Friday, October 16, 2009

Michael Jackson: Hating the Man in the Mirror (part 3)

by today's Urban Chameleon contributor
Daresha Kyi

click here to read: part 1, part 2

Instead of marrying Michael Jackson, I’d become a member of his coveted inner circle. I’d be the one to pull his coat and tell him the real deal, the one to say, “You’re slipping, dude. You need help.” In my new fantasy I would save him.

Lisa Marie had the same idea when she married him. Unfortunately she learned the hard way how difficult it is to help an addict who hasn’t hit rock bottom and come out of denial. “In trying to save him, I almost lost myself,” she blogged upon learning of his death. “I became very ill and emotionally/spiritually exhausted in my quest to save him from certain self-destructive behavior…” I don’t envy her.

His family also tried repeatedly to stage interventions to help him and I’m sure that his friends Deepak, Liza, Liz and plenty of others tried to stop him. But like most addicts, Michael could be wily and shrewd. When confronted with his addiction he would deny everything and then became completely inaccessible. He’d just slip away. An addict with almost unlimited resources is truly dangerous.

So instead we all watched helplessly as he slowly morphed into a monster right before our eyes. Sometimes just looking at him made me want to cry. How could that beautiful “little brown baby with the sparkling eyes” have come to such ruin? If I think about it too long it still makes me weep.

Of course, it was more than just internalized racism that brought about his spiral into dark oblivion. The abuse he suffered as a boy, the loss of his childhood as the family breadwinner, his constant struggle with shyness, isolation and loneliness, his emotional immaturity, financial woes, depression over the child abuse accusations and addictions all conspired to make certain that Michael swam in a river of constant pain. It really should come as no surprise that such a tortured soul finally self-medicated to the point of extinction. While others were shocked by his death, I was surprised he made it to age 50.

Still his death drew the attention of the world in very polarizing ways. Some people focused solely on the destructive things of which he had been accused while others spoke only of his immeasurable talent. But no matter what your take might be on the man’s personal life, there’s no denying that Michael had profound love and compassion for the suffering peoples of the world. It was reflected through songs like “We Are The World” and “Heal The World” as well as through the innumerable acts of kindness he showed toward the sick and underprivileged. He set the Guinness world record as the celebrity who donated the most money to charities because it was vitally important to him to serve his fellow man. I believe he would want to be just as useful in death as he was in life. He’d want to make a difference.

Michael Jackson never did anything small. He lived on such a grand scale and was so much larger than life that he was iconic and archetypal even before he died. He was “the boy in the bubble,” “a perennial Peter Pan,” “the misunderstood artist,” ”the crazy genius” and his life story is now elevated to the status of a morality tale with lots of crucial lessons for us all:

For parents who push their children into the spotlight before they have a solid foundation, addicts who’ve convinced themselves they can “handle it” alone and anyone who thinks money will solve all their problems – take heed. And for those who suffer from internalized racism- Michael made it unmistakably clear how dire the consequences can be if the illness is left unchecked. He presented all us with a “worst case scenario” if you will.

So what do we do with this knowledge? Well, ever since President Obama hinted at his candidacy we’ve been discussing race in ways we never have before as a nation. We’ve taken some baby steps toward confronting the many ways in which race continues to affect us all with a level of openness and honesty unprecedented in America. Now it’s time to take it to the next level. Instead of firing angry rhetoric back and forth or tiptoeing around the minefield like we have in the past, let’s expand the dialogue here in America and then watch it spread throughout the world like Coke, McDonald’s, Starbucks and American pop culture.

You see, Black Americans don’t have a monopoly on internalized racism. It’s a global phenomena easily found in any society where people of color have been colonized or enslaved by Caucasians. It’s a sort of residual effect of being completely dominated by another culture. It plays out in Asians who have a portion of their eyelids removed to make them wider, Jews who hack off part of their noses to look more goyish, Latinas who straighten their naturally curly hair or bleach it blonde, and all brown skinned people who use bleaching creams to lighten their skin. You can see it in little girls like my cousin, who used to wrap a yellow towel around her head and pretend it was her hair.

Now if you happen to be Caucasian, I’m not asking you to feel guilty about the past. Guilt is actually useless, unnecessary and counter-productive. There’s no need for an apology either. What’s done is done. What we need is simple acknowledgement of the lingering effects of this painful legacy by everyone. It would help tremendously if certain people stopped dismissing and invalidating it because they don’t understand it, don’t want to deal with it or just don’t think it’s relevant because “it happened in the past.” Would it be acceptable to say that to a victim of rape or incest? Not a chance.

We all know that psychological and emotional traumas linger on in the human psyche and can have drastic effects on us unless and until we find the power to acknowledge, heal and release them. Michael made it as plain as the nose on his face how painful it can be to suffer from internalized racism and I firmly believe that bringing this particular aspect of his life to the forefront of our national discussion on race and calling it by its proper name would help us ALL tremendously. Those who suffer from it would finally know that the problem is not just in their heads, that something really is wrong, and most importantly, that they are not alone. Just like anorexics, alcoholics, and cancer survivors these people would find the support and strength in numbers they need to heal. And those who perpetuate it would be made conscious of what they’re really doing so we could stop it here and now. Think of it as another part of our new national mental health care plan.

Now that science has proven beyond a doubt that race has no basis in fact we need to discard it as the outdated social construct it is. Because we are 99.9% genetically alike, our differences are mostly cosmetic. Our mitochondrial DNA says that we are all the descendants of a woman from somewhere in East Africa, which means that as cliché as it may sound, Michael was right. We are the world. It’s time to act like it.

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