Michael Jackson – Rest in Peace


Volumes have already been written about the unexpected death of Michael Jackson, and in the days and weeks to come there will be even more. Originally, I wasn’t going to write anything, because I didn’t feel as if I had anything to say that hasn’t already been said. Michael Jackson was a talented performer, whose genius was overshadowed the last twenty years by a bizarre freakshow that passed for his life. But as I’ve had time to dwell on his death, I have come to realize that there are a few things I would like to share with anyone who is interested.

Even though he was only ten years older than me, I was born into a world where Michael Jackson was already a star. One of my favorite shows as a child was the animated Jackson 5 series, and I was, like most kids my age, a fan of the musical family. As a young black kid growing up in the 1970s, the Jackson 5, and Michael especially, symbolized to me the pinnacle of what could be achieved. For many black kids in America, the Jackson 5 was more than just a group. They were the embodiment of dreams and desires for a better life outside the reality of poverty and discrimination. To be like the Jacksons was more than just to be rich, talented and popular, it was to be resplendent in the culture of black America—rocking a perfectly picked afro as a sign of your blackness—and to be accepted and loved by white America. In other words, Michael Jackson and his brothers represented the black version of the American Dream—at least as it was for me and my friends in the 1970s.

I was still a fan of Michael when he went solo, and like a whole lot of other people, I lost my mind watching him moonwalk on the Motown 25 special. I bought Thriller, and I watched MTV regularly, hoping to catch his videos. Of course, and it’s important to make mention of this, as much as I like Michael Jackson in those days, I was more of a diehard Rick James fan. Still, I had a fondness and appreciation for Michael that I would never deny or look back on with any sense of shame or regret.

Around the time Michael starting getting really weird—butchering his face with plastic surgery and sinking deeper and deeper into his own alternate reality—the King of Pop began to symbolize something very different than what he represented in my youth. At some point, Michael Jackson became something of a cautionary tale. I saw in his unparalleled popularity and success something I could not quite articulate, but now recognize as a disconnect from both his blackness and his humanity.

Somewhere along the way, Michael Jackson became something of a monster, stripped of both his racial identity and of those social patterns that society deems as “normal.” And while no one held a gun to his head and forced him to destroy his face or name his kid Blanket, every one of us that called ourselves a fan must acknowledge our own small part in making him the freak he became.

I believe that we each must take responsibility for our actions. That means that Michael Jackson must be held accountable for everything he did; and if he did molest those children, as many believe he did, he will surely answer for it on this next phase of his journey. But just as I believe we all must be accountable for our actions, I also believe that environment and circumstance play a major role in the development of all people, and can set us down paths that we don’t always comprehend. I think if you were to tell Michael Jackson when he was ten years old that he would grown up to bleach his skin white, carve up his face with plastic surgery, and possibly have sexual relations with boys his own age, he wouldn’t believe a word of it.

In his passing, I take another valuable lesson from the life of Michael Jackson, which is the greater point I’d like to make. When I was a child, I was a fan of Michael, and thought the world of him. As we both grew older, I saw in him many things that made me both sad and disgusted. But those things he did later in life are not a reflection of who he was as a child, or the entertainer he was when he recorded Off the Wall and Thriller. Michael Jackson was a talented man who brought joy to many people. He was also a troubled man who very well may have brought suffering to people. Both of those men died today, and it’s important to not let either overshadow the other, but to recognize that the complexities and frailties that reside within all of us resided also in Michael Jackson. But the difference between Michael Jackson and the rest of us is that all of his strengths and weakness, all of his triumphs and tragedies, were laid bare for the entire world to see.

Rest in peace, Michael Jackson.


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