“Black HIStory” (Or, Why I Think Black People Need To Re-Introduce Themselves to Michael Jackson”)

Settle in, Loves…. This is about to be one bumpy ride.

I did not plan to write this particular blog for Black History Month, but three happenings I witnessed on social media pretty much forced my hand. Given the nature and source of these incidents, I thought this month might be perfect after all.

The first of these incidents was an African American artist’s “imagining” of how Michael would have looked today had he lived past 50 and without the effects of plastic surgery or vitiligo. The other was a vicious string of disrespectful, mean, and misinformed comments under a photo of Michael on a predominantly African American R&B page on Facebook. The third strike was a person who thought it was a good idea to post a question that asked if the members of this particular page felt “Michael Jackson should have gotten therapy in the 70’s before his body-image issues got out of control”. Unfortunately, I saw all of these within the space of one day. Talk about feeling defensive! After the initial rage and disappointment I felt about people’s obviously relentless need to dissect, discuss, and debate Michael’s psychological health and personal decisions, I was left with a feeling of… awe. It is simply astounding to witness just how personally Black people took-and still take- Michael Jackson’s physical changes. It says so much about us as a race and it made me wonder just how many of us understand why.

I have honestly had an intention to address the complex and divisive nature of Michael Jackson’s African-American fan base (a faction to which I so proudly belong) for a long time. It is a subject that simply cannot be ignored and like everyone else, I have some very strong feelings about it. Growing up in the late 80’s and early 90’s, I was thrown smack-dab into the “Michael-Jackson-Hates-Being-Black-So-He’s-Trying-To-Be-White” era of Black public opinion. I heard all of the beauty shop/barber shop/kitchen table/school bus debates any Black child could expect to hear back in the day when my own perceptions of race, self-image, and cultural identity were being shaped. For the most part, I gathered that according to the majority of Black people I knew, Michael Jackson was a child who grew up being ridiculed for his African features (mainly his nose) and because of this, he developed a hatred of his looks that manifested itself into the rhinoplasty, hair straightening, and skin lightening that is (sadly) still the topic of many debates today.

As I re-examine this theory with my adult understanding of what race, culture, appearance, and exclusion from one’s own social group means, I realize a few things.

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Michael before the physical changes that overshadowed his career and accomplishments became evident. (Photo is NOT my property.)

First of all, this is not just a Michael Jackson issue. Black people have been known throughout history to be obsessed with skin color, hair texture, and any other physical feature that can be used to identify a person as “Black”. By now, everyone with eyes should be able to see that Black skin can range from the ebony hue of Viola Davis, to the yellow undertones of Chris Brown, to the chocolate brown of Gabrielle Union, all the way to the olive-tan skin of Beyonce. This obsession with skin color is not something we have for fun, either. When you live in a place where historically, the darker you were, the more likely you would have been to be abused, sold, worked within an inch of life, and even killed, the memory of this travels down through your bloodline, family member by family member. Whether it was done consciously or subconsciously this psychological imprint was handed down through generations and it still resides in many of our heads. Colorism is very real. It is one of the many nasty side effects of living in a society that practices racism like some of us practice religion. The thing is though, race is a social construct. This means that although all human beings are scientifically proven to be 99.9% the same, skin color is the easiest way we can be divided, classified, and “kept in our places”. More than skin color does, one’s culture and heritage is what helps them make a connection within a particular group. Michael Jackson NEVER stopped being a Black man culturally, even when he lost the melanin in his skin.

When I consider it from this context, I realize that many Black people who criticize Michael still have a socially constructed understanding of what Black, or African American really is. Black is not just a skin shade. Yes, you can be identified as Black if you have African ancestry, but people with African DNA come in all shades as I mentioned before. In fact, every shade we witnessed MJ’s skin transform into is indeed a part of the “Black rainbow” of complexions we come in. When I think of the artist’s “imagining” of what MJ would have looked like today had he lived and as some of the commenters stated, “stayed Black”, I am reminded of just how narrowly we as Black people sometimes tend to define ourselves. In the artist’s creation, Michael has his same pre-1980’s features, which are beautiful, might I add. This is “the Michael” that is pretty much the universal favorite of Black people, especially ones from the Jackson 5 generation. And I can understand that. This is the Michael they fell in love with. The Michael who, along with the entire Jackson family, changed America’s collective mind about what the Black family was all about and could do when they remained a unit. The Michael in the picture I saw still looked a lot like those Afro haired, apple- jack hat wearing boys who had been told one too many times that their destiny was to end up working in a dead-end jobs for low wages, or be pimps, hustlers, drug dealers, and possibly even inmates in the prison pipeline. They certainly were not capable of being international stars. Not unless they magically became straight-haired, mop-tops like The Beatles… that is until Michael, Jermaine, Tito, Jackie, and Marlon suddenly appeared from Motown Heaven.

The Jackson 5 was more than just a music group... For millions of African American children they were proof that hard work, dedication, and talent could take us places!

The Jackson 5 was more than just a music group… For millions of African American children they were proof that hard work, dedication, and talent could take us places!

That’s BIG. It has been said time and time again because it’s true. Representation is a HUGE factor in a child’s development of positive self-image and esteem. If you are one of my curvy sisters, try and imagine how it would feel if suddenly we woke up and the world saw US as a beautiful body type. Instead of being ignored or misrepresented, we were finally being celebrated. Imagine if “Shape” magazine featured OUR shape on every cover. Imagine if instead of Jenny McCarthy being the gold standard of what’s beautiful, Melissa McCarthy was. That’s pretty much what kids growing up in the late 60’s and 70’s experienced when the Jackson kids hit the scene. We like to believe that having self-love and self-worth is entirely our own decision and to a degree, that’s true. But, seeing people who look, dress, talk, and act like you does a LOT. Especially in the media since it is such a huge part of our everyday lives. Michael was the embodiment of the American dream to millions of little Black kids back then, so I understand to a degree the bitterness and resentment they felt (and obviously still feel) when over the span of a few years he became less and less (physically) like that child who meant so much to them. It must’ve been like, “Damn! He made us believe we could fly…. and then he crossed over and left us behind!” There is so much anger and backlash that is rooted in hurt feelings over a cultural abandonment that never really happened!

To be a part of a group is a basic human need, no matter who you are. It brings a sense of connection when you can share similar experiences with those who share your physical traits and cultural background. When the people within your own group disown you by way of ridicule, disrespect, and shaming, it can be a very painful experience. It was bad enough that Michael had to deal with being a nightly punchline of the mainstream media. It had to hurt twice as badly when the cruelty was being delivered by the very people who had embraced him first.

When his skin got lighter, he did not magically become a White person. I don’t recall him dyeing his hair blonde, wearing blue contact lenses, or ever denying that Afro-haired, cocoa-skinned boy from Gary, Indiana was him. If he was attempting to erase our collective memory of his Black past by way of skin bleaching and plastic surgery, WHY did he always make sure to put photos and videos of himself as a child on a jumbo sized screen during each Jackson 5 medley he did on tour? Maybe he did that because he wanted us to remember who he still was!  Even after his looks changed, there were just as many, if not more, bigots that wanted nothing more than to see Michael, the Black man who had outsold Elvis and The Beatles fall from grace. They never let up just because his color lightened. Too many African Americans lose sight of this fact when they argue that Michael “stopped being Black” in the 1980’s. We MUST stop battering that man’s memory because we perceived him as an outsider. If he was, it not because he chose to be. It was most likely because too many of us turned our backs on him once he didn’t look the part anymore. What a shallow, selfish version of love! To say that we could have only embraced this man or any person as long as they stayed within the parameters of what WE say is acceptable is just wrong. Sometimes, I see pictures of him with other Black people and all I can think about is how incredibly lonely he must have felt when the vitiligo robbed him of his beautiful brown coloring. I thank God he had the support of a handful of loyal friends, family, and the fans. No matter what color you are, if you stood by MJ during the bad times, you were his people.

Just an example of the type of thinking that upsets me. I am SO tired of this.

Just an example of the type of thinking that upsets me. I am SO tired of this.

Sometimes I want to get a huge megaphone and scream, “Pay attention, Black people! Michael was singing about a Liberian girl before most Americans even knew where Liberia was! Michael traveled to Africa several times, spoke with dignitaries and presidents about the state of affairs, and donated millions in aid. The African people famously crowned him “King Sani” when he toured the country in 1992 and I think it speaks volumes that in 1992, Michael had become very light-skinned due to the effects of his vitiligo. Michael Jackson, with his straightened hair, alabaster skin, and thin nose took us back to the Motherland in the “Black or White” short film to symbolically show you where all of it began.  Michael’s “Remember the Time” short film took place in ancient Egypt when he could have easily done anything else.” He showed US as the kings and queens we were and you thought he didn’t know who he was anymore.

In reality, too many Black people were the ones unaware of who WE were. I see a lot of the same people who had negative words about MJ cheering on some of the biggest buffoons to come out of Black culture. There are plenty of rappers, singers, and reality TV stars whose antics regularly make me cringe for my entire race. While some were tearing him apart, he was delivering a message to us about our own greatness and our own potential. After centuries of fighting for freedom as a people, it’s funny how Michael was probably the freest man our culture had seen thus far. I feel this way because he simply refused to live by the narrow set of rules that have been historically set for men of color. He never performed an act centered on being a pimp, a player, a thug, a hustler, or any other hyper-masculine stereotypical Black male caricature. He was accused of being gay, soft, weird, and worse but he stayed true to himself. That is the real definition of freedom. He was never ruled by the rules of society and he did not apologize.

He never embarrassed us by playing the fool for any amount of money. The super-soft voice, the coyness, the class, and the refusal to be anything less than a gentleman were all a direct refusal to be anyone’s n*gger. Michael was constantly demonstrating to the world that a Black man is MORE than what this country repeatedly tells us he is.  He was a multi-faceted, complex, human being. We might not have liked, understood, or agreed with every choice, but he always tried his best not to shame himself. I know he did that for all of us.

But. We. Totally. Missed. That.

Being honored as a crowned King Sani in Africa.... Light skin and ALL. (Photo from Tumblr)

Being honored as a crowned King Sani in Africa…. Light skin and ALL. (Photo from Tumblr)

I always say that Michael was the Blackest performer of his time, regardless of the controversy. When I say this, I obviously don’t mean the color of his skin either before or after the vitiligo. I mean in his mannerisms, his dancing, his style of dress, his awareness, and his experiences because Michael Jackson LIVED and BREATHED the Black Experience. Think about it. The more we know about our own history as Black people, the more we will be able to make that connection. Being a Black American means that there is an interruption in our collective history as Africans. Slavery stripped our ancestors of their languages, religions, tribal traditions, and all other important cultural practices. Most Black people in America, including myself, have a very narrow amount of knowledge about our roots since slaves were regarded as property and not people. But, your homeland LIVES inside of you, no matter how far you go (or are taken). Africa lives in each and every African American and Michael Jackson was no exception. Take a look at the dances he did, especially when he was just “freestyling”, or dancing with no choreography. That’s African dance, plain and simple. Some would argue that he took a lot of pointers from Fred Astaire, Gene Kelley, and other classic Caucasian dancers, which is true. But it was the way Michael did it more than what he was doing that made it African. There was a certain sense of rhythm he possessed, and he acknowledged this himself several times throughout his life.

Then there was the way he dressed. Everybody knows that Michael Jackson was a unique, stylish, and sharp dresser. Something I find particularly interesting is the fact that the military jackets he so loved and is well-known for wearing are part of a tradition that can be traced back to before the Civil War ended. Slaves on plantations were usually not given any new clothing to wear and so more often than not, they were tossed old, worn-out clothing from the plantation owners. It has been documented by a few observers that the slaves would use these clothes to make surprisingly creative outfits. Military jackets, old marching boots, and even soldier’s caps were often worn during the rare special occasion events such as Christmas. This was a way for enslaved Black people to express their individuality, even in the most oppressive of environments. This is a hallmark of the Black experience. We will turn the most oppressive of situations into a platform to shine. This refusal to be anything less than who we are resulted in the creation of jazz, gospel, hip hop, and R&B.

This was Michael Jackson. He was the ultimate in expression. The confidence he displayed by not giving a damn about wearing high-waters when it was considered out of style. The way he wore his mother’s jacket for Motown 25 because he knew it was right. The ingenuity he showed every single time he took nothing special and turned it into a magical experience. The way he used the rejections from Rolling Stone and MTV as a vehicle to show what he was made of. All of this was very, very…. Black. And still, too many people within his own culture accuse him of not wanting to be what he always was. He didn’t spend his life being a color, but he did spend it exposing the masses to his unique, proud culture. I don’t know why some of us saw that and others didn’t. I’d like to blame a lack of self-knowledge more than anything else. If you swallowed what the media spoon-fed you about one of our greatest heroes and brightest stars, I guess you would end up with a bad taste in your mouth. Thank God I followed my instincts!

Wearing a trademark military jacket (like his ancestors.)

Wearing a trademark military jacket (like his ancestors.)

I know that by writing this, I may or may not change anyone’s mind or opinion. That’s fine with me because I know enough to know that everyone’s truth is their own. I do not seek to make anybody feel guilty and I am not trying to be judgmental. I sincerely believe that most of the negativity and criticism that MJ got from some in the Black community stemmed from hurt feelings and misinformation. It just hurts me when I see the ones of us that attack him for “wanting to be White” or “turning his back on his own people” because they cause us to lose sight of the FACT that Michael Jackson did an immeasurable amount of good for Black Americans and he deserves much more from us. If you’re one of the people who swear by the opinion that his changes were due to self-hatred, all I can offer is this: IF Michael’s changes did happen as a result of self-hatred, why would you be angry at him for it? Wouldn’t this make you want to embrace someone more? Self- hatred hurts the person experiencing it more than anyone else. Since when does someone’s dissatisfaction with themselves mean they’re betraying you? If he hurt anyone, he hurt himself and that still doesn’t justify anyone sitting in judgment of him. Especially when, as a culture, we tend to spend the most money for things that make us look less like the way God intended us to look than ANYONE. He was not and is not the only Black performer whose looks changed over time. To make him the target of your criticism and ignore the others makes no sense. That’s just plain hypocritical.

"That’s why I love Stevie Wonder’s album called Songs in The Key of Life… He had a song called Black Man and I just jumped up screaming when I heard that record because he’s showing the world what the Black man has done and what other races have done… He named it Black Man and all these people who have got the album sing it. And that’s the best way to bring about the truth.” - Jet Magazine, Feb. 6, 1984

“That’s why I love Stevie Wonder’s album called Songs in The Key of Life… He had a song called Black Man and I just jumped up screaming when I heard that record because he’s showing the world what the Black man has done and what other races have done… He named it Black Man and all these people who have got the album sing it. And that’s the best way to bring about the truth.” – Jet Magazine, Feb. 6, 1984

I’m not writing this to lay claim on Michael Jackson. Although he was certainly a Black person, I understand that he was a true citizen of the world. He belonged to everyone who loved him and I believe he would not have wanted it any other way. I know that he lived a life that included all races, religions, cultures, and creeds. This is what made him so beautiful. I think that his level of dedication to being a man who could love and be loved by all confused many of us. A lot of people of all races seem to think that just because MJ famously sang that “it doesn’t matter if you’re Black or White”, he didn’t feel that his own Blackness mattered. I think that his lyrics were taken out of context. Michael most definitely saw us all as brothers and sisters, but that didn’t mean he had to ignore or deny his own culture to do this. It is perfectly possible to love your roots and love other people and their cultures as well. Too many people seem to see MJ as special despite his Blackness rather than understanding that he was special, Black and ALL. The entire package was what made him the amazing man he was and still is in our hearts. No matter what changed physically or why. He never turned his back on who he was and we should never turn our backs on that either.

I work in an elementary school and last week as I was walking through the halls, I stopped to admire the bulletin boards the classes had decorated in honor of Black History Month. One of them had hand-colored pictures of some of the greatest African American contributors to American culture. There was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman, President Barack Obama, Rosa Parks, Louis Armstrong…. and Michael Jackson. My heart nearly leapt of my chest with joy! Not only because Michael is my all-time favorite entertainer, either. It was because these children had seen past all of the hoopla, all of the years of rumors and speculation and decided that no matter what anyone else thought, Michael Jackson was a hero fit to be mentioned alongside some of the greatest human beings of any race to ever walk the planet! It gave me such a sense of hope, I nearly cried. I realized right then that Michael’s contributions to this world will ultimately trump everything else. Because of what he did, so many other children can do things that would otherwise be a distant dream for them. Not just in music, but in all areas of life. It’s disappointing that Michael Jackson’s contributions have yet to be accurately measured due to the division among the main people who can serve as the barometer, but I have much hope that over the years, this will change.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to connect the dots between MJ and Beyonce, the dominance of hip hop music all over the world (MJ was a LOT of people’s first introduction to Black people and Black music), and the success of music-based networks like BET, MTV, and VH1. We should ALL be proud of that and all of the other amazing things this man did on the behalf of every Black child who was told he couldn’t. MJ was told he couldn’t top “Off The Wall”, not because he didn’t have the chops but because those numbers were simply unheard of for a Black artist at the time. But he knew what he was capable of. Like so many other African American leaders, visionaries, and activists before him, Michael refused to let the limitations others applied to him because of race stop him. Instead, he let it motivate him. The rest is music history. The rest is Black history. I love that all people in all places on the planet can embrace, respect, and understand what MJ meant. I have seen so many races of MJ fans staunchly defending his pride in his race and culture and it really warms my heart. If they can see past the lightness of his complexion in the later years and understand that they were looking at a proud, Black man who embraced all people, I know that his fellow African Americans can.

“Why would I want a white child to play me? I’m a black American, I’m proud to be a black American. I am proud of my race. I am proud of who I am. I have a lot of pride and dignity.” ~ Michael Jackson

“Why would I want a white child to play me? I’m a black American, I’m proud to be a black American. I am proud of my race. I am proud of who I am. I have a lot of pride and dignity.” ~ Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson was the culmination of YEARS of great, Black talent in this country, known and unknown. From the plantation, to the Minstrel-Era, to the Chitlin’ Circuit where MJ himself honed his talent, Black performers have always had what it took to dazzle the masses. Michael was blessed that he was born during the period he was born in because it allowed him to evolve right before our eyes. I like to imagine that his predecessors including Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Sammy Davis, Jr., Sam Cooke, Dorothy Dandridge, Josephine Baker, and of course James Brown are up there in Heaven, patting him on the back and telling him “Thank you” for taking the torch they passed down to him and running so far with it that NOBODY can ever put the fire out.

Thank you indeed, Michael. Thank you, indeed.

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoy sharing it with you all.

God Bless and thanks for rockin’ with me!

~Y. M. Fourney

©2015

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50 thoughts on ““Black HIStory” (Or, Why I Think Black People Need To Re-Introduce Themselves to Michael Jackson”)

  1. elke hassell (@ElkeHassell)

    I sincerely hope, that whoever wrote this article send a copy to Cleo Manago, for it was a view weeks ago when I saw his pathetic post on his FB and had to “educate’ him on Michael Jackson. And you are right the comments under his post were ridiculous, and if they all came from black people, I truly felt bad for all of them

    Reply
    1. yfourney Post author

      Elke,

      You must have seen the same “imagining” I saw. I didn’t know the name of the artist who posted it and after seeing the hideous commentary underneath it, I couldn’t even go back and re-visit the page. I’ve grown used to hearing and seeing the disappointingly shallow opinions of fellow African Americans, but the comments coupled with the picture just hit me in a different way. Thank you for reading! God Bless!

      Reply
  2. Chris Kohler

    Reblogged this on A Wandering Mind and commented:
    I celebrate this exceptional blog post, from a Black American, addressed to the world of all colors which Michael Jackson appreciated so deeply and to which he dedicated his art. Bravo and Amen, Y.M. Fourney!

    Reply
    1. yfourney Post author

      Hello Gloria,

      Amen to that! You know, I was fully prepared to go in that direction and a few others but for the sake of the article being a “short read”, I decided to address that and a few other topics in an upcoming blog post. Stay tuned! Thank you so much for your words!

      Reply
    2. Diane Anderson

      i have often grieved that as Michael was “white” on the outside and black on the inside how very alone he must have been. Not only dealing with his own fear and isolation as his body uncontrollably changed but also facing criticism and ridicule from both colors that his body represented. He was “despised and rejected” by segments of both cultures. Perhaps the feeling of belonging to no one gave him the internal strength and spiritual maturity to reach out to everyone. In belonging to no one he truly came to belong to all of us.

      Reply
  3. corlista1

    Bravo. Wonderful article. Skin color does not a person make, Michael’s love for Africa, it’s traditions, people, music and dance – and acute awareness of his heritage – are there for all to see. He proved it over and over again. Those who refuse to acknowledge that choose to live in darkness because of their own issues, not Michael’s.

    Reply
    1. yfourney Post author

      Thank you, Kerri! I hope those were happy tears…. I shed a few myself over the week I was writing it. It’s amazing how deeply he has affected so many people. God bless you and thank you again for reading!

      Reply
  4. MJJJusticeProject

    This is a great educational piece that should be used to enlighten ALL races on just how Michael did represent black culture, and he did so brilliantly by utilizing history of mankind to do so. The constant misrepresentation of the media that Michael did not “want to be black” has been the cornerstone of MJhaters in all comment sections across the board, on most articles about Michael Jackson – It is their constant go to phrase to demean him and present him as mentally dysfunctional regarding his identity- This article will be a go to now for anyone wanting to present just how much Michael lived, breathed and attempted to educate the world, as the proud black man he always proclaimed himself to be.

    Reply
  5. Sheryl Wilder

    Excellent. Thank you for writing and sharing this thoughtful and scholarly essay. My heart also leaps when I hear young people of any color (or non-color) talk about the incredible talents of Michael Jackson. You have filled in some gaps for me in understanding the reasons Black people have said what they have about Michael Jackson.

    Reply
  6. Iheartmj12

    honestly im so thankful for this artical i plan on sharing it to my diversity club and possibly sharing it with my school for black history month (of cours giving you full credit) absolutely perfectly put and laid out i applaud this

    Reply
    1. yfourney Post author

      I am honored that you would even consider doing that because in truth, educating others is my main agenda. Michael’s life provides so many teachable moments. All of our lives do, but because his life is so well-documented, it’s easier to reference. Thank you so much for your feedback and for sharing. Be Blessed!

      Reply
  7. ettelra

    Can I just say, this was one of the best articles I’ve ever read about MJ? I praised it all up and down Twitter because it’s so true, and you mentioned exactly what was on my mind but I couldn’t put it to words. I will cherish this article forever! It seriously needs to be recognized nationally. Thank you so much for sharing your words with the world. I’m going to share the heck out of this! ♡

    Reply
    1. yfourney Post author

      Wow! I am just so humbled by these beautiful words. It is especially encouraging to hear feedback from my fellow writers. Thank you so much for sharing my message. As an African American, I hoped that I could provide some insight and clarity on a subject that really does bring up so many different emotions for us as a people. Michael’s cultural significance is so multi-dimensional, and he means something unique to each group of people he touched. You really warmed my heart and encouraged me this morning. Be Blessed!

      Reply
  8. beagleladywv

    This was beautifully stated. Thank you so much for your insight. Michael himself said, “I am proud to be Black”. It is as you said, he didn’t see “color”, his message- his dream- was for all peoples in the world to live peacefully. This is why he belonged to the world, and has had statues, benches, trees, and every other kind of memorial erected to him in country after country,

    I believe God sends very special people to our planet that are meant to accomplish great things. Michael was one of them.

    Reply
    1. yfourney Post author

      Thank you so much! I struggle with what my “writing style” is sometimes because I tend to write exactly how I speak (lol)… I am so happy that it translated well in this case because what I had to say is important to me. God bless you and thanks again!

      Reply
  9. Stephanie

    thank you for this great article. It rings true and if people can look beyond the superficial portrayal of Michael in media, etc they will see that he was an advocate of African American culture. I think most current black music artists agree, because they know what he contributed and how they have benefited from his pioneering.

    Reply
    1. yfourney Post author

      Thank you, Stephanie. You are absolutely right. Current artists see what he did to pave the way much more than the superficial. Thankfully, so do the children! Bless you and thanks again for your words.

      Reply
  10. Nina Fonoroff

    This is a wonderfully clear-sighted piece. Thank you so much; what you say about Michael Jackson, his changing appearance and its reception, shows a generosity and willingness to understand of *all* sides of these “controversies,” including the discomfort Michael seemed to cause—and why people would do well to acknowledge the source of that discomfort, first and foremost. I had no knowledge of where some of Michael’s sartorial choices came from, so it’s great to learn about the histories of cast-off military clothing and its “re-purposing” by blacks on the plantation during the Civil War.

    I have one caveat about what you’ve written here, but it may only be a matter of wording:
    “He was accused of being gay, soft, weird, and worse but he stayed true to himself. That is the real definition of freedom. He was never ruled by the rules of society and he did not apologize.” I totally agree, but I’d hope that being ‘gay’ isn’t necessarily seen in a pejorative way here. While I’m not entirely sure what Michael’s sexual orientation was, I very much agree that he often defied what a lot of people still regard as conventionally masculine traits. This very defiance is, I believe, one aspect of the freedom he wrested for himself out of the jaws of the “carnivorous” success that caused James Baldwin to express concern for his future.

    Again, many thanks for your insights.

    Reply
    1. yfourney Post author

      Hi Nina,

      Thank you so very much for this beautifully written response to my post. I am trembling with joy right now as I type this because all I wanted was to provide insight and understanding where for some, there was confusion. In regards to the wording you cited, I totally understand what you meant and by no means was “gay” meant to offend anyone or be seen as a negative thing. I actually questioned my own choice of wording when I was proofreading, but I failed to make a decision to re-word it. Again, thank you so much for your kind words.

      Reply
  11. Sina

    Thank you for writing about this ‘phenomenon’ from a black perspective.
    You have to have the experience and the insight to know where Michael Jackson and his black critics are coming from to adress the issue as eloquently and honestly as you did . Without blaming and shaming, but with explaining.
    Thanks also for the history lesson re Michaels style and fashion.
    This is what Black history month is all about. Well done!

    Reply
    1. yfourney Post author

      I appreciate this so much. I know that in order to address something as sensitive as the Black experience in America and where Michael fits in, one must be very close to it. I grew up in it literally and I tried to combine the love I have for my culture, Michael, and psychology when writing this. I wanted to make it as clear as possible to ALL people that the Black community was loved and embraced by Michael, no matter what was being shown in the media. I wanted to express my understanding of the feelings many of us have about the change in Michael’s appearance without seeming to attack anyone. God Bless!

      Reply
  12. MJ WAS A CUTIE PIE

    I am very glad that you wrote this article because I have long said in private that the black race should have been the most supportive and the most proud of Michael. He has accomplished more than any entertainer, black or white. It is true that long ago that the media tried to turn the black community against Michael by hyping up his appearance or by whomever he was dating. I remember those days well, as being a fan starting back in the late Jackson 5, early Jackson era as a child. We didn’t have the internet and information wasn’t at the touch of button. Only teen fan mags and snail mail. Michael didn’t really address those issue directly. Instead he chose to do it through his music, style, dance and short films, but many didn’t still catch on. Now that we are in the age of knowledge, many people need to take a good look at the facts and rethink their opinions about him, instead of relying on the myths of the unreliable media and tabloid news. It takes a brave soul and heart to write and speak on such issues and I thank you for doing that. Kudos and much love! ♥

    Reply
    1. yfourney Post author

      Seriously, I am totally FLOORED right now! You might not know, but you have long been a hero of mine as far as writing and informing the world about MJ goes! I have shared so many of your posts on my MJ page it’s not even funny. These words, coming from YOU are incredible. Thank you for inspiring me and thank you for taking the time to read my words. Many of MJ’s Black fans deal with the harsh words and skepticism of our family and friends regarding his loyalty to his culture. I wrote this them and anyone else who didn’t understand this in mind.

      Reply
      1. MJ WAS A CUTIE PIE

        Thank you so much for compliment! I am really floored myself as I had no idea you felt this way. I just love Michael so much and that inspires me to try to do my very best for him. I’ve always hated the way that the media has portrayed him and this is my small way of paying him back for all that he has meant to me.

        I also think that you are doing an amazing job with your writing and your FB page, which I think is one of the best around. I don’t get to visit other sites as much as I would like, but i know who you are and I think that you are an great asset to this community.

        God bless you!

  13. Diana

    Oh thank you, Y, for a simply beautiful piece. It brought tears to my eyes when you tell of the school children including Michael among all the other outstanding people to be honored during Black History month.
    This line, is so very important:
    “The thing is though, race is a social construct. This means that although all human beings are scientifically proven to be 99.9% the same, skin color is the easiest way we can be divided, classified, and “kept in our places”.
    Don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but there is a book by Ashley Montagu, called “Man’s most dangerous myth:The fallacy of race.” If I can I will post the link. I highly commend it to you.
    I also find it interesting that there is now a movie out with the same name as one of Michael’s short films. 🙂

    http://www.amazon.com/Mans-Most-Dangerous-Myth-Fallacy/dp/0803946481/ref=sr_1_6?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1423062769&sr=1-6&keywords=Ashley+Montagu

    Reply
    1. yfourney Post author

      Diana, thank YOU for reading! I’m glad I expressed myself in a way that highlighted one culture but included everyone. That was the goal. I would love to take a look at this book so thank you for the link. Also, I think it’s pretty cool that the movie “Black or White” has the MJ song title. Things have their own way of coming back around at the right time! God Bless!

      Reply
  14. Anna Wirt

    Your article went straight to my heart and brought tears to my eyes. I have NEVER read an article about Michael such as this one, that so succinctly put what he was about, what his primary purpose was in all the music he made, and the amazing contributions he made to the world AND to his culture. SO many black artists greatly admired him and tried to emulate him (still do), the older ones highly respected him, and everyone, regardless of their “color” who worked with him had nothing but praise for his amazing talent and the amazing human being that he was, so I don’t understand how “everyday” black people had/have so much contempt for him. I guess they were simply not in touch with the world that Michael lived in and were not willing to try to understand it. I cannot thank you enough for writing this. I have shared your article with my FB page that is all about MJ.

    Reply
    1. yfourney Post author

      Hi Anna,

      So happy you enjoyed my thoughts. I hope that in my writing I did not give the sense that the Black community has feelings of “contempt” for MJ, because as a whole, we love him dearly. What I was trying to address in my article was the feeling of cultural abandonment many Black people (especially the older generation) attached to him. I don’t think we as a people hate him, but a lot of us mistook his physical changes as a sign of his contempt for being a part of our culture. This actually caused a split sense of consciousness within the community. We loved his music, his dancing, and praised his accomplishments and at the same time, felt betrayed by his changing appearance. It’s a complicated mixture of strong emotions that is evidence of Michael’s importance to his culture. As I stated in the article, plenty of other Black stars have changed physically over the years, but Michael’s changes made us the most uncomfortable. I always say that the people who upset us most are usually the ones that matter most and Michael certainly mattered a LOT to Black people and people off all races. Thank you so much for reading and sharing my article. God Bless!

      Reply
  15. Charly Rae

    You have touched me deeply with this piece, yfourney! I cried more tears than I have in a long-long time while reading this last night. I am still at a loss for words and a bit stunned at my extreme emotional reaction. This is a subject that needed to be addressed and I am so impressed with the way you’ve managed to say what needed to be said with absolute truth, integrity and diplomacy. In your writing, you are a stellar example of the kind of Love and Respect that Michael displayed in the way he treated others and the way he lived his life. Not to mention the determination he had to stand up for what he knew was right, in his strong but gentle way, of course! We have much to learn from him yet, and we are blessed to have writers like you who know how to deliver the tough messages! Bravo!!

    Reply
    1. yfourney Post author

      Charly Rae,

      Thank you so much for the kind words. I understand what you mean by the emotional reaction, because I had a few of them myself while I was writing this. More than anything, I wanted to educate and enlighten. My intention was never to shame or condemn. I know why some people within my race feel like MJ “left us”, but I strongly believe that was never the case. All I hope is that the ones of us who hold on to that belief attempt to re-examine the tons of evidence to the contrary he left behind in his music, short films, interviews, and art. I think it is SO important for us to do this and I have hope that it will happen more and more over the years. Many blessings to you!

      Reply
    1. yfourney Post author

      Gemma,

      Thank you for the suggestion…. I can honestly say I never even considered doing that with this or any other article I’ve written. I’m really glad you enjoyed reading it. Bless you!

      Reply
  16. nikki

    Great read! I’m a huge MJ admirer and it boils my blood when people disrespect him in any way. I will always defend him because of the points you expressed in this blog. He was a great man. It’s shame some just won’t get passed the lies and garbage they’ve been fed.

    Reply
    1. yfourney Post author

      Lisa,

      Thank you so much. I am so shocked by the multitude of positive and beautiful reactions to my words. I am so grateful that it was received so well by so many. God bless you!

      Reply
  17. Renee

    I am a huge MJ fan and this was the most outstanding and informative piece I have ever read about him. Thank you for sharing your insight. Much love and blessings to you.

    Reply
    1. yfourney Post author

      Renee,

      I thank you so much! I tried really hard to be as clear and informative as possible. I’m happy it translated well for you. Again, thank you for reading! God bless!

      Reply
  18. Cadeflaw

    Thanks for this wonderful blog yfourney and I truly get it. I know how it feel to be the “dark-skinned’ among a group of light-skinned relatives. Several people, in my own family, treated me differently as a child because I was a dark-skinned little girl. However, I never knew I was different until a grown-up showed it to me. A female cousin, who was older, was the person I loved being around and we would always go visit other relatives every Sunday.

    I noted that several of the older relatives would never talk to me but always recognized my older cousin. I did not know they had a problem with my skin color until my mother raised the “Roof” about it. I will leave it to your imagination on how she handled it. She didn’t exactly tell me about it. I overheard her discussing it with another adult relative. I can not tell you how that scarred me. For a long time I would think of nothing but that and I wanted to find a way to bleach my skin. I did not want to become someone else but just thought I would be loved more, by others, if my skin was lighter.

    I finally learned to live with the color I was born with but I must say it took some time and still there are times right now when I think of it and become sad about it. That is why I try to be careful with things like that. I know how it feel to be left out. Thank you for that beautiful education on Michael. I will be sure to share it with everyone I know. That is still a major issue in the black community. I’ve never saw it put together the way you did. Great job. I enjoyed rocking with you. Hope it’s okay if I reblog this in our February magazine issue.

    MJ Brookins.

    Reply
    1. yfourney Post author

      I am completely humbled and so full of LOVE as I respond to you, MJ. Out of all of the wonderful feedback and responses I have gotten from this piece, this one has touched me the closest to my heart. I grew up with a very fair skinned brother and mother, and I know all too well the feeling of invisibility you describe. I am neither “light-skinned” or “dark-skinned”, but a shade that falls right in the middle of the spectrum. I believed I was dark because as children do so often, I compared myself to my brother. The difference in our complexions made most people we came in contact with act as if we were from two different planets. All Black people have a plethora of shades within their families, yet so many of us still act shocked when siblings don’t come out the exact same color! I don’t think enough people realize how deeply this can affect a person and I believe it needs to be explored so that our community can heal.

      I am so happy to hear that you have learned to look past the ignorance of others and embrace the lovely blessing that is your beautiful, “melanated” skin! Thank God you had a “mother bear” that protected you as well. It means so much to me that you heard what I was trying to say and felt it as well. I am honored that you would like to share this with your readers. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. It means so much to me.

      God Bless You!

      Reply
  19. Keely Meagan

    What a wonderful, compassionate and insightful post this is. Thank you for helping me understand so much more about Michael, his importance to the black community, and to all the rest of us who are so often clueless. This is invaluable. And this needs to be re-blooged all over the world. When I get mine up and running (I’m writing about MJ and social change) I’d love to put this, and a bunch of your other posts on. You are a compelling writer!

    Reply
    1. yfourney Post author

      Wow! Thank you so much, Keely! It is amazing to me just how much this post resonated with so many people. I was truly trying to just vent about my own personal feelings on this issue and it was a real shock to find out that so many people either felt exactly the same or did not understand it. I am so grateful to you all for understanding and embracing the message I was sending. I am honored that you want to share my words and you are welcome to do so at any time. God bless you and thank you again!

      Reply

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