Michael Jackson is still at the forefront of my mind. I’ve read so many great, and so many not great, articles on Michael’s life and death. I thought I’d share some of my favorites.
On Michael Jackson: Respite, sadness and memory
by Sean Kirst / The Post-Standard
Gina Ingram is trying to avoid the endless media recaps of the spectacle and scandal that dominated the last 20 years of Michael Jackson’s life…
…When Ingram was born, her mom was 17. Her dad was gone by the time she was a toddler. With her mother and older brother Zach, Ingram moved from apartment to apartment.
Once they hit school, she and Zach quickly learned what it meant to be biracial in an era when it wasn’t common.
“We were considered freaks of nature,” Ingram said.
Her white relatives didn’t know how to handle her hair. Children routinely offered cruel comments. But Ingram’s mom provided a means of escape: She handed down a love of reading to her daughter, who spent countless hours in her room, alone with books or music.
Ingram always liked Jackson’s work, especially “Ben,” a haunting ballad that seemed to put some of her own childhood sadness into words. In 1982, she used a battered record player to listen to Jackson’s revelatory album, “Thriller.” The vinyl soon became so scratched and worn that she would load pennies onto the phonograph needle to keep it from skipping.
Once school let out, Ingram and her brother would be alone until their mother finished working. “When the date and time of the ‘Thriller’ video (premiere) was announced on MTV — you know, when they used to play videos — we both rushed home, made our daily snack of tea and toast and sat anxiously waiting for it to come on,” Ingram wrote.
The TV was in their mother’s room. They sat side by side at the foot of the bed, astounded by Jackson’s zombie makeup and elaborate dance routine.
To this day, Ingram recalls the look of sheer awe she and Zach exchanged when it was over….
Colorism: Prejudice seen through a painful prism
By DENEEN L. BROWN
The Washington Post
Colorism is the crazy aunt in the attic of racism. If you find it necessary to talk about her at all, do it in whispers among relatives and people who already know about her.
On June 25, when Michael Jackson died, there she was again: colorism, that sub-category of racism and prejudice based on skin color, staring us right in the face.
By the time Jackson died, he was perhaps whiter than any white man that you know. Those who looked at the constant stream of replayed televised interviews, at the pale skin, the thin lips painted red, the straight hair, saw in his face the psychological wound that has scarred so many in the black community.
You line up his album covers, from “Got to Be There” when he was 13 and brown with a big-tooth grin, to “Off the Wall,” when he still had a beautiful nose and a big Afro, to “Thriller,” when his skin was still beautiful brown, but his nose was smaller, to “Bad,” when his nose was even thinner and his skin was white.
“He is an over-the-top manifestation of that undercurrent in the black community,” says Alice M. Thomas, associate professor of law at Howard University. “If you are light, you are all right. If you are brown, you can stick around. If you are black, get back.
Jackson has insisted that his skin faded as the result of vitiligo, a condition that damages the skin’s pigment. But experts say that condition leaves the skin spotted and blotchy. To the outer world, Jackson’s skin appeared consistently white. And before-and-after photos of Jackson tell a deeper story about color discrimination, also known as colorism an intra-racial discrimination among African-Americans.
Colorism began during slavery when darker-skinned blacks were relegated to field work and lighter-skinned blacks, often the children of slave masters, were given housework. For years after, many blacks, some say, internalized the declaration that the lighter one was the better one.
Nobody wants to talk about colorism. And yet everybody talks about it.
“Colorism was venomous because it did so much damage to the psyche,” says Alvin Poussaint, media director at the Judge Baker Children’s Center in Boston and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “There was nothing like walking around feeling you are a rejected person, a wretched person, as Frantz Fanon put it in ‘The Wretched of the Earth.'”
by Cynthia Boaz
…It had been hard for me to mourn Michael Jackson, because the person the world lost is not the person he was supposed to have been.
And that realization is very sad.
Without making excuses for his eccentricities — or reportedly inappropriate behavior — Michael Jackson’s life and death give us the opportunity to look more closely at ourselves as a society. What did we do to him? What does it say about us? What can we learn from it?
Take a moment to think about the destructive forces that pulled at him constantly, from the first time he appeared onstage — all the horrors of celebrity: commercialism, consumerism, superficiality, disconnection, judgment. What gentle soul could bear that never-ending barrage? The truth is we wanted a freak to gawk at, to mock in the vain hope of filling up a void in ourselves. We were like bullies on the playground, kicking the shy, slightly weird kid when he was down.
Looking back, it seems that Michael Jackson was always searching for an identity that we would embrace, and that he, ultimately, would also accept. It was an impossible task, because the Michael Jackson we wanted was a specter, an ideal. So with each rejection, he recoiled and tried again harder the next time. He was lonely, so we exploited it. He was kind, so we twisted it. He was brilliant, so we marginalized it. At the end of his life, it seems that Michael himself did not know who he was, and that is why to us now, he remains an icon, a caricature of himself. And we all have a part in that. Maybe — at the end of the day — he was just too sensitive for this world.
At first glance, what made us uncomfortable about Michael Jackson in the later years was how severely he diverged from what we understand to be normal. But who amongst us hasn’t searched for identity? For acceptance? For love? Who hasn’t struggled with intense loneliness and a desire to connect?
Because of our role in his own understanding of himself, how we respond to Michael Jackson’s death reflects on us as a culture and a people. There is a conventional wisdom that when you point a finger at someone, there are three pointing back towards you. Those who take the sadness of his death to cruelly rebuke Michael Jackson for his oddities transparently reveal their own pathetic insecurities.
The spectacle we made of Michael Jackson’s life shouldn’t be repeated in his death. Perhaps it’s time for us to ponder our role in the destruction of the person that Michael Jackson was meant to be. Perhaps we should use this as an opportunity to heal ourselves as a culture. Perhaps it’s time to turn off the television reality shows, cancel the subscription to celebrity gossip magazines, and take a few moments out of the day to be conscious of the effect our attention — positive and negative — has on the people around us.
And to paraphrase a well-known person of great compassion, let s/he who has never felt the sting of rejection or the despair of loneliness cast the only stones.