01 Jan 2004 Why People Defend Michael Jackson, by Kimberley Jane Wilson
Go ahead, crack a joke, sigh or shake your head. Michael’s lifestyle and his current predicament inexorably lead to those reactions. There seem to be only two main schools of thought concerning the one-time “King of Pop”: he’s either guilty of molesting a young boy and ought to be tried, convicted and put in a cell deep under a prison or he’s innocent.
These groups also seem to be split into two other categories: black and other. A couple of white friends have asked me why this should be. I chalk it up to history and love.
Our criminal justice system has historically been indifferent or downright hostile to the fates of black men. When I was five years old, I watched two beefy white police officers beat a black teenager to unconsciousness. One officer had to literally hold up the profusely bleeding kid while the other officer whacked him with his baton. Almost 40 years ago, my mother’s cousin was attacked on the main street of their small town by a group of white men. Her cousin never fully recovered and died a year later. No one was arrested for the crime. There was never any possibility of a trial. My mother still cannot talk about her cousin’s fate without becoming upset. Fifty years ago, my husband’s grandmother attended the funeral of a neighbor who was caught by the police with his white girlfriend in a hotel room. Facing social ruin, the woman claimed that she’d been kidnapped and raped. The young man went to the electric chair.
There isn’t a black family in America who doesn’t have similar stories, and it’s why many of us are still uneasy around police or defend young men in trouble. I understand this, but it’s the past. As hideous as it was, it doesn’t have much to do with Michael Jackson’s predicament today.
There are those, activist Dick Gregory among them, who believe that Michael Jackson was set up. They feel “The Man” so hates seeing successful black folks that, every now and then, one or two must be taken down as a warning to the rest of us. Michael’s wealth and power – so their reasoning goes – is too much of an affront.
Nonsense. Absolute nonsense.
First, although Michael Jackson is still wealthy by average guy standards, he’s lost a shocking amount of money over the years. It costs a small fortune each year just to maintain his 2,700-acre Neverland estate’s house, train, zoo and amusement park rides. Forbes magazine says Jackson is worth about $350 million. The New York Times points out that his debts come to $200 million. Compared to billionaires like Robert Johnson (the founder of BET) and Oprah Winfrey, Michael’s financial mess doesn’t look enviable at all.
Second, Michael Jackson’s artistic influence is pretty much nonexistent today. Young people want 50 Cent, Beyonce and Kid Rock. Unless he somehow pulls together an astonishing comeback, Michael’s years of musical genius are behind him.
So, no, I don’t think there’s a conspiracy to take Michael Jackson down. His brother, Jermaine, called Michael’s arrest a “lynching.” Someone ought to send Jermaine a copy of Mamie Till Mobley’s book Death of Innocence and One Hundred Years of Lynching. Michael Jackson is not Emmit Till. He’s not even Rodney King.
I think, deep inside, most of us know why Michael Jackson is caught in the midst of his current trouble. It’s not white envy – it’s his own actions. Michael’s repeated on-camera insistence that there’s nothing wrong with having unrelated kids in his bed and his apparent fascination with boys makes him look worse than anything a malicious individual could invent. Given the opportunity to send a son of our own off to Neverland, I think most of us would instinctively turn down the chance.
In his youth, Michael Jackson brought an incredible amount of happiness to millions of people. We love the memory of that little kid with the joy-filled voice and the huge afro. That’s what people are defending, not the 45-year-old man he is today. America’s past and Michael’s past are so strongly imprinted on many people’s minds that they refuse to see anything else.