Workers Hammer No. 208
The man in the mirror
Michael Jackson and racist society
The following article is slightly adapted from Workers Vanguard no 940, 31 July 2009.
On 25 June, black megastar and musical icon Michael Jackson died at his home in Los Angeles. The “King of Pop”, as he has been known for decades, was one of the most successful recording artists of all time and has remained hugely popular throughout the world. Following his death, there were spontaneous gatherings of fans dancing to his music in Harlem and doing the “moonwalk” or holding tributes as far away as Mexico City, Hong Kong and Paris. Rio de Janeiro’s mayor announced the construction of a statue of Michael Jackson in the slums where he filmed one of his videos to “They Don’t Care About Us”. In Algiers, hundreds of singers and dancers from across the African continent performed the Jackson 5’s “Blame It on the Boogie”.
The tragedy of Jackson’s death is that an extremely influential music career was driven to the brink of destruction by a savagely racist and puritanical witch hunt spanning more than a decade. The mass hysteria whipped up against Jackson over charges of “child molestation” was an indictment of this anti-sex, bigoted capitalist society, where being an eccentric black celebrity is enough for the state to try to frame you up with something. The stunning hypocrisy of the bourgeois media — which hounded and scapegoated Jackson as a “paedophile” when he was alive, even after he was acquitted of all charges, but then teemed with adulation and tributes after he died — was captured by an article in the Los Angeles Times (27 June): “The tabloids that had baited him mercilessly, dubbing him ‘Wacko Jacko’ for his erratic behavior, increasingly strange looks and accusations of child molestation, were suddenly effusive in their praise of a man ‘who provided the soundtrack to a billion lives’.”
Victim of racist vendetta
During his highly publicised career — which soared when he was only eleven years old as the lead singer of the Jackson 5 under Motown Records, through his solo career as a songwriter, musician and performer up until age 50 — Michael Jackson was famous not only for his talent and versatility, but also for challenging both racial and sexual identities. In the spirit of other “crossover” artists like Chuck Berry — who was one of the first artists to perform to multiracial audiences — Jackson was known for breaking down racial barriers and was the first black artist to get heavy airplay on MTV.
But the “inexcusable” racial barrier that he attempted to break down was his appearance. Whether due to vitiligo or to skin bleaching, the fact is that his gradual “whitening” and plastic surgeries did nothing to make him less black in the eyes of racist America — a twisted confirmation of the colour-caste nature of black oppression. No money in the world, no changes to your “racial” appearance, could ever change the fact that, if you are born black, capitalist America will make sure to try to put you in your place. In a country where the white supremacist ideology of racial “purity” resulted in the “one drop of black blood” rule, Jackson’s physical transformation became a transgression that the bourgeois media and “public opinion” would not let him get away with.
There is a real connection among blacks to someone who, no matter what he did, always had to respond to this society’s expectations of what a black person should look like, act like and sleep with. Even in death, the mud continues to be slung against this enormously talented and idiosyncratic man, with most black people defiantly coming to his defence. In the last few weeks, it was not rare for TV and radio commentators to ask why black people seem to identify with Michael Jackson since he “looked white”. Rabidly vile Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly ranted on his show The O’Reilly Factor against blacks seeing Jackson as their own when he looked white and “chose to have white children”. In pure O’Reilly fashion, this was a bitter and unfiltered expression of the American bourgeois psyche.
Race and sex in America
As we stated in our article “Stop Vendetta Against Michael Jackson!” (Workers Vanguard no 818, 23 January 2004): “The Jackson case represents an intersection of blatant anti-gay bigotry, the reactionary state-enforced stigma against intergenerational sex, and racial prejudice.” The intense vilification of Michael Jackson served the bourgeoisie’s aim to whip up hysteria over race and sex, which is all too common in a country where blacks (famous or not) are frequently indicted on false charges involving sex. In 1913, black boxer Jack Johnson was arrested because his relationships with white women were deemed to violate the Mann Act against transporting women across state lines for “immoral purposes”. In 1960, black rock ’n’ roll artist Chuck Berry was also convicted under the Mann Act for transporting an underage girl across state lines. More recently, R&B singer R Kelly was dragged through the courts on sex-related charges. Frenzy about black male sexuality is a common thread in American culture, long used as a justification for lynch rope terror.
Many black establishment figures who wouldn’t normally go near a contentious “sex” issue have felt obliged to come out in Jackson’s defence. The day after Jackson’s death, black Representatives Jesse Jackson Jr and Diane Watson asked for a moment of silence in the House of Representatives in Michael Jackson’s memory, with at least one Congressman storming out in protest. When Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson Lee put forward a resolution proclaiming Jackson “an American legend, musical icon and world humanitarian”, it was promptly killed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to the pleasure of Republican Representative Peter King. King infamously called the media coverage of Jackson’s death an “orgy” and ranted on a YouTube posting about Jackson being a “paedophile” and a “pervert”.
Michael Jackson was the victim of a depraved social order with a degenerate and cruel sense of “morality”. And all of these politicians — black or white, Democrat or Republican — are staunch defenders of that very social order, ie, American capitalism.
America’s puritanical values
As Michael Jackson was twice dragged through the courts over accusations of child sexual abuse, we defended him through his legal trials and tribulations. The cases relied on hearsay, contradictory testimony and zero physical evidence. As we stated in “Michael Jackson Defeats Racist, Anti-Sex Vendetta” (Workers Vanguard no 851, 8 July 2005):
“Jackson steadfastly maintains that he has been asexual in his relations with boys, which is certainly possible — but for us, that is irrelevant. The state’s vendetta against Jackson rested upon anti-sex laws that we oppose on principle
“Sex is a natural activity for humans — even children. We believe that in any kind of sexual relations, the guiding principle should be effective consent, regardless of age, gender or race. That is, if those involved have effective knowledge and desire to do whatever it is they will, that should be the end of it. We oppose arbitrary and reactionary state interference in such intimate matters.”
Our steadfast defence of privacy and sexual freedom, more generally across the board and more specifically in the Michael Jackson case, has earned us the contempt of the liberals and the reformist left, who groove on being the “morality police” when sexual matters are involved. The most extreme demonstration of this was when our comrades in Germany were excluded from a conference called “Socialism Days” hosted by Sozialistische Alternative Voran (SAV), the sister group of the Socialist Party in Britain, both of which are associated with Peter Taaffe’s Committee for a Workers’ International (see “No sex, no fun, no Spartacists!”, Workers Hammer no 190, Spring 2005). For the Taaffeites, anything that doesn’t conform to bourgeois society’s chauvinist and repressive values deserves political censorship. Outrageously, the Taaffeites slandered our position in the Michael Jackson case as “defence of rapists” and “relativising child abuse”! Whether explicitly or implicitly, much of the left was happy to jump on the “strange means guilty” bandwagon around the Jackson case, thus demonstrating their embrace of prudish bourgeois morality and their fundamental loyalty to the current social order.
Michael Jackson’s sex life was nobody’s business but his own. But not unlike the countless people branded “sex offenders” in this country who have committed no crime and hurt no one and yet whose lives are made a living hell under bourgeois laws and media hysteria, Jackson had to withstand the bourgeoisie’s attempts to railroad him for falling outside the norms of this society. Today, after his death, the media is replete with discussions over his finances, custody of his children and the raid on his doctor’s office for suspected manslaughter.
Black Democrat Al Sharpton is a political hustler who specialises in corralling black anger at racist injustice into support for the capitalist Democratic Party. But at Jackson’s elaborate, lavish and emotional memorial, he had a moment of honesty, stating: “I want his three children to know, wasn’t nothing strange about your daddy. It was strange what your daddy had to deal with.” The fact that the very gifted Michael Jackson was one of the entertainment world’s biggest sources of scandals and attacks was not an indication of what he did, but of the sick society in which he lived.