Composers and Collaborators, Duke Ellington (left) and Bill Strayhorn
The study of the African American collective consciousness can be one of great complexity. To say there is a collective assumes that we are all bounded by race exclusive of the black individual. No matter who we are or what we do as African Americans, we are all going to die black.
As I observe the goings ons surrounding pop singer Michael Jackson’s death, I find great dissimilarities between the verbal reflections of his Caucasian associates verses those of his African American associates.
Michael Jackson died of cardiac arrest, most likely due to the overuse of prescription drugs. There is not much controversy in that. So why all of the hoopla? Because there is much controversy in the way Michael Jackson live his life which was very let say ‘un-black’.
Historically, the African American community has not been very welcoming to gays and lesbians. Nor have they been very open or honest about mental illness within the community. The idea was that homosexuality and mental illness was something only white people experienced. Let me just pause here to say that I am in no way correlating homosexuality with mental illness, I am simply bring up two subjects that are taboo within the African American community.
When a black celebrity is gay, everything is usually done to erase the societal memory of that. Recently, when I visited the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History, there was an exhibit on African American composer Duke Ellington and his collaborator Billy Strayhorn also an African American and openly gay. Strayhorn composed “Take the A Train” but he was also friends with Martin Luther King Jr. and did much to advance civil rights. While I can understand that the Smithsonian exhibit was about music, there was nothing mentioned about Strayhorn’s sexuality which was an paramount part of his music and associations.
There is also Bayard Rustin, a gay civil rights activist that was gay. I have mentioned Mr. Rustin in previous posts. Rustin was a close adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. and organized the epic “March on Washington”. Do you hear much about Bayard Rustin?
Much of black leadership has come from the religious wings. The black church has been viewed as the cornerstone of the black community. This can be traced back to the days of slavery. Look at the leaders in the black community today. Michael Jackson is dead. Who shows up to the home of his family? Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson. A black person is wrongfully accused of something or murdered by the police who shows up to defend them Rev. Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson. Some innocent political cartoonist draws something about President Barack Obama that is perceived as racist (whether it really is or not) who leads the calls for the publication to fire the cartoonist? Rev. Al Sharpton.
Racial profiling, youth violence, and media racism can all be colored as political issues. So where does religion come into this? Why do we need these “reverends” to come out for us? They do a lot more than praying. They speak for African Americans as a race. This disturbs me because I feel that my views are often not in alignment with theirs. Incidentally as a little anecdotal side note, when GOP chairman Michael Steele or former Secretary of State Condi Rice were referred to as “uncle toms” by blacks and whites alike, you never heard so much as a peep out of the reverends. Black gays, conservatives, and the mental unstable are kept in the closet. The National Organization for Women (NOW) also keeps its mouth shut when conservative women such as Gov. Sarah Palin get mauled by the media. In both cases it is an awful but unfortunate double standard.
With Barack Obama in office, many of the religious reactionary and conservative African American voices are now empowered. We are seeing this with the passage of Prop. 8 in California and we are also seeing this with regards to the shaping of Black collective memory. Reverend Jeremiah Wright is being called upon for public appearances more than ever. Rev. Wright’s well known “God Damn America” speech hardly makes him one that should be consulted as a speaker on the black community.
I am by no means condemning the black church.
While I do not attend Sunday services, I consider myself to be “spiritual” . I pray and I read the Bible. I am just not a believer in organized religion. I am a proponent of the separation of church and state, which means separation of church and politics.The black church in my opinion has overstepped these boundaries.
Having a forum for black dialogue is important especially in the public arena. But there is more than one avenue we can take in order to achieve that. At the oresent moment, there is no balance. Something bad happens to a person of color, the media calls upon Rev. Al Sharpton to speak for all blacks. Sharpton will not defend a black conservative or gay, so where is the diversity in that?
During the election, it was clear that Rev. Jesse Jackson did not care for Barack Obama but he backed him anyway. Where is the freedom of choice in that? Jackson felt pressured to support Obama because they are both of color. I encountered quite a few African Americans that did not agree with Barack Obama. Hell, they did not even like Obama but they voted for him anyway. Colin Powell turned his back on the Republican Party and his long time friend Senator John McCain to support Barack Obama. Why would Powell do this when Obama has little respect for the military or the policies he instituted under the Bush administration.
When you throw legacy and collective memory into this, you are left with this sort of myth making on the part of our so called African America leaders. A famous black person dies and you see this rush to create some weird white washed revisionist black history. Oh, no Martin Luther King never cheated on Coretta. Writer Richard Write loved black women. Josephine Baker was not a lesbian and Langston Hughes was not gay. Michael Jackson was not “off the wall”.
I am bringing this all up specifically because the recent approach by the African American community on Michael Jackson’s legacy is to erase the fact that man while talented and an American icon, demonstrated behavior that was incredibly bizarre.
What I am hearing from the AA side is “Oh, Michael was not taking drugs…let’s remember his accolades.”
So that is what we are saying now about Michael Jackson
Is it just me or do anyone else recalled that most of the parodies an fodder made of Michael Jackson during his life came from African Americans like Eddie Murphy or African American shows like In Living Color…
WARNING THESE CLIPS CONTAIN EXPLICIT LANGUAGE AND CONTENT
So now Michael is suddenly normal again and in the closet?
Welcome to the Black Image Makeover Awards. I loved Michael Jackson the way he was and I will remember him for his talent as well as his faults. Perhaps if the African American community intervened more in his life and been helpers rather than turning their backs and making light of his personal situations, he would still be alive today. Now the leeches or ” friends” will come out claiming to know him for a lifetime even though all they did was share airspace with him for two seconds.
The press called upon Barack Obama to “say a few words” about Michael Jackson. WTF? Why? Would you have asked George Bush to say a few words about Michael Jackson? Didn’t I once see “W” do the moonwalk? You are only asking Obama to say something because Michael Jackson is black like Obama. On FOX News, Geraldo Rivera repeatedly emphasized how “post-racial” Michael Jackson was. WTF? Post-Racial?
Yes MJ was so post-racial that he dramatically altered his skin color and Barack Obama is so post-racial that the media feels he should comment on the death of a performer just because they are both of color.
Suddenly now Michael Jackson in death, is an honorary black person again.
In closing here is the video to my favorite Michael Jackson song and video “In The Closet”