At the Black Entertainment Television awards on Sunday night, there was one comment that got a bigger cheer than any other. To screams of support, host Jamie Foxx yelled, “We want to celebrate this black man. He belongs to us and we shared him with everybody else.” Isn’t this the same identity that Michael Jackson rejected as his skin became lighter and lighter? With his death are we rewriting the history of Michael Jackson’s life?
Over the weekend thousands of column inches were devoted to praising the musical pioneer and his influence over popular culture. But the civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton hit the nail on the head when he said: “It’s amazing to see how many people are now praising him that wouldn’t go near him in the last several years, and condemned him.”
Many African-Americans have been quoted over the past few days as saying they felt rejected by Michael Jackson over the past few decades, but judging by celebrations and tributes held over the weekend, it seems that much of the black American community is focussing on his music, and his early significance as black global superstar, than the bizarre antics of his later years and especially mysterious dramatic appearance changes.
The black British New-York-based columnist Gary Younge writes thoughtfully of Jackson’s legacy here.
But not everyone is being so kind. As this blogger writes: “It seems that the canonization began almost immediately, with the amnesiac collective memory forgetting that he had become at best a freak and at worst a sickening, mangled, pale spectre of himself.”
Are we collectively choosing to forget the reality of Michael Jackson in favour of an idealised version? As stories emerge of years of abuse of medication, along with accusations of abuse by ‘enablers’ and pressure from concert promoters, are we choosing to see Michael Jackson more as a victim, as a good boy turned wrong by circumstances? Or is it simply that with his passing we are able to take a more rounded view of the man than was permitted by tabloid culture during his life?