The article The Quandary of Being Michael Jackson was published the other day on a Chico, California news site. The author, Professor Sherrow Pinder, lectured to CSU, Chico students about Jackson's desire for racial ambiguity, his identity as a black man, his skin color, plastic surgeries and other issues.
The article begins by stating that Professor Pinder grew up in Guyana in South America. She then received her doctorate in New York, and is now an assistant professor at CSU, Chico in both social sciences and political science. She is also the author of three books, all focused on racial identity. The article moves on to state that Pinder has "read voluminously about the entertainer". The following blog is a rebuttal to Professor Pinder's assessment of Michael Jackson.
1. Pinder states that Franz Fanon's idea (from his work Black Skin, White Mask) that the black man "not only must....be black; he must be black in relation to the white man." Pinder argues that this created a "profound crisis of identity' within Jackson.
Frantz Fanon: Fanon (1925-1961) was a French man who wrote about racism and colonialism. His works were largely ignored until he died, but as the racial tension was building in the U.S. in the 1960's, Fanon's books were translated into English and introduced to college campuses in 1967.
Fanon believed that the black man was not only required to be black, but be black in relation to the white man." "When the black man comes into contact with the white world he goes through an experience of sensitization. His ego collapses. His self-esteem evaporates. He ceases to be a self-motivated person. The entire purpose of his behaviour is to emulate the white man, to become like him, and thus hope to be accepted as a man. " Fanon called this process epidermalization; a sense of inferiority within all black men in relation to white men.
Pinder believes that this socio-cultural phenomenon created an identity crisis within Jackson. However, are we to believe that Jackson's ego collapsed, his self-esteem evaporated, he ceased to be self-motivated and the entire purpose of his artistry, humanitarianism and behavior was to emulate the white man?
2. Pinder argues that this "identity crisis" lead to what W.E.B. DuBois' believed was "double consciousness... wherein Jackson, like all blacks in America … has difficulties in developing his sense of ‘self’ in a culture that normalizes whiteness as an ontological neutral category and upholds the subject as raceless and unmarked." Pinder concludes that "whiteness is made synonymous with being human, and and blackness is 'the other,' a constructed identity that 'relies on an absolute contempt for the lived complexities of blackness ….'
W.E.B. DuBois' "double consciousness" is a term meaning that African Americans are "always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity." DuBois believed that it was difficult, if not impossible, for African Americans to merge successfully into society because whites would not allow it.
Michael Jackson was the most famous entertainer in the world. Jackson bought the Northern Song catalog and later merged it with Sony to become the Sony ATV catalog, THE most prized song catalog in the world. He was not only a successful music artist, but THE pioneer of short films, when others were making 4 minute videos. Jackson and Walter Yetnikoff laid the groundwork for breaking the color barriers at MTV. I could endlessly list the accomplishments and achievements that Michael Jackson incurred during his lifetime, but most of you already know. However, I strongly disagree that Michael Jackson felt that he was looking at himself through the eyes of others, and measuring himself by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and PITY. While Jackson was alive, the world showed NO pity for Michael Jackson.
3. Pinder believes that all of this lead to Jackson's quest for racial ambuigity, and that Jackson's "violent reconstruction of his face" only serves to underscore her point. Pinder states that Michael did not want to be white, but to be racially ambiguous, due to the racial divide between white and black culture. "By changing his appearance, Jackson was challenging the dominant notion that natural bodies and fixed identities are prearranged and controlled. It was for this reason that society had to resist, restrict or, worse, punish and humiliate him in order to safeguard the realm of normality", Pinder said.
Where is it mentioned that Jackson stated over and over that his father and his brothers teased him endlessly about the size of his nose? What about the physical and emotional abuse Michael suffered as a child? In all of Pinder's "voluminous" reading on Jackson, where is the mention of vitiligo? In addition, I do not for one second believe that Jackson had plastic surgeries on his nose to challenge the notion that natural bodies and fixed identities are prearranged and controlled. Michael's entire ethic was that a person could do anything, no matter what the circumstances.
Did Michael Jackson experience racism? Of course he did. One only has to watch Jackson's speech given in Harlem to know that he was deeply concerned about discrimination and economic disparity not only in the U.S., but worldwide.
But to generalize Jackson as a black man whose entire life is simply a parallel to white culture is quite simply, offensive. Pinder's belief reduces Michael Jackson to a man desperate for racial ambiguity simply to satisfy white society, when nothing could be further from the truth. It limits Jacksons' groundbreaking accomplishments, and worse, his individuality as a leader to a simple abstraction. And it doesn't take a PhD to figure that out.
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