A brother who I deeply admire once argued with me about Michael Jackson. He argued passionately that Jackson was pure. I argued that he was confused, an adult chasing his childhood. He argued that MJJ was genius. I agreed but added that geniuses can also be troubled and problematic.
I was bothered by the clear ambivalence he felt about his blackness.
I celebrated his generosity.
I deplored some of the reported business dealings. At the end, he’s coming out ahead but things were so shaky when he was alive. Would he have agreed to the tour without the cash flow issues? Why was he in business with hustlers and a pornographer?
I saw elements of profound manipulation. The timing of the marriage to Lisa Presley. The revolving characters – Nation of Islam, ex-gang members – that served their purpose then were quickly discarded.
But hearing other black men celebrate MJJ in the same way has made me wonder what they would have done about a talented, effeminate man had he been placed in their midst, without celebrity, genius or trappings?
Does our brothers’ embrace of Michael Jackson represent a shift? To a broader idea of what it is to be a man? An embrace of the feminine as well as the masculine? Or is it exceptionalism. Did Jackson’s music and life write something on their hearts that transcended macho ideals and forgave deficits that wouldn’t be easily forgiven in others.
What would it mean to accept Jackson in his complexity with his warts and contradictions? To acknowledge that he was both sinner and sinned against. I still have a hard time with the idea of Jackson still playing with kids after the first trial. Wouldn’t he go to the end of the earth to avoid even the appearance?
Sharpton got it right. It was strange what Jackson had to deal with. Strange for us, too.