Monday, June 29, 2009
6885: “Michael Is Family…”
From The New York Times…
In Jackson’s Death, Black Ambivalence Fades
By Marcus Mabry
Jamie Foxx, the host of the Black Entertainment Television music awards, was unequivocal on Sunday night.
“We want to celebrate this black man,” Mr. Foxx said of Michael Jackson. “He belongs to us and we shared him with everybody else.”
Around the world, Mr. Jackson was celebrated Sunday, but there was a special fervor in black neighborhoods and churches.
At the First African Methodist Episcopal church in South Los Angeles, the 10 a.m. service opened with the strains of “I’ll be There” by the Jackson 5, over a video tribute to Mr. Jackson. The congregation clapped and cheered.
“He may not be the king of kings,” the Rev. Carolyn Herron said, “but he’s the King of Pop.” He was, Ms. Herron said, “a gift from God.”
Mr. Jackson was to music what Michael Jordan was to sports and Barack Obama to politics — a towering figure with crossover appeal, even if in life some of Mr. Jackson’s black fans wondered if he was as proud of his race as his race was of him.
But since his death on Thursday, many African-Americans have embraced Mr. Jackson without ambivalence. In scores of interviews across the country over the weekend, few expressed the kind of resentment some once had for his strangeness, his changing appearance, his distance from the cherubic Michael of the Jackson 5.
Darrell Smith, 40, a filmmaker in Brooklyn, recalled that “when his skin started getting lighter,” many black people said Mr. Jackson did not want to be black.
Now, he said: “I honestly feel like I lost a brother. It’s a pain inside me.”
Some African-Americans said those most determined to discuss Mr. Jackson’s failings were white.
“The system likes to take black men down,” said Stan Jamison, a 61-year-old house painter, leaning against a fence on Sunday outside the old Jackson home in Gary, Ind. “They did it to Ali. They did it to Tyson.”
When Mr. Jackson was accused of child molesting, many African-Americans leaped to his defense because they felt he was being persecuted.
But even some blacks acknowledged that Mr. Jackson, like many African-Americans, had issues with his identity.
Gerald L. Early, a professor of African-American studies at Washington University in St. Louis, pointed to Mr. Jackson’s self-image as an adolescent who hated the fact that he had a broad nose. In some reports, his father was said to have told Mr. Jackson he was ugly.
“If blacks were not, in some degree, emotionally and psychologically scarred from their oppression,” Professor Early said in an e-mail message, “they would hardly have needed the Black Power and the Black is Beautiful movements of the 1960s, efforts to restore their mental health.”
“Jackson reminds me of Sammy Davis, Jr.,” he added. “Davis was a singer and dancer, like Jackson, and a man who felt inferior about his looks and who wanted to fit in with the white Hollywood environment in which he found himself.”
Still, it was Mr. Jackson’s changeability that, in part, allowed him to resonate with millions of people around the world.
“His race was very blurry,” said Ning Liu, 28, an electrical engineer who moved to the Chicago suburbs from China four years ago.
Mr. Liu, who went to Gary to place flowers outside Mr. Jackson’s childhood home, said: “His voice, his look, the way he did things — it didn’t fit the stereotype people had of black people. People were not afraid of him.”
Amy Whitlock, 38, and her husband, Dave, 42, who are white, drove 100 miles to Gary to pay their respects to the pop star. They described how a young Mr. Jackson had transformed the way white children saw race.
“I was from a small town in Illinois where there weren’t any black people,” Ms. Whitlock said, tears splashing down her cheeks. “There was prejudice in our town.
“The older people, they saw just some black guy dancing. But we saw someone who was extraordinary, someone who made us want to dance. Michael was for unity. And he made people my age want to be for unity.”
Meighan Maheffey, 27, who is white and grew up in North Carolina, said the Jackson 5 was the only black group her grandmother allowed her mother to listen to. “It was very nonthreatening to her,” Ms. Maheffey said.
But Mr. Jackson also staked out new terrain for black performers.
“He dubbed himself the King of Pop, which was a pretty daring act,” Professor Early said. “Previously in our culture, the King of Jazz was Paul Whiteman and the King of Swing Benny Goodman and the King of Rock and Roll was Elvis Presley, all white men.
“This, in a way, radically redefined the black performer’s relation to music, made Jackson an auteur. In this way, Jackson may have paved the way for Obama in the sense of black man as auteur and self-mythmaker.”
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who has been acting as a family spokesman in the past few days, said Mr. Jackson — like Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, James Brown and Josephine Baker — had redrawn the boundaries of black possibility by showing whites, and blacks, that the race was capable of more than had been previously acknowledged.
“The light cast by these luminaries was great and shined on the whole race, even when they did not intend to be ‘political,’ ” Mr. Jackson said.
The Black Entertainment Television music awards were not originally intended to be a tribute to Michael Jackson, whose hits dried up long ago. But plans were rushed through to change the program once he died. Over the course of the evening, Mr. Foxx wore different costumes from Mr. Jackson’s long career.
On Saturday, at the Malcolm X Blvd Pizzeria in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of New York, an impromptu dance party and memorial service for Mr. Jackson was set up. Just steps away from the oven, two dozen or so people danced to the blaring Michael Jackson marathon on the sidewalk outside, holding black, white and red balloons, some clutching candles and wiping away tears. Some wore T-shirts with Mr. Jackson’s face.
Eric Smith, 50, a social worker, snapped his fingers and stepped back and forth to the beat. “He was more than a musician,” Mr. Smith said. “He was a worldwide ambassador for love and peace.”
But Mr. Jackson may have helped bring about a world of multiracial acceptance that no longer understands his own obsession with his skin color.
The night that news of Mr. Jackson’s death came, Ingrid Deabreu, 49, a patient care and dialysis technician from Guyana who lives in Brooklyn, stayed up watching a marathon of his videos with her 7-year-old daughter Kimberly.
When the video of Mr. Jackson’s “Black and White” came on, her daughter turned to Ms. Deabreu and asked: “Mommy, he said it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white. So why’s he trying to make his skin white?”
Reporting was contributed by Ana Facio Contreras from Los Angeles; Jon Caramanica and Karen Zraick from New York; Malcolm Gay from St. Louis; Dirk Johnson from Gary, Ind.; and Janie Lorber and Ariel Sabar from Washington.