is praised for buying the features women of color have by virtue of genetics, yet women of color are brutally critiqued for it. It is so ingrained in the American cultural fabric.

        Are you going to address the fact that MJ deliberately employed black people behind the scenes? Are you going to ignore that when he bought the catalogs, he gave back to black artists who had the rights to their work stolen? Are you going to address how when Hollywood would not come up off a dime to fund films by black filmmakers, MJ did? Talk about his cultural contributions as proof of his racial pride as opposed to the impact centuries of portraying the physical appearance of blacks as in inferior has on the psyche of black people; particularly since this isn’t isolated to just the Jackson family, but is applicable to a lot of upwardly mobile black men.

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      7. Thank you for your commitment to defending Michael Jackson. Those of us who have loved him for a long time have almost – almost – become immune to those who wish to deride and judge him for his skin color, facial alterations, sexuality, family, etc. Lost is the fact that he was prodigious genius who gave the world some of the most important music of the 20th century which was clearly centered in his black roots. Anyone who doesn’t know that is sorely lacking in knowledge of Michael’s history and his intense study of black artists who preceded him by generations. He spoke from his blackness in the prose of Liberian Girl, Black or White, They Don’t Care About us, We’ve Had Enough and so many more. He spoke of injustice, poverty, racial division and brutality. His songs are still anthems of social (in)justice to this day. He didn’t cry out with such passion because he wanted to be white. He lived the cruelty of being black in the 60s & 70s when he was beaten, spit on, forced to live Jim Crow laws, only allowed on black labels & witnessed other black artists being cheated. That background made him a voracious reader of black history and a legendary giver to humanitarian causes. It is well known that Michael gave over $300M to charity to help the poor, sick & disadvantaged but what seems not to be so well known is how many of these charities were black:

        Brotherhood Crusade
        Congressional Black Caucus
        Cities & Schools Scholarship Fund
        Dakar Foundation
        Minority Kids Project
        Motown Museum
        NAACP
        Rainbow Coalition
        The Carter Center’s Atlantic Project
        The Sickle Cell Research Foundation
        Transafrica
        United Negro College Fund (UNCF)
        United Negro College Fund Ladders’ of Hope
        Watts Summer Festival
        YMCA-28th Street/Crenshaw

        As to Quincy Jones’ accusation it is a bit ironic w/ his own marriage to Peggy Lipton resulting in daughters Rashida & Kidada who could easily pass for white. By his own criterion, maybe he had race issues.

        There are those who need to believe Michael hated his race for their own reasons which no amount of contradicting will assuage. I for one am grateful that this remarkable black man lived during my lifetime and was an inspiration to me and millions of others.

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      8. You’re not making much sense here. What Thomas Jefferson did was not racial, it was about his family, etc., which has nothing to do with race. If I’m not mistaken I do believe the topic is about race and MJ. And yes I am a black person.

        And what is your point by saying “Have you even factored into your assessment the fact that for centuries the beauty standard in this country defaulted to white? That black people who could approximate the look of the main stream white beauty aesthetic were given more options and that this continues to persist? Kim Kardashian is praised for buying the features women of color have by virtue of genetics, yet women of color are brutally critiqued for it. It is so ingrained in the American cultural fabric”? All you’re saying is that it’s nothing wrong with MJ wanting to look white, and wanting all white children and white wives because he felt they were more appealing than black children and women, sense others do the same as he does. You my dear are not making much sense. Just because a lot of people do this besides MJ doesn’t make it right. That’s why the media alwasy got on him for this, including Quincy Jones and Bill O’Reilly, etc., because what MJ did was abnormal which expresses deep hate for the appearance of blacks.

        There’s absolutely no way a person can be proud of their race when they see another race as more appealing to the point they have three white kids and marry all white women, sorry, it doesn’t work that way. Anyone who believes it does is in strong denial. MJ was not proud to be black at all. What it was is that he loved and cared about his race but he was definately not proud of his race which is quite sad.

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      9. You not agreeing with me does not mean I am not making sense.

        What Thomas Jefferson did is based on race, if you read his writings from that time period, he’s very clear where he stand on race relations, slavery and whether or not freedom applied to people of color. Read his words, not interpretations.

        Given that it is obvious you don’t have the experience of being a person of color and all that comes along with it, your perspective that racial pride can only be defined by whom a person dates/marries is minimalist and reductive and until you read the literature available that discusses blackness, identity and self-awareness, I can’t have a through discussion with you. You want to push your agenda which is wickedly ill-informed. It is also pretentious of you to tell a person of color how their identity should look or be experienced. You are feigning objectivity but expressing it through a lens of privilege that makes you feel you have an inherent right to even have such a discussion where you serve as judge and jury and I cannot entertain your narrow view of the black experience in America any longer.

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