Michael Jackson & the Psycho/Biology of Race

By Scriven, Darryl | The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online), March 2010 | Go to article overview
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Michael Jackson & the Psycho/Biology of Race


Scriven, Darryl, The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)


For many, Michael Joseph Jackson represented the epitome of entertainment. His lyrical gravity, choreographed precision, and existential spontaneity were unparalleled and may never be seen in one individual again. Because of this, MJ was loved by billions in multiple generations across ethnic and national boundaries. Still, Mike held a special place in the hearts of African Americans because, more than other groups, we understand how the politics of anti-black racism and its preceding notion of race function in the Land of the Free. We understand that through his music, his surgeries, his skin bleaching, and even his rearing of white children that he unsuccessfully sought to transcend the lofty barriers that the American concept of race has so securely set in place. However, much of our understanding was schizophrenic in that we sympathized with his quest and simultaneously felt betrayed by his attempt. In this paper, I will argue that while race in the American context functions largely as a fictive political narrative, it has psychological and sociological implications that surfaced in Michael Jackson's pathology of appearance and America's bipolar obsession with his racially ambiguous expression.

Why Michael Matters

"Billie Jean?" "Wanna Be Starting Something?" "Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough?" "Thriller?" For many Michael Jackson fans, nothing more needs to be said concerning Michael's relevance as a subject for popular consideration. Globally, vast portions of the population can chart pivotal life moments by the lyrics and syncopations of "Beat It", "Off The Wall", or "Workin' Day and Night". But as Michael grew larger as a performer, he also grew more transcendent and translucent in his appearance. The personable, brown-hued, and afroed adolescent that we fell in love with gradually became a being that lacked visible aspects of both his pigment and personality. Yet within this deficit, Michael achieved greatness and pushed his audience to ascend beyond borders and boundaries with him.

Most are aware of his industry feats so that information does not need repeating here. Still, one important reason why Michael matters is because of his gargantuan influence on how the world understands and experiences music.

Until Michael, the videos of Black artists were not featured on television, in general, and MTV in particular. His collaboration with Rock Legends like Eddie Van Halen and Popular Music Icons like Paul McCartney of Beatles fame paved the way for groups like Run DMC to partner with Aerosmith, bringing Rap Music into mainstream culture. MJ's movements were precise and graceful in ways no one could have imagined before seeing him execute a dance routine. His music was trans-ethnic and division erasing in both style and content. Michael challenged us to be the change we want to see ("Man In The Mirror"), to identify with the poor and needy ("We Are The World"), and in a color-conscious, racist world he dared to utter that social relations should not be affected by skin color ("Black or White"). So in terms of Music Industry trailblazing, innovative performance, and progressive thought, the world owes a great debt to MJ. As a result, anything regarding Michael Jackson has the full attention of millions of spectators internationally. Not surprisingly, his offstage behavior and private life are intriguing across generational as well as ethic lines; but are particularly interesting to African Americans as his community of origin.

Lupus & Vitiligo

Americans, in general, are very basic when it comes to perceptions of illness. In the popular imagination, illness is largely explainable and predictable given certain genetic markers and contributing behaviors. For instance, if someone has a family history of Alzheimer's, then Alzheimer's occurrence in a member of that family would not be surprising. Likewise, if someone has been a habitually heavy smoker for a number of years, a precipitating lung cancer would almost be expected.

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