Michael Jackson on race – and who he saw in the mirror

by Carmen Van Kerckhove, originally published at CNN.com

I got a call yesterday morning from a radio show producer asking if I thought it hypocritical for African-Americans to celebrate Michael Jackson as a black man, since it seems to many people that he spent most of his life turning himself white.

She stopped short of calling Jackson a race traitor, but the implication was clear. And it did get me thinking about the strange role that race played — and didn’t play — in Jackson’s life and career.

Race is never simple, especially when it comes to a complex artist like Michael Jackson.

Jackson often expressed in his music a hopefulness — “It don’t matter if you’re black or white” — about race relations that many found naïve. And yet had no qualms about using anti-Semitic lyrics in his song “They Don’t Care About Us” — “Jew me/Sue me/Everybody do me/Kick me/Kike me.”

We will never know what drove Jackson to alter his appearance so drastically during his adult life. Jackson said that he suffered from vitiligo, a condition that eliminates pigment from skin leaving white blotches. His dermatologist and others close to Jackson, including Deepak Chopra, have also said he had vitiligo, even though many people have expressed doubt about it, fueling debate over whether Jackson was “trying to be white.”

But what about the plastic surgery, the nose, the hair, and other obviously altered aspects of his appearance? On our blog Racialicious, Readers have been speculating about whether he was driven by internalized racism or something else: an extreme form of artistic expression, an obsessive desire to fix one’s appearance called “body dysmorphic disorder,” or a desire to erase any resemblance to Joe Jackson, his abusive father.

One of the best insights we have into Jackson’s emotional life is a television interview he did with Oprah Winfrey in 1993. He admitted then to being a perfectionist and added, “I’m never pleased with myself. No, I try not to look in the mirror.”

Whatever drove this apparent self-loathing, I don’t believe we can separate race from the equation. Race cannot be separated with precision from body dysmorphic disorder, hatred of his tyrannical father, or any potentially relevant theory being discussed right now.


Because if he hated his body, he was hating a black man’s body. If he hated his father, he was hating a black man. Race ran through it all; we cannot and should not dismiss its effect. Continue reading

Beyond The Twins: Another look at Revenge Of The Fallen’s Character Flaws

By Special Correspondent Arturo R. García


“It’s done in fun. I don’t know if it’s stereotypes — they are robots, by the way. These are the voice actors. This is kind of the direction they were taking the characters and we went with it.”
Michael Bay, as quoted by the Associated Press

This argument is, of course, sophistry. Bullsh-t, if you prefer. As was discussed over the weekend, Revenge Of The Fallen brought out the worst in Bay and writers Ehren Kruger, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. And the “twins,” Skids and Mudflap, have only become a joke. As you read above, Michael Bay was content to throw voice actors Tom Kenny and Reno Wilson under the bus for the uproar they’ve caused. And let’s not forget, this film just flat-out sucks.

fallenposter1 But in this story, it’s alleged that Bay had a heavier hand in making the twins “fan-friendly.” It’s also been explained in the novelization of the film that their inability to read extends only to ancient Cybertronian, rather than contemporary language. In the Film School Rejects story, Wilson, who is black, offered this slightly more plausible explanation for Mudflap’s behavior:

“It’s an alien who uploaded information from the Internet and put together the conglomeration and formed this cadence, way of speaking and body language that was accumulated over X amount of years of information and that’s what came out … If he had uploaded country music, he would have come out like that.”

Continue reading

The Brazil Files: Bela* or Bust (Introduction)

by Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

“So, are the girls hot?”

This is the most common question I receive from American men when I explain that I have been living in Brazil. These men come from all walks of life, are of various racial, ethnic, and class backgrounds, and of varying levels of education, exposure to other countries, etc. Long story short, this question seems to be on the minds of many men. It is, for better or for worse, a universal curiosity.

But in my response, I quickly put things in perspective.

“Well, for one, Ugly travels. I see just as many unattractive people in Brazil as I do in the States, and equally as many beautiful people on both sides as well. But I can safely say that the majority of women in Brazil work really hard to be beautiful, more so than the majority of American women.”

There are usually follow-up questions about body types (butts being the primary focus, of course) and clothing styles (are the clothes all skimpy?) and I handle those accordingly. The preoccupation with appearance in Brazil-related questions is to be expected considering that one of the primary portrayals of Brazil in the United States relates to beach culture, scantily-clad women, and sex. But when one takes the time to consider the reasons behind the high standards of beauty in Brazil, it is obvious that there is more to being beautiful and participating in the process of achieving that than just a bikini wax or the perfect nails. Beauty in Brazil is a complex matter involving gender, race and, most certainly, class. Continue reading

links for 2009-06-29

  • "Even at the age of eight, I had begun to believe that I was a monster too. That there was something horrible inside me that would mean I needed to be shot with a silver bullet or decapitated. My feelings had to do with a lot of things: family dynamics, pressure to perform, to be different, to be good. The fact that I had to move through the world as a mixed-race child. My troubled gender, and the trouble it put me in with my father and others. I think I recognized MJ as someone who was trying to deal with mixed-up feelings about race and gender too, and feelings of monstrousness. Maybe it was just in that one video [Thriller], which was the title track of the best-selling album of all time, but it’s a crucial point in his story. In a smaller way, in mine too. In many people’s."
  • "Soccer has generally developed as the preferred sport for blacks here, while rugby is the No. 1 sport for whites. But during a Confederations Cup match between South Africa and Spain in Bloemfontein, the multiracial crowd might have been the most integrated in a South African stadium, said Danny Jordaan, the chief executive of the World Cup organizing committee."
  • "I'm not attempting to excuse Michael Jackson's eccentricities – or his disturbing (and reportedly criminal) interactions with children – but explain that I felt I understood them. (As others have pointed out, the loss of – and search for – a childhood is what fueled Michael's metamorphosis and, now, much of the grief surrounding his untimely death.) I found him difficult to look at, and, eventually, listen to, not because he'd become a "freak" – a wholly unoriginal pejorative that has been long thrown around by more unsympathetic observers – but because he had turned himself into a canvas on which he painted his pain with the sort of haphazard brushstrokes specific to madmen and geniuses. I had to look away so as not to cry."

Open Thread: Ricci v. DiStefano

by Latoya Peterson

SCOTUS split 5-4 in favor of Ricci.

From the New York Times:

The Supreme Court has ruled that white firefighters in New Haven, Conn., were unfairly denied promotions because of their race, reversing a decision that high court nominee Sonia Sotomayor endorsed as an appeals court judge.

New Haven was wrong to scrap a promotion exam because no African-Americans and only two Hispanic firefighters were likely to be made lieutenants or captains based on the results, the court said Monday in a 5-4 decision. The city said that it had acted to avoid a lawsuit from minorities.

Michael Jackson is Dead

by Guest Contributor (and regular commenter) Joseph Shahadi, originally published at Vs. The Pomegranate

Michael Jackson is dead.

My reaction is complicated. On Facebook my high school classmates and I are mourning Michael Jackson and sharing memories. Claudia wrote, “I remember when someone brought the Thriller video to school and there was a ‘viewing’ before 1st period in the auditorium….was one of the few times I wanted to get to school early.” And Anissia wrote, “cannot speak right now. I will be up all night watching these new reports. Is it a dream?”And then, “woke up this morning thinking ‘What a horrible nightmare,’ only to turn on the news to see it is real.” My classmates and I are exactly the right age to get this news like a punch in the gut. We were the kids that made Michael Jackson a superstar. Whether we liked him or not (and we liked him) Michael was an integral part of our childhoods. And his passing, especially at a relatively young age, is an unsettling reminder of our own mortality. I can close my eyes and see the auditorium Claudia mentioned, but that morning was decades ago now. It is an odd feeling.

Still, my ambivalence about Michael Jackson was best captured on Facebook by two people I did not know in High School: Mark wrote, “(I am) not sad that michael jackson the pedophile is dead… whatever”. While Stacia wrote, ” (I am not) happy with this two-edged sword media coverage. Can we get a *day* before ya’ll whistleblow the sordidness? 24 hours, yo.” Continue reading

Racist Tweets Can Get You Fired

by Latoya Peterson

— davidle630: “In americas ghetto anacostia… If i get scared i will just yell chinese carry out! They will not shoot me.”

From the “none too swift” files, David Le was fired after his twitter messages about his slacking off at work and hating Anacostia surfaced.

The D.C. Department of Employment Services fired a contractor who was working with youths in the city’s summer jobs program after officials became aware of messages on his Twitter site that Anacostia is “ghetto” and that he was loafing at work.[…]

Reached through Facebook, Le declined to comment. In a Twitter message, he said he is Asian. The profile photo shows him shirtless and in sunglasses. Hobson said he began working on June 10 and was paid $13 per hour to oversee participants in the Summer Youth Employment Program.

In addition to the racist comments, he was happy to talk about how much he wasn’t working:

— davidle630: “thank goodness my boss is making things easy, he told me to pretend to do work so he can mark me down for hours…

— davidle630: “They decided to just pay us for 40 hours a week bc we are too lazy to sign in and out…”

Will I see you on Wednesday?

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

What is it about the combination of race and sex that makes it so explosive? How is race getting in the way of your relationships without you even knowing it? What racial dynamics are driving the unconscious choices you’re making when it comes to your relationships?

I’m going to share that and much more on a FREE CALL happening THIS Wednesday, July 1, 2009 at 1:00 pm Eastern time.

“Love and Sex:
What’s Race Got to Do With It?”

Sign up to reserve your line for this FREE call today

On this lively, information-packed 60-minute call, you’ll learn:

  • What “racial scripts” are and how they influence your interactions with others.
  • Why an increase in the numbers of interracial couples is NOT evidence that racism is declining.
  • What assumptions people are making about you right now based on the race of your partner.
  • How these assumptions can interfere with everything from the friendships you form to your career prospects.
  • Hidden influences you may not even be aware of and what to do about them.

Reserve your line for this FREE teleseminar now

Limited lines are available for this call, so you’ll want to make sure you reserve your spot right away.

Just click the link above, enter your information in the boxes on the page, and you’ll receive the complete call details via email.

We will record the call, but only people who have registered will receive instructions on how to download the audio recording. So even if you’re not sure if you can make the call live, register now!

This call is a content-rich preview to an exciting new program I’m launching called The Racialicious Experience. If you’re a fan of this blog, you won’t want to miss it! :)