Michael Jackson the Trail Blazer

michael-jackson-fotoI was already in a somewhat somber mood on the morning of June 25th after hearing on the radio that Farrah Fawcett had lost her battle with cancer. Of course, I didn’t know her, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t be saddened, especially after having seen the documentary she produced—“Farrah’s Story”— which provided a window into what had been her world for the past couple of years as she battled her disease.

I came away hoping she’d win the fight and admiring her more for the courage she showed in revealing her unadorned self on screen. But I also came away feeling a little more determined to fight for the right to healthcare. Farrah Fawcett’s documentary made it clear that money and privilege give you entre into a world of healthcare that few ever see. The extensive treatments possibly added a couple of years to her life.

Then at about 2:30 p.m. on the same day, I was making a presentation to a group of business managers about the benefits of using a new business software application. Pretty much everyone in the room, myself included, seemed to want to be elsewhere. I was getting the normal amount of grumbling and resistance you get when you’re trying to teach old dogs new tricks when suddenly one of the managers in a jovial, upbeat tone interjected, “Hey, everybody, Michael Jackson suffered cardiac arrest and is being taken to the hospital.” Then she added, “Just thought I’d throw that out to bring some levity to the room.” For a fraction of a second, there was silence — then a bit of laughter. I didn’t get the joke. I asked if she were serious. She said, “Yes.” Moments later, the meeting concluded and I was in my car tuning the radio to the news station.

The LA Progressive is a political and social justice site. We generally refrain from posting articles about the entertainment industry. In fact, our original intention was to handle the story of Michael Jackson’s and Farrah Fawcett’s passings like any other entertainment piece – leave them for mainstream media.

Obviously, we reconsidered. These people were not just entertainers, they were multifaceted, complex human beings just like anyone else. I was particularly shaken by the insensitivity of my colleague but on reflection it occurred to me that Michael Jackson’s life had not had the same impact on her as it had had on me. So I thought I’d share.

Michael Jackson had a significant impact on the battle against cultural apartheid, particularly in the entertainment industry. He may have been an insignificant entertainer to the woman making the insensitive remark at my meeting, but to most in the black community, he symbolized so much more.

We live in a country that is, for the most part, just as culturally, ethnically, and racially segregated as it was when American apartheid was government sanctioned. If this was a harmless phenomenon, I wouldn’t be writing about it. But there’s been enough research and conclusive evidence to suggest that segregation is harmful to American society. By having the walls that separate us chipped away, ever so slightly, we all benefit.

As much as I would like this to not be true, the entertainment industry often has as much or more of an impact on American’s behavior as our schools. For this reason, changes in that industry have far-reaching effects just as maintaining the status quo in that industry has had far-reaching effects.

I was born the year before Michael Jackson was born. In other words, Michael Jackson’s image, music, reputation—everything about him—has been a part of my world since I was 12 or 13 years old.

Now comes the part that I find difficult to explain to people who are not black although Asian Americans often understand this. During the first 12 years of my life, I saw tens of thousands of images—perhaps hundreds of thousands—on television, in magazines, in books, in the movies representing political figures, judges, teachers, doctors, police officers—even my paper dolls and Barbie dolls—the list can go on for several pages. I’m sure you’re getting the picture. I rarely saw a person who looked like me anywhere other than in my neighborhood. As a child, I couldn’t understand the damaging effect that could have.

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As a middle-aged woman, I can see the negative impact that has on all aspects of society. Even today, there are areas of society where it is quite “normal” to not see faces of color reflected. Up until January 20, 2009, it was quite normal to not see a face of color in the White House. The imagery that is promoted in commercials, in movies, books, magazines helps to normalize. We don’t find it odd that there continues to be huge racial and gender disparities in the upper echelons of management in almost all industries in America. We accept this and I contend that our acceptance is partly due to the steady diet of images bombarding us from the media that tell us what to believe about people we don’t know.

Michael Jackson was a trail blazer who opened doors to the benefit of many. He was the first to integrate MTV. It’s true I don’t watch MTV but I don’t ride the buses of Montgomery, Alabama either. Still, I believe I have benefitted by the work done to integrate both.

Sharon Kyle
Publisher, LAProgressive

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Comments

  1. cynthia Cannadyc says

    With all due respect, as an older woman of color, I ask you to think a bit about the comparison you have made between MTV and the Montgomery Boycott. Someone needs to help you get some historical context. To even remotely compare the two, or to, as Al Sharpton did, say that Jackson paved the way for Obama, is a sign of complete insensitivity to the struggle for Civil Rights in our country. It demeans Martin Luther King and those who died and suffered for our rights. MTV is a place where young black women are demeaned and treated like chattal. Light skinned woman frolic obscenely with gansta rap men dressed like prisoners, always with a color differential (darker men, light women). Michael Jackson himself, fo rall his talent, was deeply confused about his skin. He may also ahve been a pederast, taking advantage of young boys. He was clearly a drug user, not street drugs, but fancy drugs that the rich can pay for, engaging physicians full time to travel with him, or so it seems. Even if all of this negative information about Jackson is untrue, and he was pure as the driven snow, (pardon the pun), there is still no way to compare integrating MTV with integrating an entire region and liberating an entire people at the risk of life and lynching. Please get some perspective. Honor your history.

  2. says

    @Denise Lynn Banks, thank you Denise. Your comments are truly appreciated. Many in the non-black world are not aware of the somewhat sizeable number of blacks who don’t have the facial features, hair and skin color the dominant culture in America has attributed to being “Black”. The black community, however, is more aware of the many shades of blackness. I’ve often thought that black people who are not obviously black must have a challenging life. Thank you for sharing.
    .-= Sharon Kyle´s last blog ..LGBT Reception at the White House =-.

  3. says

    Being of mixed heritage, non-Blacks don’t readily recognize me as Black unless I tell them. This has given me a “unique” position out in the world, where I’ve gotten to be the proverbial fly on the wall – a burden more than a perk, I assure you. This means that things are said in my presence that if I were an obvious Black, never, ever would. Oh! But don’t think I don’t check ‘em when they spout the off-color comments in my presence! I absolutely do. And when the automatic apology ensues I check ‘em again. “Please. Don’t apologize to me because you just got CAUGHT at racist thinking. Apologize for THINKING the way that you do. Then get about the business of CORRECTING your thinking!” This writer, Sharon Kyle, an “obvious” Black woman was not only insulted by her colleague, but her heritage & culture was blatantly disregarded for the sake of a flippant, insensitive, off-color remark. Kudos to you Sharon, for breaking with The Progressive’s tradition, and making this most important experience a story to share with us all. I applaud you!

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