Wednesday, February 16, 2011

2001 Heal the Kids Speeches, Transcript & Context

On February 14, 2001 Michael Jackson gave a speech at Carnegie Hall as he launched the Heal the Kids initiative of his Heal the World foundation, which aimed to promote loving relationships between children and parents. Below is the video of the coverage of the event by Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood and Extra, which highlighted his remark in his speech about the difficulty he had finding a date for himself as a teaser.
He formally launched Heal the Kids on March 6, 2001 with a speech at the Oxford Union (link to a Billboard article now on According to The Telegraph, the speech was a "spellbinding success" for the students in the audience, leaving them elated and touched, although the it was "sneered at, ridiculed and destroyed" by the press (Sayers, Freddie. Michael, you were a thriller. The Telegraph. 2001-03-09). Transcript with audio below, as well other authors/speakers expressing similar views about the impact of childhood and parenting on society. Also more information on forgiveness and his childhood as Michael urged people to forgive their parents as he had forgiven his father.

The Oxford Union website links to a video (audio of speech only) of a sped up version of Michael's speech. The video links below feature the same speech at normal speed, in four parts.

Thank you, thank you dear friends, from the bottom of my heart, for such a loving and spirited welcome, and thank you, Mr President, for your kind invitation to me which I am so honored to accept. I also want to express a special thanks to you Shmuley, who for 11 years served as Rabbi here at Oxford. You and I have been working so hard to form Heal the Kids, as well as writing our book about childlike qualities, and in all of our efforts you have been such a supportive and loving friend. And I would also like to thank Toba Friedman, our director of operations at Heal the Kids, who is returning tonight to the alma mater where she served as a Marshall scholar, as well as Marilyn Piels, another central member of our Heal the Kids team.

I am humbled to be lecturing in a place that has previously been filled by such notable figures as Mother Theresa, Albert Einstein, Ronald Reagan, Robert Kennedy and Malcolm X. I've even heard that Kermit the Frog has made an appearance here, and I've always felt a kinship with Kermit's message that it's not easy being green. I'm sure he didn't find it any easier being up here than I do!

As I looked around Oxford today, I couldn't help but be aware of the majesty and grandeur of this great institution, not to mention the brilliance of the great and gifted minds that have roamed these streets for centuries. The walls of Oxford have not only housed the greatest philosophical and scientific geniuses - they have also ushered forth some of the most cherished creators of children's literature, from J.R.R. Tolkien to CS Lewis. Today I was allowed to hobble into the dining hall in Christ Church to see Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland immortalized in the stained glass windows. And even one of my own fellow Americans, the beloved Dr Seuss graced these halls and then went on to leave his mark on the imaginations of millions of children throughout the world.

I suppose I should start by listing my qualifications to speak before you this evening. Friends, I do not claim to have the academic expertise of other speakers who have addressed this hall, just as they could lay little claim at being adept at the moonwalk - and you know, Einstein in particular was really TERRIBLE at that.

But I do have a claim to having experienced more places and cultures than most people will ever see. Human knowledge consists not only of libraries of parchment and ink - it is also comprised of the volumes of knowledge that are written on the human heart, chiseled on the human soul, and engraved on the human psyche. And friends, I have encountered so much in this relatively short life of mine that I still cannot believe I am only 42. I often tell Shmuley that in soul years I'm sure that I'm at least 80 - and tonight I even walk like I'm 80! So please harken to my message, because what I have to tell you tonight can bring healing to humanity and healing to our planet.

Through the grace of God, I have been fortunate to have achieved many of my artistic and professional aspirations realized early in my lifetime. But these, friends are accomplishments, and accomplishments alone are not synonymous with who I am. Indeed, the cheery five-year-old who belted out Rockin' Robin and Ben to adoring crowds was not indicative of the boy behind the smile.

Tonight, I come before you less as an icon of pop (whatever that means anyway), and more as an icon of a generation, a generation that no longer knows what it means to be children.

All of us are products of our childhood. But I am the product of a lack of a childhood, an absence of that precious and wondrous age when we frolic playfully without a care in the world, basking in the adoration of parents and relatives, where our biggest concern is studying for that big spelling test come Monday morning.

Those of you who are familiar with the Jackson Five know that I began performing at the tender age of five and that ever since then, I haven't stopped dancing or singing. But while performing and making music undoubtedly remain as some of my greatest joys, when I was young I wanted more than anything else to be a typical little boy. I wanted to build tree houses, have water balloon fights, and play hide and seek with my friends. But fate had it otherwise and all I could do was envy the laughter and playtime that seemed to be going on all around me.

There was no respite from my professional life. But on Sundays I would go Pioneering, the term used for the missionary work that Jehovah's Witnesses do. And it was then that I was able to see the magic of other people's childhood.

Since I was already a celebrity, I would have to don a disguise of fat suit, wig, beard and glasses and we would spend the day in the suburbs of Southern California, going door-to-door or making the rounds of shopping malls, distributing our Watchtower magazine. I loved to set foot in all those regular suburban houses and catch sight of the shag rugs and La-Z-Boy armchairs with kids playing Monopoly and grandmas baby-sitting and all those wonderful, ordinary and starry scenes of everyday life. Many, I know, would argue that these things seem like no big deal. But to me they were mesmerizing.

I used to think that I was unique in feeling that I was without a childhood. I believed that indeed there were only a handful with whom I could share those feelings. When I recently met with Shirley Temple Black, the great child star of the 1930s and 40s, we said nothing to each other at first, we simply cried together, for she could share a pain with me that only others like my close friends Elizabeth Taylor and Macauley Culkin know.

I do not tell you this to gain your sympathy but to impress upon you my first important point : It is not just Hollywood child stars that have suffered from a non-existent childhood. Today, it's a universal calamity, a global catastrophe. Childhood has become the great casualty of modern-day living. All around us we are producing scores of kids who have not had the joy, who have not been accorded the right, who have not been allowed the freedom, or knowing what it's like to be a kid.

Today children are constantly encouraged to grow up faster, as if this period known as childhood is a burdensome stage, to be endured and ushered through, as swiftly as possible. And on that subject, I am certainly one of the world's greatest experts.

Ours is a generation that has witnessed the abrogation of the parent-child covenant. Psychologists are publishing libraries of books detailing the destructive effects of denying one's children the unconditional love that is so necessary to the healthy development of their minds and character. And because of all the neglect, too many of our kids have, essentially, to raise themselves. They are growing more distant from their parents, grandparents and other family members, as all around us the indestructible bond that once glued together the generations, unravels.

This violation has bred a new generation, Generation O let us call it, that has now picked up the torch from Generation X. The O stands for a generation that has everything on the outside - wealth, success, fancy clothing and fancy cars, but an aching emptiness on the inside. That cavity in our chests, that barrenness at our core, that void in our center is the place where the heart once beat and which love once occupied.

And it's not just the kids who are suffering. It's the parents as well. For the more we cultivate little-adults in kids'-bodies, the more removed we ourselves become from our own child-like qualities, and there is so much about being a child that is worth retaining in adult life.

Love, ladies and gentlemen, LOVE is the human family's most precious legacy, its richest bequest, its golden inheritance. And it is a treasure that is handed down from one generation to another. Previous ages may not have had the wealth we enjoy. Their houses may have lacked electricity, and they squeezed their many kids into small homes without central heating. But those homes had no darkness, nor were they cold. They were lit bright with the glow of love and they were warmed snugly by the very heat of the human heart. Parents, undistracted by the lust for luxury and status, accorded their children primacy in their lives.

As you all know, our two countries broke from each other over what Thomas Jefferson referred to as "certain inalienable rights". And while we Americans and British might dispute the justice of his claims, what has never been in dispute is that children have certain inalienable rights, and the gradual erosion of those rights has led to scores of children worldwide being denied the joys and security of childhood.

I would therefore like to propose tonight that we install in every home a Children's Universal Bill of Rights, the tenets of which are:

1. The right to be loved without having to earn it
2. The right to be protected, without having to deserve it
3. The right to feel valuable, even if you came into the world with nothing
4. The right to be listened to without having to be interesting
5. The right to be read a bedtime story, without having to compete with the evening news
6. The right to an education without having to dodge bullets at schools
7. The right to be thought of as adorable - (even if you have a face that only a mother could love).

Friends, the foundation of all human knowledge, the beginning of human consciousness, must be that each and every one of us is an object of love. Before you know if you have red hair or brown, before you know if you are black or white, before you know of what religion you are a part, you have to know that you are loved.

About twelve years ago, when I was just about to start my Bad tour, a little boy came with his parents to visit me at home in California. He was dying of cancer and he told me how much he loved my music and me. His parents told me that he wasn't going to live, that any day he could just go, and I said to him: "Look, I am going to be coming to your town in Kansas to open my tour in three months. I want you to come to the show. I am going to give you this jacket that I wore in one of my videos." His eyes lit up and he said: "You are gonna GIVE it to me?" I said "Yeah, but you have to promise that you will wear it to the show." I was trying to make him hold on. I said: "When you come to the show I want to see you in this jacket and in this glove" and I gave him one of my rhinestone gloves - and I never usually give the rhinestone gloves away. And he was just in heaven.

But maybe he was too close to heaven, because when I came to his town, he had already died, and they had buried him in the glove and jacket. He was just 10 years old. God knows, I know, that he tried his best to hold on. But at least when he died, he knew that he was loved, not only by his parents, but even by me, a near stranger, I also loved him. And with all of that love he knew that he didn't come into this world alone, and he certainly didn't leave it alone.

If you enter this world knowing you are loved and you leave this world knowing the same, then everything that happens in between can he dealt with. A professor may degrade you, but you will not feel degraded, a boss may crush you, but you will not be crushed, a corporate gladiator might vanquish you, but you will still triumph. How could any of them truly prevail in pulling you down? For you know that you are an object worthy of love. The rest is just packaging.

But if you don't have that memory of being loved, you are condemned to search the world for something to fill you up. But no matter how much money you make or how famous you become, you will still feel empty. What you are really searching for is unconditional love, unqualified acceptance. And that was the one thing that was denied to you at birth.

Friends, let me paint a picture for you. Here is a typical day in America - six youths under the age of 20 will commit suicide, 12 children under the age of 20 will die from firearms - remember this is a DAY, not a year - 399 kids will be arrested for drug abuse, 1,352 babies will be born to teen mothers. This is happening in one of the richest, most developed countries in the history of the world.

Yes, in my country there is an epidemic of violence that parallels no other industrialized nation. These are the ways young people in America express their hurt and their anger. But don't think that there is not the same pain and anguish among their counterparts in the United Kingdom. Studies in this country show that every single hour, three teenagers in the UK inflict harm upon themselves, often by cutting or burning their bodies or taking an overdose. This is how they have chosen to cope with the pain of neglect and emotional agony.

In Britain, as many as 20% of families will only sit down and have dinner together once a year. Once a year! And what about the time-honored tradition of reading your kid a bedtime story? Research from the 1980s showed that children who are read to, had far greater literacy and significantly outperformed their peers at school. And yet, less than 33% of British children ages two to eight have a regular bedtime story read to them. You may not think much of that until you take into account that 75% of their parents DID have that bedtime story when they were that age.

Clearly, we do not have to ask ourselves where all of this pain, anger and violent behavior comes from. It is self-evident that children are thundering against the neglect, quaking against the indifference and crying out just to be noticed. The various child protection agencies in the US say that millions of children are victims of maltreatment in the form of neglect, in the average year. Yes, neglect. In rich homes, privileged homes, wired to the hilt with every electronic gadget. Homes where parents come home, but they're not really home, because their heads are still at the office. And their kids? Well, their kids just make do with whatever emotional crumbs they get. And you don't get much from endless TV, computer games and videos.

These hard, cold numbers which for me, wrench the soul and shake the spirit, should indicate to you why I have devoted so much of my time and resources into making our new Heal the Kids initiative a colossal success.

Our goal is simple - to recreate the parent/child bond, renew its promise and light the way forward for all the beautiful children who are destined one day to walk this earth.

But since this is my first public lecture, and you have so warmly welcomed me into your hearts, I feel that I want to tell you more. We each have our own story, and in that sense statistics can become personal.

They say that parenting is like dancing. You take one step, your child takes another. I have discovered that getting parents to re-dedicate themselves to their children is only half the story. The other half is preparing the children to re-accept their parents.

When I was very young I remember that we had this crazy mutt of a dog named "Black Girl," a mix of wolf and retriever. Not only wasn't she much of a guard dog, she was such a scared and nervous thing that it is a wonder she did not pass out every time a truck rumbled by, or a thunderstorm swept through Indiana. My sister Janet and I gave that dog so much love, but we never really won back the sense of trust that had been stolen from her by her previous owner. We knew he used to beat her. We didn't know with what. But whatever it was, it was enough to suck the spirit right out of that dog.

A lot of kids today are hurt puppies who have weaned themselves off the need for love. They couldn't care less about their parents. Left to their own devices, they cherish their independence. They have moved on and have left their parents behind.

Then there are the far worse cases of children who harbor animosity and resentment toward their parents, so that any overture that their parents might undertake would be thrown forcefully back in their face.

Tonight, I don't want any of us to make this mistake. That's why I'm calling upon all the world's children - beginning with all of us here tonight - to forgive our parents, if we felt neglected. Forgive them and teach them how to love again.

You probably weren't surprised to hear that I did not have an idyllic childhood. The strain and tension that exists in my relationship with my own father is well documented. My father is a tough man and he pushed my brothers and me hard, from the earliest age, to be the best performers we could be.

He had great difficulty showing affection. He never really told me he loved me. And he never really complimented me either. If I did a great show, he would tell me it was a good show. And if I did an OK show, he told me it was a lousy show.

He seemed intent, above all else, on making us a commercial success. And at that he was more than adept. My father was a managerial genius and my brothers and I owe our professional success, in no small measure, to the forceful way that he pushed us. He trained me as a showman and under his guidance I couldn't miss a step.

But what I really wanted was a Dad. I wanted a father who showed me love. And my father never did that. He never said I love you while looking me straight in the eye, he never played a game with me. He never gave me a piggyback ride, he never threw a pillow at me, or a water balloon.

But I remember once when I was about four years old, there was a little carnival and he picked me up and put me on a pony. It was a tiny gesture, probably something he forgot five minutes later. But because of that moment I have this special place in my heart for him. Because that's how kids are, the little things mean so much to them and for me, that one moment meant everything. I only experienced it that one time, but it made me feel really good, about him and the world.

But now I am a father myself, and one day I was thinking about my own children, Prince and Paris and how I wanted them to think of me when they grow up. To be sure, I would like them to remember how I always wanted them with me wherever I went, how I always tried to put them before everything else. But there are also challenges in their lives. Because my kids are stalked by paparazzi, they can't always go to a park or a movie with me.

So what if they grow older and resent me, and how my choices impacted their youth? Why weren't we given an average childhood like all the other kids, they might ask? And at that moment I pray that my children will give me the benefit of the doubt. That they will say to themselves: "Our daddy did the best he could, given the unique circumstances that he faced. He may not have been perfect, but he was a warm and decent man, who tried to give us all the love in the world."

I hope that they will always focus on the positive things, on the sacrifices I willingly made for them, and not criticize the things they had to give up, or the errors I've made, and will certainly continue to make, in raising them. For we have all been someone's child, and we know that despite the very best of plans and efforts, mistakes will always occur. That's just being human.

And when I think about this, of how I hope that my children will not judge me unkindly, and will forgive my shortcomings, I am forced to think of my own father and despite my earlier denials, I am forced to admit that me must have loved me. He did love me, and I know that.

There were little things that showed it. When I was a kid I had a real sweet tooth - we all did. My favourite food was glazed doughnuts and my father knew that. So every few weeks I would come downstairs in the morning and there on the kitchen counter was a bag of glazed doughnuts - no note, no explanation - just the doughnuts. It was like Santa Claus.

Sometimes I would think about staying up late at night, so I could see him leave them there, but just like with Santa Claus, I didn't want to ruin the magic for fear that he would never do it again. My father had to leave them secretly at night, so as no one might catch him with his guard down. He was scared of human emotion, he didn't understand it or know how to deal with it. But he did know doughnuts.

And when I allow the floodgates to open up, there are other memories that come rushing back, memories of other tiny gestures, however imperfect, that showed that he did what he could. So tonight, rather than focusing on what my father didn't do, I want to focus on all the things he did do and on his own personal challenges. I want to stop judging him.

I have started reflecting on the fact that my father grew up in the South, in a very poor family. He came of age during the Depression and his own father, who struggled to feed his children, showed little affection towards his family and raised my father and his siblings with an iron fist. Who could have imagined what it was like to grow up a poor black man in the South, robbed of dignity, bereft of hope, struggling to become a man in a world that saw my father as subordinate. I was the first black artist to be played on MTV and I remember how big a deal it was even then. And that was in the 80s!

My father moved to Indiana and had a large family of his own, working long hours in the steel mills, work that kills the lungs and humbles the spirit, all to support his family.

Is it any wonder that he found it difficult to expose his feelings? Is it any mystery that he hardened his heart, that he raised the emotional ramparts? And most of all, is it any wonder why he pushed his sons so hard to succeed as performers, so that they could be saved from what he knew to be a life of indignity and poverty?

I have begun to see that even my father's harshness was a kind of love, an imperfect love, to be sure, but love nonetheless. He pushed me because he loved me. Because he wanted no man ever to look down at his offspring.

And now with time, rather than bitterness, I feel blessing. In the place of anger, I have found absolution. And in the place of revenge I have found reconciliation. And my initial fury has slowly given way to forgiveness.

Almost a decade ago, I founded a charity called Heal the World. The title was something I felt inside me. Little did I know, as Shmuley later pointed out, that those two words form the cornerstone of Old Testament prophecy. Do I really believe that we can heal this world, that is riddled with war and genocide, even today? And do I really think that we can heal our children, the same children who can enter their schools with guns and hatred and shoot down their classmates, like they did at Columbine? Or children who can beat a defenseless toddler to death, like the tragic story of Jamie Bulger? Of course I do, or I wouldn't be here tonight.

But it all begins with forgiveness, because to heal the world, we first have to heal ourselves. And to heal the kids, we first have to heal the child within, each and every one of us. As an adult, and as a parent, I realise that I cannot be a whole human being, nor a parent capable of unconditional love, until I put to rest the ghosts of my own childhood.

And that's what I'm asking all of us to do tonight. Live up to the fifth of the Ten Commandments. Honour your parents by not judging them. Give them the benefit of the doubt.

That is why I want to forgive my father and to stop judging him. I want to forgive my father, because I want a father, and this is the only one that I've got. I want the weight of my past lifted from my shoulders and I want to be free to step into a new relationship with my father, for the rest of my life, unhindered by the goblins of the past.

In a world filled with hate, we must still dare to hope. In a world filled with anger, we must still dare to comfort. In a world filled with despair, we must still dare to dream. And in a world filled with distrust, we must still dare to believe.

To all of you tonight who feel let down by your parents, I ask you to let down your disappointment. To all of you tonight who feel cheated by your fathers or mothers, I ask you not to cheat yourself further. And to all of you who wish to push your parents away, I ask you to extend you hand to them instead. I am asking you, I am asking myself, to give our parents the gift of unconditional love, so that they too may learn how to love from us, their children. So that love will finally be restored to a desolate and lonely world.

Shmuley once mentioned to me an ancient Biblical prophecy which says that a new world and a new time would come, when "the hearts of the parents would be restored through the hearts of their children". My friends, we are that world, we are those children.

Mahatma Gandhi said: "The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong." Tonight, be strong. Beyond being strong, rise to the greatest challenge of all - to restore that broken covenant. We must all overcome whatever crippling effects our childhoods may have had on our lives and in the words of Jesse Jackson, forgive each other, redeem each other and move on.

This call for forgiveness may not result in Oprah moments the world over, with thousands of children making up with their parents, but it will at least be a start, and we'll all be so much happier as a result.

And so ladies and gentlemen, I conclude my remarks tonight with faith, joy and excitement.
From this day forward, may a new song be heard.
Let that new song be the sound of children laughing.
Let that new song be the sound of children playing.
Let that new song be the sound of children singing.
And let that new song be the sound of parents listening.

Together, let us create a symphony of hearts, marveling at the miracle of our children and basking in the beauty of love.
Let us heal the world and blight its pain.
And may we all make beautiful music together.
God bless you, and I love you.

More Information
Other authors who have spoken about the societal impacts of parenting and childhood, particularly in the U.S., and the importance of caring and sharing relationships:
* Dr. Gabor Maté has spoken about how disconnection in society and the loss of nurturing, non-stressed parenting had led to the rise in bullying and ADHD and other mental disorders. He has also spoken about the impact of adverse childhood events on adult health and as a root cause of addiction.
* Dr. Stephen Bezruchka has spoken about how "what matters most in producing a healthy, long life, is the nature of caring and sharing relationships in society" (link to his TED Talk). Like Maté, he emphasizes that the structuring of early life, particularly the loss of time parents have to spend with their young as the root cause of the rise in mental illness and poor physical health in the U.S. and addressing economic inequality would therefore improve health. His speech at the University of Washington's Population Health Forum, "Is American Driving You Crazy?", addresses in detail about how the income inequality has its most significant impact on societal health in early childhood and how "mental health is most profoundly impacted by nature of caring and sharing that our society engages."

In psychology, forgiveness can be seen as "the process that enables the forgiver to get on with his or her life unencumbered with the pain of betrayal."
Source: Enright, Robert D.; North Joanna. Exploring Forgiveness. University of Wisconsin Press. 1998. p.78.

Michael spoke about how his father Joseph had changed since his childhood. He said Joseph wasn't managing him during Thriller, had become calmer and was no longer the tough and bitter person he once was. (Boteach, p.79-80). Although still scared of his father because the "scar" of the abuse was still there, he said his father "is so different now. Time and age has changed him and he sees his grandchildren and wants to be a better father. It is almost like the ship has sailed its course and it is so hard for me to accept this other guy is the guy I was raised with. I just wished he had learned that earlier." (Boteach, p.88).
Source: Boteach, Rabbi Shmuley. The Michael Jackson Tapes. Vanguard Press. 2009. (Online fan editions are available without Shmuley's disrespectful and distorted commentary.)

In his Feb 10, 1993 live interview with Oprah, he also spoke about his childhood and said he forgave his father.
In the video on the left (part 2 of 8) they talk about his childhood, how it was lost due to his performing career, the current relationship with his family (5:48) and about his father (8:12). He said his father would tell him he was ugly when he was growing up (8:19). "I love my father but I don't know him" (8:27). At 8:45 he says he gets angry with father sometimes for what he said and "I don't know him the way I'd like to know him." He says his mother is "wonderful" and "perfection" and "I just wish I could understand my father." He said he had felt sadness as an adult about his past (9:40) and talks about his father beating him and fear of his father (9:52).

In the video on the right (part 3 of 8) says he forgives his father (0:20), "But I do love him and I am forgiving" and "I do forgive."

Monday, February 14, 2011

On Racism: Atlanta, 1979 Jet & 1984 Ebony interviews

Eldredge, Richard. Andrew Young reflects on friend Michael Jackson. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 2009-06-25.

* A former Atlanta Mayor and UN Ambassador, Andrew Young, recalled that he had to intercede in early 1980s when Jackson was handcuffed by a security guard in an antiques store:

“Back then, if you were a young black man dressed in blue jeans, a leather jacket, wearing sunglasses and asking to see a $2,000 bracelet, it was thought you were going to steal something.” The charges were dropped once Jackson’s own security guard arrived on the scene. “He wasn’t bitter. He knew it was all a part of the price of fame. It was really a class conflict of the time.”

* “He was a man of great vision. He was a genius at everything he did. But he paid the price for his genius."

* Jackson returned to Atlanta in 1993 to work with former President Jimmy Carter (who co-chaired Heal Our Children with Jackson, an initiative of Jackson's Heal the World Foundation) on an initiative “to encourage the immunization of all children” (part of Heal Atlanta).

*  Young spoke about meeting with Jackson two years ago before Jackson's death where Jackson discussed a “long-range” business plan that would give artists control of their music. Young said, "Through most of his life, he had been exploited and manipulated by adults. He wanted to take back that control."

Johnson, Robert E. Michael Jackson: Nearly 21 but has no marriage plans, dates but not steady, fears love-sick fans, talks about racism and develops own lifestyle. Jet. 1979-08-16. pp. 30-33, 60-62.

From p.62:
* Jackson recalled how badly the Jacksons were treated in southern cities:
The people told us just deal with it (racism) because that’s how the South is. That’s ignorance and it’s taught because it’s not genetic at all. I’m really not a prejudiced person at all. I believe that people should think about God more and creation because if you look at the many wonders inside the human bodies—the different colors of organs…and all these colors do different things in the human body—why can’t we do it as people? "

* “That (racism) is the only thing I hate. I really do. And that’s why I try to write, put it in songs, put it in dance, put it in my art—to teach the world. If politicians can’t do it, poets should put it in poetry and writers should put it in novels. That’s what we have to do and I think it’s so important to save the world.”

* About America’s racial problems, he said: “I wish I could borrow from other countries, say, like Venezuela or Trinidad, the real love and color-blind people and bring it to America. When you travel, you realize how different America is. God, I hate to say this but our people are brainwashed.”

* He recalled his travels in Dakar, Senegal. "I always thought that Blacks, as far as artistry, were the most talented race on earth. But when I went to Africa, I was even more convinced. They do incredible things over there…They got the beats and the rhythm. I really see where drums come from. It makes you think that all Blacks have rhythm….I don’t want the Blacks to ever forget that this is where we come from and where our music comes from. And if we forget, it (Black history) would really get lost. I want us to remember."

From p. 61
"An avid reader, he relies on Black historians to tell him the truth about the heritage of Blacks."

More of this interview, including the above comments and more on his views are included here:
Johnson, Robert E. The Michael Jackson Nobody Knows. Ebony. 1984-12. pp.155-158, 160-162.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Place in African American History, Media Bias - Tricia Rose on WNYC

Tricia Rose, professor of Africana Studies at Brown University and author, provided commentary honoring Michael Jackson's legacy, both musical and social, as the featured guest on the The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC radio on June 26, 2009. Audio here (28:08 min):
Below is a transcript featuring Rose's commentary with relevant links on topics touched upon in the discussion e.g. articles and videos of Jackson's 1992 trip to Africa. Rose successfully addressed misconceptions about Jackson as suggested by the title, including what can be considered 'medialoid' comments by the host Brian Lehrer. The show also included music and other guests calling in with their reflections, which were respectful of Jackson. Time in the audio clip indicated inside square brackets.

Brian Lehrer begins by talking about a NY Post spoof then makes other medialoid comments:
[1:55] Brian Lehrer: "people remembering how much they love Michael Jackson even it they came to dismiss him as too weird for consideration in recent years."
[3:01] BL: He was a pivotal figure in so called 'cross over pop' (then comments on MJ being more light skinned over time and a lot of people being "aghast at the implications.")
[3:15] BL: So where do you begin with Michael Jackson's place in Black history?

[3:18] Tricia Rose: Well I think that Brian, that is really such an important question because where he is situated in the history of African American music, culture and life is really where we should begin. Because too much of our public conversation so far since his passing, and frankly his commercial celebration and mockery in the mainstream media for the past 10 years or so really hasn't been interested in that right?
There really hasn't been enough interest in thinking about what he comes out of, what traditions he channeled, what kinds of black music he transformed, how he related to and drew from gospel, from soul, from rhythm and blues, and from jazz, from funk, to bring an entirely new formation of those musics to the modern world. Using new technologies to bring funk into an electronic era as it were. The way he took dance and transcended from it's earlier eras and brought it into new moments. I mean, he was really just extraordinary in that way.
Now in terms of this public what he looks like question, I'm glad you're asking it because I've been really disappointed watching the mainstream coverage of him because all they're really interested in is Michael Jackson as a strange celebrity, right. First of all, we must remember no one who has lived a life like his could possibly be "normal", whatever that would be. You look at all the major people in the world like this and they tend to be eccentric to one degree or another. I'm thinking here of the recluse, Howard Hughes, Hemingway was a bit odd at the end..There are a lot of people who come to these ways after being under so much pressure.

BL says the media has paid homage to him music and attention to the love for him around the world recently.
[5:35] TR: What I'm saying might seem one sided, but here's why. Because they have no choice, the level of outpouring of love, just to do proper news coverage requires that you address that. So I think that most of that energy is about figuring out how to include what people are demanding gets covered. Now that doesn't mean they don't want to cover it but I think there is this sort of freak factor that people are obsessed with. Now about his skin color...

[6:01] BL: Look, he was highly unusual, more than most world class celebrities.
[6:05] TR: No doubt, no doubt. But this is exactly why literacy about his past, about being raised in a house with maybe a 900 sq ft footprint, with 9 children and 2 parents in Gary, Indiana; in what was ultimately in that moment the way black communities were still segregated even though they were northern and urban. Where there was both promise and incredible fear that those changes for civil rights weren't really going to materialize, right, that particular historical moment. What the industry was like, what radio and entertainment was like in terms of segregation, what era he came up in. All of that and then this incredible global explosion that he precipitates, and to manage all of that.
There's this question about his skin disease and whether or not that is part of why his complexion was changing. Did he have vitiligo? A skin ailment where you lose pigment. He says it, other people say it, other people don't believe him. They think this is sort of racial self-hatred manifesting. I think he had vitiligo and I think part of his facial plastic surgery, which I think is quite evident as well, [claims by the media about the amount of facial changes by surgery may be exaggerated, see a picture of him in late teens beside a picture of him in his late 40s and a picture from 1979 beside a picture from 1997 (39th birthday, Copenhagen HIStory concert), from this post] is about matching skin color with features and an anxiety about the self. And about a sense of..I wouldn't say self hatred, but a feeling he would be more universal if he weren't so African derived looking. And that is a message of American culture for 400 years [link to Is Skin Color Still A Problem In Black America? Ebony. 1984-12. pp.66-68, 70. Includes description of issues faced by light-skinned African Americans e.g. lack of acceptance by other African Americans].
We need to ask when we look at Michael Jackson is what context did we set up to unleash what might have been his personal demons, but to create a setting where those demons would take hold. Because there's nothing unusual about him if you unpack his behavior and look and surgery and even his illnesses and his talent if you don't [sic] understand the history of race and its ideas and its social construction in American society. Once you understand that, he actually makes tragic sense. That's the part that I want to see. Connect him to yourself in that way and still hold him personally accountable for what he might be personally accountable.

[8:40] A listener comments that mentioning Michael Jackson's and Obama's race is an insult because his music knew no color.
[9:05] TR: Somehow to mention race reduces this great figures. But, if you are a person of color, or particularly an African American person, then I think you'd be very surprised to hear that race really doesn't matter. And that to somehow identify the hurdles that race creates is to somehow be an insult.
In order words, it's to say if Michael Jackson were not African American and if he were not bringing African American music, which is the other point here, to mainstream, he would have been, I argue, 2 or 3 times bigger than he already was. He did have to cross over. America has to be honest about this.
Louis Armstrong had to figure out how to make whites feel comfortable in an era of full segregation, all right. This isn't about saying that he could say whatever he wanted at any time, do whatever he wanted, it didn't matter that he was African American. He couldn't speak about certain significant truths about his life and maintain white approval. That is unfortunate. I mean, but the only way we get past that is to be honest and then say wow, what gift.
Now, Michael did do an amazing job of creating the perfect kind of cross-racial exchange. So I think your guest or what the person writing in was getting at is that he was able to not use race in a negative way but to speak through that suffering in a way that brought people together. He was a brilliant medium of that.

[10:34] BL: Of course he was pivotal in integrating MTV once upon a time when it was a bastion of White artist music videos because they just couldn't ignore Beat It because it was so good.

[14:00] TR: Part of it is we don't even know in many ways in this country what black music is. It's saturated everywhere in our popular landscape but in fact we don't recognize the hallmarks of it or know that tradition. And we've deprived our young people and even our adults of a certain cultural musical literacy. You can't share if you don't know what you're sharing and you can't exchange things if you don't know what you invented and what you didn't. So part of the problem here is that he was segregated and separated from that history as he managed what was either a self-imposed racial problem or a physical, technical, medical racial problem. And it's unfortunate the way we deal with celebrity separates people from these traditions.
MTV not alone, BET, we just need more knowledge. These artists are richer if we know their histories and pasts and relationships. The Beatles, Elvis, everybody. We need to know the history from which they come. Their talent is made even greater in the face of that.

[17:30] BL: Was MJ a precursor to hip hop in any way?
[17:41] TR: He's a precursor in many ways. He was one of the first to take break-dancing seriously and bring it to the mainstream in his early videos. And he was particularly inspired by the dance I think, partly because of where his gifts are and also the use of rhythm. But, you know, the rich polyrhythmic call and response layering in his music was so interesting because it was both ancient and modern in black musical traditions. So he was especially interested in hip hop because of it's modernity, it's focus on the technology about it. No one saw there to be this huge gap. Now he was not a rapper per say, but in terms of the kind of music that he wanted to inspire, there was a great connection.
Now there's a big gap and that is that hip hop is not known for it's love ethic. You know, hip hop as a genre struggles to continue the explicit focus on love as a basis for justice. It doesn't articulate that as well as the rest of the black musical tradition does. So when you really think about Michael just listening to him, my family and I, my husband who has been a Michael Jackson fan extraordinaire and my stepson who grew up on him entirely, has almost every single record; I realize how much Michael is about love and justice and the way those things are attached.
That's really the power of what he brought and I think in some ways he has a lot to teach the hip hop generation about how you can have a profound love ethic for humanity, for yourself, for relationships, for family and still be incredibly funky and cutting edge and exuberant. You see what I mean? It's not one or the other. And Mike is just a genius at helping us see that.

Leon Wynter, author of American Skin comments:
[20:41] It's funny the comments you just read about confusion essentially and race and culture and identity here...
[21:41] American music, American popular culture has always from the start been a miscegenated affair. Something that's always been developing but with the imposition of the fact that larger white American could not be allowed to opening identify. And the triumph, the importance, which I wrote about, I made so important in my book was: Michael Jackson was the first, sort of brought along the Jackson 5, the first black act, whose commercial might was so great, that literally a Fortune 500, a Fortune 100 company, Pepsi was willing to bet the farm saying that we have no problem pushing 100% identification, we don't care which kids have his poster on the wall...

[23:10] TR: To claim there are Black musical traditions does not mean they are exclusionary. That would be saying like there are European musical traditions, of course they borrowed from various parts of the world, but they have points of origin and they have identities. In fact, you can't make sense of the power of their hybridity and change in the world unless you understand some of their origins. That doesn't mean you hold onto origins as a purity factor, that's absurd. And that I would never argue.
There's no doubt many cross racial exchanges have built all the music of America. But it has elements of those traditions, particularly those fostered by people of African descent, have legacies and traditions. And those legacies and traditions have not just been randomly expressed. They have been cultivated and they have been institutionally despised.
Now individuals are not responsible for that but our institutions are. For example, you look at music departments around the country today. The study of African American music is quite limited in that tradition. The study of European music is rather extensive. So what we have here is a cultivated illiteracy of about these traditions which then force us into a conversation about the only way to talk about who we are is in terms that don't acknowledge the specificity of what we brought.
Now I'm all about the exchange, personally, publicly, politically, musically but I don't see one as antithetical to the other. And I don't see why we have to deny that power of the fact that soul, R & B, all the traditions that Leon mentioned, come out of mostly segregated black communities with traditions that are profoundly valuable. I think we can have both.

[26:48] BL: The BBC reporting from Africa today. It says in Nigeria, a presenter on Radio Continental broke down live on air and could not continue her program. A woman in Ghana burst into tears in the capital, [Accra, when told by a BBC reporter about the musician's death]. In 1999, he was presented with a lifetime achievement award by South African icon Nelson Mandela [at the Kora All Africa Music Awards. He first visited the continent at the age of 14 as the lead singer of the Jackson Five. Emerging from the plane in Senegal, he responded to the welcoming drummers and dancers by screaming: ''This is where I come from."] In 20 seconds, was he big in Africa?

* Rebuttal to the lies in the aforementioned BBC report about Jackson's 1992 Africa tour in this 16 Mar 1992 Jet magazine article "Eyewitness Report on Michael Jackson's Tour Inside Africa" and May 1992 Ebony magazine article "Michael Jackson: Crowned In Africa, Pop Music King Tells Real Story Of Controversial Trip" by Robert E. Johnson (photos by James Mitchell).
* Also, video footage of the Africa tour
and a report by the tv show A Current Affair which includes clips from the video, which they call "Michael's Video Scrapbook."

[27:09] TR: He was huge in Africa. He was a symbol really of how racial traditions can be transcended when they're negative but musical and cultural traditions can bring us together when we're connected. So he was big around the world for peace, for justice, for love and for the incredible power of the funk.