"Post-racial," eh?

If the recent debate in the Supreme Court over the New Haven firefighters and the idea of Affirmative Action weren't proof enough, or if the attack on the Holocaust museum in DC wasn't frightening enough, perhaps whoever first coined the phrase and the various politicians/speakers/bloggers/etc. who touted it as the truth, both black and white, can now re-think their stance. Because Michael Jackson is dead, and that black-white man has left behind a sort of firestorm of race-relations discussions and we will probably never hear the end of it. Entertainers and celebrity always seem to trump strictly political issues, because EVERYONE seems to be listening.

And that is why I turn up my nose (and always have, when I first learned that this was even a phrase) at this idea of a "post-racial" society. From what I understand, once it became apparent that Obama had more than a fighting chance at beating out Hilary for the Democratic ticket, people began to talk about how extraodinary of a human being he was, and that his black background came in second to his seemingly above and beyond qualifications for the Presidency. "Look at that! He's a person, too! No one cares about whether he's black or not...they care more about what he's going to do for us."

And just like that, Obama was actually elected, a black family is in the white house and everyone is now going to be, and I paraphrase, judged not by the color of their skin [or their accent, socio-economic stature, etc.] but by the qualities they possess and the tools they can use. Well, as most of us were smart enough to know, that was a completely ignorant and naive expectation. Some have used it to advocate for the end of affirmative action, others have used it to suggest how far we've come (and oh how far we have come, indeed).

What does this to have to do with Michael Jackson? Well for one thing, Obama and MJ both have something in common: they had to be EXTRAORDINARY, EXCEPTIONAL, IMMACULATE, PRISTINE, and INCOMPARABLE in their respective fields in order to be loved, adored, admired, and held on a pedestal by people in every corner of the globe--from a Philippine prison to Harlem to Thailand to Ghana...They had to be, in the eyes of everyone, regardless of their ethnicity, as close to perfect as can be. Blacks, in order to be accepted by mainstream society as a whole and achieve great success, have to do 100x better than the next white person. MJ worked his butt off to please the audience, perhaps more than anyone, and they embraced him. He was the whole package: singer, dancer, musician. Did Elvis dance? Of course. He swiveled his hips, Ed Sullivan wouldn't show him above the waist blah blah blah...But as George Carlin explained why MJ was the greatest entertainer who ever lived:

"Elvis was a bogus white guy with sex appeal and good looks who ripped off a lot of great black music, watered it down and made it safe for lame whites who couldn't handle the experience of emotional, raw black music…”

Now, I was not alive when Elvis or Lennon died. As soon as I heard about MJ dying, I thought that this was our present-day version of their passing. It’s bigger than that because the times they have a-changed thanks to both society and technology. I can venture to guess that the majority of the people who grieved their deaths in the way that fans are now were white and American/European—part of that is timing. MJ is also the very symbol of not only a pioneer in the way black artists have been viewed but also of how prevalent race still is today, and why “post-racial” will never actually come to fruition, as pessimistic as that may sound. Bill O’Reilly is proof of that:


Now let me just say, I actually agree with a lot of the things he has said. I have a huge problem with folks like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, who seemed to come out of nowhere as if they were BFFs with Michael himself (they always seem to jump on any black bandwagon cause that comes along, merited or not), and blaming the media for dehumanizing MJ. I’ve seen quite the opposite. Like O’Reilly said, the same media outlets who were covering every inch of his trial 4 years ago, now aired completely uninterrupted coverage of his death and what is to become his legacy. He was complicated and did some very silly things, and he was scrutinized no more so than Bush has been scrutinized for his complete incompetence as a President. But at the end of the day, millions upon millions of fans still love him and the same cannot be said for Bush. So crying “race” only trivializes the other instances when racism actually occurs—I would say it is the equivalent of women who lie about being raped, thus making it harder for the actual victims to come forward without being immediately pegged a liar.

I also agree with my father, in that when people like Jamie Foxx or Sharpton make grandiose statements suggesting that “we” (i.e., black people, because we are obviously all one homogenous group who only listens to R&B hip-hop…The Beatles who?) “gave” him to the rest of the world to enjoy and cherish, they are ignorantly sugar-coating him while speaking for me when I don’t want to be spoken for. By viewing him as some sort of physical gift, they are making him into an object, a treatment that I think ultimately led to his downfall and demise. And even Quincy Jones admits that he “obviously didn’t want to be black.”

He didn’t happen to fall in love with and marry a white woman. Debbie Rowe and the other mother of his last child were merely baby-makers—so why were they both white? It’s not a coincidence--he sought out white genes for his children. I am the most ardent fan of MJ and his music, but it’s also impossible for me to erase my common sense and matter of judgment without pointing out that we cannot solely blame the media for demonizing him because he was black. That’s ridiculous. Due to poor judgment, surrounding himself with the wrong people, and the naturally harsh glare that comes with being in the spotlight, he in a way brought it upon himself. If he was born white, somehow turned black and still did all of the same crazy, insane things off stage, the media would still have a field day because that’s what they do. They grasp any bizarre story and run with it—we all do remember Octo-Mom and Jon and Kate, yes?

So, as much as I’d like to think that I can ultimately be judged only for what I can do rather than what I look like, the Presidency of Obama has not made certain white firefighters any less upset over being passed over for promotions because their minority counterparts failed the same test, or prevented an anti-Semite from attacking a Holocaust museum, or from a dead pop star from creating as much racial controversy in death as he did in life.