Michael Jackson was a Proud Black Man
"I know my race. I just look in the mirror, I know I'm Black!"
Michael Jackson, 2002
Michael Jackson in a Steve Harvey radio interview in 2002
"Here you go: I’ve worked with Michael Jackson in his studio on and off for over 17 years – that covers most of the time that everyone seems to be fixating upon. Michael has vitiligo. I’ve seen it with my own eyes, along with the unhappiness it has caused him both privately and publicly. Many great artists are reserved off stage, but for Michael this was compounded by the media and public obsession over his appearance. He covered much of this up with make-up – and for many years hid behind a screen of uncomfortable and impractical panstick.
He’s tried to learn to be accepting that people don’t believe the transformation he’s made over the years, but all this ridiculous argument over it makes it incredibly hard for him. I see him a couple of times a year, usually just for a day or so, and even now, all the speculation and prying offends and upsets him. He is one of the most loving, kind and gentle souls I’ve ever met, and has possibly the most stoic and forgiving nature in the light of such awful injustice, slander and bigotry. He’s not without faults, and has to be one of the most exacting professionals I’ll ever have the fortune to work with. Most of the time, he ignores what people say, and in the last few years he’s gone past caring what people think. He isn’t on earth to justify how he looks – but the public seem to assume that he must account for the changes he made to his appearance, including those that he couldn’t control. I can tell you: I’ve been in a pool with him: before he had depigmentation therapy, he was blotchy all over. Now, he’s basically so white that he burns at even slight exposure to the sun. This was a choice he made: makeup or treatment, and having the money, he got the treatment. I don’t blame him – had I this condition, and the funds, I would have done it too.And let me tell you: when you get to know him, he’s a normal, easy-going (out of the studio!) guy, with a great sense of humour and is most definitely a BLACK man.
I posted here because he bet me ages ago that I couldn’t find a single site online that really addressed his skin colour in an even manner. I hope I’ve cleared up some of your questions."
Michael Jackson: A Black Man's Dream (made by @phonchrist):
Michael's speech against racism, Sharpton's National Action Network headquarters in the Harlem neighborhood of New York, July 9, 2002:
Michael Jackson's Blackness [MJ Unmasked]
"Michael Jackson fundamentally altered the terms of the debate about African American music. He was a chocolate, cherubic-faced genius with an African American halo. He was a kid who was capable of embodying all of the high possibilities and the deep griefs that besieged the African American psyche... for America to miss that is to miss the fact that Michael Jackson argued against the very deep and profound bowels of White supremacy in the belly of American political culture... The reality is Michael Jackson's humanity is so deep, the implications and inferences of his art so monumentally and magnificently global, that nothing American television could do to besmirch his character could ever, if you will, deny the legitimate genius that he represents."
From a brilliant conversation on Tavis Smiley, with two of America's most recognized critics on Michael Jackson's cultural and social impact both globally and specificially for Black people. (30/Jun/2009)
Michael Jackson as King Sani:
Black and White and Proud...
"Black or White" is a video that is filled with symbolic imagery that I am working on for Inner Michael, in an essay about the hidden messages in the film. The "Ghosts" film has a startling reference to the Klan with its burning torches and marching mobs. That illustrates the facts of being black in America—you were a target for violence at the hands of those who wanted you to “know your place” in the social hierarchy. As a black, you understood that you were considered a bottom-feeder. Michael Jackson’s aesthetic and work helped to change the minds and hearts of a generation, but not without conflict. He was both loved and hated; he received both affectionate accolades and death threats. And Michael absolutely understood that in order to keep his pulpit for social change, he needed to stay bold and controversial to sustain his relevance. His courage in music as a message, is unparalleled.
Until the 1960's, blacks being subjected to ridicule and stereotype was the cultural norm. The Black Panther Party was a political revolutionary movement that began in 1966 and lasted until 1975. It expanded to a social and cultural revolution with contemporary symbols like the closed fist. The “Afro” hairstyle became a symbol of the African American pride initiative begun by the Black Panthers, and punctuated by James Brown in “I’m Black and I’m Proud,” released in 1968. Michael publicly declared his allegiance to James Brown as the artist who influenced him most.
Michael truly did believe that the power to change the world lies silent and untapped within children; he grew up within the ‘kid power’ cultural message, and it explains his loyalty, affection and attention to children. He believed in youth. And it was in a unique time that Michael Jackson wove his magic into the social tapestry of his life and our history. Who Michael was, and what he contributed to civil rights in the social and cultural fabric, was relevant then and deserves to be celebrated today. While Dr. King said it in words and actions, Michael Jackson said it in music, lyrics and the images of film. Michael Jackson, like Martin Luther King before him, was a prolific and vocal freedom fighter.
By Rev. Barbara Kaufmann, December 24 – 2010
Reverend Barbara Kaufmann is an award winning writer, poet and author. She is a member of the Wisconsin Society of Sciences, Arts and Letters; Wisconsin Regional Writers; and Fellowship of Poets.
Black and White: how Dangerous kicked off Michael Jackson's race paradox
As the King of Pop’s skin got lighter his music became more politicised, and 1991’s overlooked album encapsulated this radical moment in music
However, in the early 1990s, the public were sceptical to say the least. Jackson first publicly revealed he had vitiligo in a widely watched 1993 interview with Oprah Winfrey. “This is the situation,” he explained. “I have a skin disorder that destroys the pigmentation of the skin. It is something I cannot help, OK? But when people make up stories that I don’t want to be what I am it hurts me … It’s a problem for me that I can’t control.” Jackson did acknowledge having plastic surgery but said he was “horrified” that people concluded that he didn’t want to be black. “I am a black American,” he declared. “I am proud of my race. I am proud of who I am.”
The first few minutes of the Black or White video seemed relatively benign and consistent with the utopian calls of previous songs (Can You Feel It, We Are the World, Man in the Mirror). Jackson, adorned in contrasting black-and-white apparel, travels across the globe, fluidly adapting his dance moves to whatever culture or country he finds himself in. He acts as a kind of cosmopolitan shaman, performing alongside Africans, Native Americans, Thais, Indians and Russians, attempting, it seems, to instruct the recliner-bound White American Father (played by George Wendt) about the beauties of difference and diversity. The main portion of the video culminates with the groundbreaking “morphing sequence,” in which ebullient faces of various races seamlessly blend from one to another. The message seemed to be that we are all part of the human family – distinct but connected – regardless of cosmetic variations.
The so-called “panther dance” caused an uproar; more so, ironically, than anything put out that year by Nirvana or Guns N’ Roses. Fox, the US station that originally aired the video, was bombarded with complaints. In a front page story, Entertainment Weekly described it as “Michael Jackson’s Video Nightmare”. Eventually, relenting to pressure, Fox and MTV excised the final four minutes of the video.
The Black or White short film was no anomaly in its racial messaging. The Dangerous album, from its songs to its short films, not only highlights black talent, styles and sounds, but also acts as a kind of tribute to black culture. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is the video for Remember the Time. Featuring some of the era’s most prominent black luminaries – Magic Johnson, Eddie Murphy and Iman – the video is set in ancient Egypt. In contrast to Hollywood’s stereotypical representations of African Americans as servants, Jackson presents them here as royalty.
Promised a sizable production budget, Jackson enlisted John Singleton, a young, rising black director coming off the success of Boyz N the Hood, for which he received an Oscar nomination. Jackson and Singleton’s collaboration resulted in one of the most lavish and memorable music videos of his career, highlighted by the intricate, hieroglyphic hip-hop dance sequence (choreographed by Fatima Robinson). Again, in this video, Jackson appeared whiter than ever, but the video – directed, choreographed by and featuring black talent – was a celebration of black history, art, and beauty.
The song, in fact, was produced and co-written by another young black rising star, Teddy Riley, the architect of new jack swing. Prior to Riley, Jackson had reached out to a range of other black artists and producers, including LA Reid, Babyface, Bryan Loren and LL Cool J, searching for someone with whom he could develop a new, post-Quincy Jones sound. He found what he was looking for in Riley, whose grooves contained the punch of hip-hop, the swing of jazz and the chords of the black church. Remember the Time is perhaps their best-known collaboration, with its warm organ bedrock and tight drum machine beat. It became a huge hit on black radio, and reached No 1 on Billboard’s R&B/hip-hop chart.
The first six tracks on Dangerous are Jackson-Riley collaborations. They sounded like nothing Jackson had done before, from the glass-shattering, horn-flavoured verve of Jam to the factory-forged, industrial funk of the title track. In place of Thriller’s pristine crossover R&B and Bad’s cinematic drama are a sound and message that are more raw, urgent and attuned to the streets. On She Drives Me Wild, the artist builds an entire song around street sounds: engines; horns; slamming doors and sirens. On several other songs Jackson integrated rap, one of the first pop artists – along with Prince – to do so.
Dangerous went on to become Jackson’s best-selling album after Thriller, shifting 7m copies in the US and more than 32m copies worldwide. Yet at the time, many viewed it as Jackson’s last desperate attempt to reclaim his throne. When Nirvana’s Nevermind replaced Dangerous at the top of the charts in the second week of January 1992, white rock critics gleefully declared the King of Pop’s reign over. It’s easy to see the symbolism of that moment. Yet Dangerous has aged well. Returning to it now, without the hype or biases that accompanied its release in the early 90s, one gets a clearer sense of its significance. Like Nevermind, it surveyed the cultural scene – and the internal anguish of its creator – in compelling ways. Moreover, it could be argued that Dangerous was just as significant to the transformation of black music (R&B/new jack swing) as Nevermind was to white music (alternative/grunge). The contemporary music scene is certainly far more indebted to Dangerous ( ie Finesse, the recent new jack-inflected single from Bruno Mars and Cardi B).
Only recently, however, have critics begun to reassess the significance of Dangerous. In a 2009 Guardian article, it is referred to as Jackson’s “true career high.” In her book on the album for Bloomsbury’s 33 ⅓ series, Susan Fast describes Dangerous as the artist’s “coming of age album”. The record, she writes, “offers Jackson on a threshold, finally inhabiting adulthood – isn’t this what so many said was missing? – and doing so through an immersion in black music that would only continue to deepen in his later work.”
That immersion continued as well in his visual work, which, in addition to Black or White and Remember the Time, showcased the elegant athleticism of basketball superstar Michael Jordan in the music video for Jam and the palpable sensuality of Naomi Campbell in the sepia-coloured short film for In the Closet. A few years later, he worked with Spike Lee on the most pointed racial salvo of his career, They Don’t Care About Us, which has been resurrected as an anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement. Still, critics, comedians and the public alike continued to suggest Jackson was ashamed of his race. “Only in America,” went a common joke, “can a poor black boy grow up to be a rich white woman.”
Yet Jackson demonstrated that race is about more than mere pigmentation or physical features. While his skin became whiter, his work in the 1990s was never more infused with black pride, talent, inspiration and culture.