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
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)
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.
Books about black history from Michael´s home Neverland:
"Is it because he is black?: What they don’t want you to know about Michael Jackson"
by Christopher Hamilton, Thursday, January 5th, 2006:
For years the media has labeled him ‘Wacko Jacko’. What happened to MJ? Wasn’t he the biggest thing in music at one point? When did he go crazy?
All anyone has to do is look when Michael started being portrayed as ‘Crazy’. It wasn’t during the ‘Thriller’ years. It’s cool being a song and dance man. That’s what they want. Don’t dare become a thinking businessman. Don’t' dare buy the Beatles Catalog. Don’t dare marry Elvis’ daughter. Don’t dare beat the record industry at their own game. Michael started being labeled crazy when he began making business moves that no one had been successful at doing.
Michael took two cultural icons and shattered them to pieces. All our lives, we’ve been bombarded with two facts. The Beatles were the greatest group of all time and Elvis was the King of Rock and Roll. Michael bought the Beatles and married the King’s daughter. (if that ain’t literally sticking it to the man) If I wasn’t a cynic, I’d say Michael did the Lisa Marie thing just to stick it to the people who consider Elvis the King.
The Beatles were great, but they weren’t great enough to maintain publishing rights over their own songs.
Elvis was great, but he didn’t write his songs. His manager, Col Tom Parker, was the mastermind behind Elvis… keeping him drugged with fresh subscription pills and doing all the paperwork.
Michael could do no wrong as an entertainer. ‘Off the Wall’, first solo artist with four top ten singles. ‘Thriller’, the biggest selling album of all time, with a then record seven top ten singles. ‘Bad’, the first album to spawn five number one songs (even ‘Thriller’ only had two number one songs). All this is cool. But that is all you better do. Sing and dance. Michael wanted to be greater. He bought the legendary Sly and the Family Stone catalog and no one really cared. When he bought the Beatles, people noticed. The Sony merger took the cake. Sony, in their eagerness to have a part of the Beatles catalog, agreed to a 50/50 merger with Jackson, thus forming Sony/ATV music publishing. Now, Michael co-owns half of the entire publishing of all of Sony artists. Check out the complete lists of songs at sonyatv.com. A sampling of the songs he owns the publishing rights to are over 900 country songs by artists such as Tammy Wynette, Kenny Rogers, Alabama. All Babyface written songs. Latin songs by Selena and Enrique Iglesias. Roberta Flack songs, Mariah Carey songs, Destiny’s Child’s songs. 2pac, Biggie and Fleetwood Mac songs. In essence over 100,000 songs. “What is this man doing?” None of the greats did this. Not Bono, Springsteen, Sinatra. “Who does he think he is? Get whatever you can on him.”
To ‘get’ someone, you have to attack what they love the most. I’ll say no more on that.
The only man who even approaches MJ in taking on the industry is Prince and to a lesser extent, George Michael. They went after poor George Michael, publicly outing the man as a homosexual. Prince fought hard and made his point, but nevertheless still had to resort to using a major company to distribute his materials. There is nothing wrong with that. Prince would get the lion’s share, but the result were years of being labeled crazy and difficult.
The greatest moment for them was the Sneddon press conference. “We got him.” Never was such glee so evident. Who cares if we have evidence?
Michael was acquitted, did not celebrate, went home and left the USA. Best move ever. Now what is there left for the haters to do? He’s gone. “Gone, what do you mean he moved to Bahrain? Well, how the hell can we get him if he’s not here? Quick, get that columnist to write a series of articles on how MJ’s teetering on the brink of destruction. Oh we did that? Well, what can we do?”
On the outer surface, it appears Michael is not doing anything to make money. Don’t even count the weekly sales of his CDs. 15,000 CDs a week is nothing for Michael. The Sony/ATV catalog is money for Michael Jackson every time he breathes. Serious money. The fact that no one reports on the actual amount is proof of that. They would rather you believe he is broke than tell you the truth. Neverland is still owned by MJ. The family home in Encino is still owned by MJ. Michael still owns the Beatles songs through the merger with Sony as well as full ownership of his own songs. But, hey, that’s our little secret.
Michael Jackson is literally walking in the shoes that no Black person has ever walked in before. If he ever writes an autobiography, it will be one of the most interesting ever. A Black man with no real formal education becomes the most powerful man in the industry, despite hatred, racism, enemies in his own camps and a media willing to be bought to the highest bidder.
If Sony had any sense, right now they should offer to continue the partnership. That’s the only way they will make future money off of Michael’s catalogue. Tommy Mattola did not lose his job with Sony because he was a bad label head. It was a casualty of war. MJ exposed him and Sony had to cut their losses. Companies do it all the time. Notice no one at Sony nor did Matolla himself ever sue MJ for slander. Michael always was loyal to his bosses at Epic/Sony. Back at the 1984 Grammys, he even brought then label head Walter Yetnikoff on stage with him at one point. He’s always thanked Dave Glew, Mattola and others at Sony in his acceptance speeches.
Sony can still do right by Michael, but it may be too late. However, they still should make a goodwill gesture, but how many times do businesses do that? If I were them, I’d still want MJ as an ally, not as an enemy. It is/was a mutally profitable merger.
I’d be scared as hell if I was an enemy of MJ while he is with the multi-billionaires overseas. Believe me, they aren’t just over there discussing designer clothing. A conglomerate is in the making.
One last note, these facts that I write here should not be the only times you hear this, but the sad fact is it probably is. I was worried that Michael would go down because of the uncertainty of the jury. That’s playing unfair. If I’m presenting these facts here at EURweb, you can believe the media knows it already as well. They aren’t salivating over everything MJ related just because he made ‘Thriller’. They know what’s up. Think about it. That’s why I laugh when I see shows like BET’s ‘The Ultimate Hustler’. We all know who that is. (How can Damon Dash know who the ultimate hustler is anyway? He lost Roc-a-fella to Jay-Z)
In the end, Michael won’t be known for being an alleged child molester. He won’t be known for ‘Thriller’. He will be known as the man that fought the record industry and won and lived to tell the tale. That is a book worth buying.
Christopher Hamilton is a freelance entertainment writer. He can be reached for questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org