What We All Owe ‘The Jacksons’

The late Michael Joseph Jackson was never the “King of Pop,” as his former handlers and media worldwide would like for us all to believe. He never was a king, and there is no such kingdom. He never recorded a “pop music” album. Although he certainly was a towering and influential figure in the arena of American popular culture, and made a few successful forays into rock, his art was actually soul—or R&B if you will—born, bred and nurtured from that womb of African American heritage called Motown.

Contrary to the headlines, Jackson also wasn’t a “legend,” or legendary. He actually existed. He was a living, breathing, tangible and fallible human being—a man of African descent who’d come of age in a country that sought only to tap his talent, “mainstream” it, separate him from his brothers and convince him that he was somehow different. The acceptable exception. That he was innately higher, bigger and better than the black family that was his foundation.

Those of us who grew up alongside the Jacksons, watching and listening to them since their debut in 1969 and before, however, knew better.

The world wanted to remake Michael in its own misshapen image. It put pressure on him not to look black, identify with or to embody blackness, but to seek to be more than that—as if this were something to aspire to. And in their own twisted, Hollyweird minds, to this day those responsible believe they succeeded. One year since the day that Michael left this life, the same forces that mocked him while he lived now want to control his legacy—to have the last word on him, like they do so many other African American men of mark.

But we cannot let them.

It’s up to black America to write his story, and to put an end to the phony “King of Pop” label once and for all because it’s nonsensical, and marginalizes him. A record industry publicist came up with the term, and true to the strategy, once actress Elizabeth Taylor said it publicly, media worldwide latched on to it and never let go. Regrettably, far too many of us, Michael’s own people, did so as well. It was all about not calling him a soul or R&B artist as he rocketed to international fame, making him more palatable to white parents whose kids wanted to idolize and bring home music by, God forbid, yet another amazing black male talent.

I’m sorry, but all of the Hollywood and media tributes ring eerily empty and hollow now, after decades of disrespect, damnation, duping and demonizing him. Now that he’s gone, journalists and networks have the nerve to posture themselves as honoring him?! It’s beyond disingenuous. If any of them truly loved Michael, they would have said so, and demonstrated it to him while he was alive. As for the prime-time specials, it’s all a bit too little, and too late. This sudden, belated respect is really only about the competition for viewers, ratings and newsstand sales, and none among us should be fooled.

How much can one man take? Well, now we know. Yes, Michael Jackson led anything but the perfect life, but the world incessantly picked at him, mimicked him, slandered and slammed him. They pulled on him, prodded, dissected and dissed him. Still, he just kept on giving. He kept on creating, producing, entertaining and asking for nothing but loving us in return. Yet just as surely as if they’d physically put a gun to his head, the public killed him anyway. We owe Michael, and we owe all of the Jacksons for selflessly giving us their childhoods, and for leaving us an unparalleled, 40-year library of song that will never be equaled.

They are an African American treasure, and as a community, we owe them even more for not protecting them.

The genius and brilliance that Motown produced will always be with us, no matter how hard today’s music industry tries to destroy it, as it’s similarly destroying itself. Michael J. Jackson was one black man of gentle soul and grace who very often wore military-style costumes because in this life, like a true officer, he’d earned each and every stripe. He did for all of us the one thing that he was sent here by our ancestors to do, and just like the original prince of peace, he was pilloried and scorned for it.

I shed a tear upon first hearing of his passing, but then I paused, and smiled knowingly to myself because I realized that all of Michael’s pain, all of the fear and all of the pressure, was over. Never again would he have to sing that “…pain and heartache seem to follow me wherever I go.” Thank you, Michael, Marlon, Jermaine, Jackie and Tito, for your so many sacrifices, and for the gift that is your music. I never can, or will, say goodbye.

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