Saturday, April 10, 2004

When Dungeons Shake

25About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody's chains came loose. 27The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28But Paul shouted, "Don't harm yourself! We are all here!" 29The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30He then brought them out and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" (Acts 16:25-30)

Michael Jackson is a threat. To everybody. Except children, of course. Otherwise, he would not be going the way traveled before him by James Baldwin, Paul Robeson, and even Josephine Baker---African Americans who found a resting place for their heads overseas in Europe. I wonder now if Mr. Jackson, once he is cleared of these trumped up charges of child molestation, will not, for the sake of his own dignity and sanity, follow suit and leave America behind.

I couldn’t blame him.

If my estate was pillaged and ransacked by a bitter white, hate-filled man who, without apology, without probable cause, and without common sense, I’d consider another address. Sneddon’s rampage evoke the image of the senseless rage of some white overseer who is bent on exacting some measure of sick joy out of torturing the psyche of his boss’s slave. Sneddon stepped onto---------no I take that back: he and his mob stormed the gates of Neverland like U.S. commando forces thundered through the city of Tikrit to capture Saddam Hussein. Helicopters swarmed over Jackson’s abode like vultures suddenly whipped into a sickening frenzy over the stench of dead carcasses.

The latest scandal Jackson is faced with is like nothing he has faced before. In addition to staring down a twenty years prison sentence, Jackson is facing another prison of sorts: an avalanche of scurrilous press saturated with lies and innuendo. Is the onslaught payback for years of Jackson refusing to toady to the whims of a media clamoring for every morsel of information about every detail of his life? Is Jackson that big of a threat to them, to their “right-to-know” mentality? For all practical purposes, the media has cast off all restraint, stripping themselves of ethics, integrity and common decency, writhing in a defiled bed of slander, libel, and outright character assassination. Money indeed makes liars and whores out of many.

Michael Jackson is also a threat to white society
[1]. He is the one who simply would not stay in his “place”. For centuries, it has always been acceptable for blacks to entertain but never to own and control their own services. Even black minstrels who found work after the Civil War were controlled by white managers who profited more than they did. Sound familiar? But Jackson has never played the part of anybody’s minstrel. He made it clear that there was more to him than simply performing. His business acumen helped earn him co-ownership of the Beatles catalog as well as songs of Elvis Presley. Do not think for a minute that this move set well with some white folks in the music industry. Unlike some of the young black artists who wear their bling bling around their necks or in their mouths, Jackson actually OWNS something substantive and formidable. And folks have been trying to wrench it from him ever since. For some whites, Michael Jackson will never be anything more than a nigger, albeit a rich one, but still a nigger. Du Bois’ words, though spoken a century before, still ring true today concerning the problems of the color line in America.[2]

White folks aren’t the only ones who are threatened by Jackson. Some in the black community are just as intimidated by Jackson. Yeah, I said it! Some of my people confuse and befuddle me. On one hand, these sold-out “proud-to-be-black-y’all-and-that’s-a-fact- y’all” people love to brag about how important it is for us to be different, to be edgy, and to defy the box (or coffin) mainstream society tries to place us in. This mentality is trumpeted about in the hip hop community and marks the language, the apparel, and the music.

On the other hand, however, the moment a black artist breaks outside “the box”, he or she is branded a sellout. Some of us forgot the fact that the black community is as guilty of boxing its people in as white society is. “Look at him! He ain’t black enough. He bleached his skin!” Is blackness based merely on appearance? And what is it to be black, o critical ones? If nothing else, Jackson is guilty of attempting to move beyond the boundaries set by society PERIOD. However, it at least appears, at least according to a number of polls, that a number of blacks are attempting to look at both Jackson and this case against him with some measure of objectivity and even support if they so feel moved. This is not a call to blind followership rooted solely in racial solidarity but rather to move toward the common sense and dignity of not judging a thing or a person by its cover. We all, irrespective of our social location, want that much.

But even the racial element in the Jackson drama is trumped by the cultural issues surrounding masculinity and sexuality. While Jackson is maligned for being a man who openly admits and demonstrates his affection for and sensitivity to children, “respected” members of parishes, churches, law enforcement, etc continue to victimize children sexually themselves. While the media continues to speculate about Jackson’s sexuality because of his appearance, his voice, and his unwillingness to be anything but a gentleman when it comes to discussing his personal relationships with women, football players and politicians, traditional pictures of assumed masculinity, continue to come out of the closet. Interesting. For the record, Jackson has, without denigrating the gay community, denied that he himself is gay. The media, however, continues to be selectively deaf to his voice.

Even more troubling to me is the underlying assumption that it is somehow abnormal for a “real” man to show affection for children. I’m sorry but I honestly believe this lie is one of the biggest hindrances to authentic masculinity in society today. How many adults are now griping that their fathers were never there for them emotionally, never showed them any kind of affection? Rest assured, Jackson is anything but weak. How many tough guys could survive the ish he’s been through? Some would have committed suicide. Other would no doubt drink themselves into oblivion. Yet Jackson is poised to fight Sneddon, to fight the media, and most importantly, to fight the charges that he is a child molester. Michael Jackson is as much a man as I’ve ever seen, PERIOD!!!

In closing, there is little doubt in my mind or heart that Jackson will be cleared. How long this sham of a process will take, however, is anyone’s guess. But when it is finished, Jackson will be a man freed from the constraints of other people’s ideological fetters and liberated from the ghost of a shocking allegation. Some of course, will always believe that Jackson is guilty simply because they are either too lazy to think or too biased against Jackson to even consider that the case against him a shady. But rest assured, someday and that right soon, Jackson’s very soul will resound with the words of one poet, “My dungeon shook, and my chains fell off.”
[3]


[1] Please note that I am not referring to all white people and merely some. The same also applies to any discussion of the black community.
[2] W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk. (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1994), 9.
[3] James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time. (New York: Vintage International, 1993), 10.

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