Commentary: Jackson's race is our problem not his

In this Jan. 31, 1993,picture, Michael Jackson performs during the halftime show at the Super Bowl XXVII in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Rusty Kennedy, File)
In this Jan. 31, 1993,picture, Michael Jackson performs during the halftime show at the Super Bowl XXVII in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Rusty Kennedy, File) Rusty Kennedy / AP

Since Michael Jackson's unexpected death in Los Angeles on June 25, I've watched in amazement the number of black people who have come out of the woodwork waxing eloquently about him and claiming him as one of our own.

Yes, he was an exceptionally talented entertainer and should be honored for the influence he has had on the music of our era.

But I hesitate to claim him as a black man when he didn't seem to embrace that label.

For some reason, we black folk have a need to publicly stake racial dibs on people if another race or culture can also present claims on them.

And there is no greater poster child for racial ambiguity than Michael Jackson. He had said for years that he had vitiligo, a rare skin condition that discolors the face and body and affects 1 percent to 2 percent of the world's population. I have no reason to doubt him.

But that condition wouldn't also narrow the nose and lips or give the nose an upward turn that wasn't there from birth.

And, more than anything else, it would not cause those with the condition to produce children who don't bear the slightest resemblance to the offspring of a black man.

Along with many other demons he had yet to conquer, Jackson had a problem being black.

He's not alone. I know many, many black people who distance themselves from the negative effects of being black, especially in America. Each of us has to deal with racism as best we can.

The man in the mirror Jackson saw was white. And that white man, when coupled with a white woman, can only produce white children. That's how Jackson dealt with it.

Does that detract from his genius? Of course not. Talent knows no color. Does that diminish his humanity? Why would it? We humans come in every color under the rainbow, just as God planned, and we all have our issues.

Michael Jackson simply wanted to be Michael Jackson, and he succeeded. There was no one else quite like him.

The problem with Jackson's race is our problem, not his.

We black people raced to claim him as our own after his death when he had 50 years to claim his blackness and chose not to. We rushed to claim O.J. Simpson, too, during his murder trial and acquittal. I didn't understand that, either.

That need to weight the scales of famous black people on our side might stem from our need to bask in a positive media limelight for a change. Newspaper and electronic journalists of all kinds have devoted column inches and precious air time to Jackson, his death, his children, his wealth or lack thereof, his past and his problems.

That is a diversion from the normal news of black people having much higher rates of unemployment, imprisonment, illnesses, poverty and educational shortcomings.

Besides, if the world loves Jackson, who was noticeably black in his early years, maybe they will love the rest of our race as well.

There seems to be a need to say, "See, he's black and so are we. He was talented and so are we. He is loved; why aren't we?"

This is the same Michael Jackson whom black folk derided when his skin faded and his nose and lips thinned. It's the same one we talked about under our breath once we saw the first pictures of his children.

Maybe claiming him now, while the media is watching, will make up for the untold number of black children and black women who don't make national news when they go missing.

Maybe claiming him now, while his death has brought such grief to so many, will make up for the deaths of other black men dismissed so easily.

Then again, maybe claiming Jackson now is just our way of welcoming the prodigal son back home.

I choose to mourn Jackson as a troubled human being who didn't seem to find personal solutions to a number of problems he had while on Earth.

As Jackson said, it doesn't matter whether he was black or white. And it shouldn't matter for anyone else, either.

May you finally rest in peace, Michael.


Merlene Davis is a columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader. e-mail her at mdavis1@herald-leader.com.

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