Taking Sides After Michael's Death


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A Pew poll shows 80 percent of black Americans are closely following the drama surrounding Michael Jackson's surprising death. By contrast, only 20 percent of white Americans are giving their full attention to the story.

And now Rep. Peter King, the white conservative Congressman from Long Island, is attacking the recently deceased pop star as a pervert.

He insists that the television networks and newspapers halt their frenzied coverage because Michael Jackson is a bad role model. "To give so much coverage, day in and day out, what does that say about us and our country?" said King. A good politician, the Congressman must assume there are points to be scored with his mostly white voters on Long Island who he hopes will see him as daring, bold even brave for speaking ill of the dead rock star.

Everyone can play this game. Actor Jamie Foxx knew the right applause line for his mostly black audience at the Black Entertainment Television Music Awards when he said: "We want to celebrate this black man," Michael Jackson.

In death Michael Jackson, the quintessential racial cross-over star, has managed to make a U-turn and become a racially polarizing figure. In the week since he has died he has become defined as a black superstar after a lifetime of trying to avoid just that kind of racial limitation.

Somehow he has lost the ability to blur the hard lines of race.

He is suddenly he being represented by masters of the tired game of racial victimization -- people such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. And they are enforcing a set of rules that says anyone who calls attention to Jackson's failings is a racist.

What baloney.

First of all, Michael Jackson did not do business with these men; he did join hands with Sharpton once to stage a demonstration and try to embarrass Sony to give him a better record deal. He used Sharpton like a voodoo doll to scare the record company's executives. That cynical ploy was all the use he had for Sharpton's brand of old racial politics. He used his blackness when convenient.

"He obviously didn't want to be black," Quincy Jones, the legendary producer, now 76, told Details magazine. Jones, who worked with Jackson on the mega-hit Thriller album, added that Jackson's claim to have transformed himself with skin lightening and plastic surgery was nonsense. Jackson claimed it was because he had a skin disease -- vittiligo -- that led to loss of pigment. Jones said Jackson was just making an excuse for changing his rounded, black male features into the more pointed features of a white person.

"I've been around junkies, I've heard every excuse" Jones said. "You are justifying something that is destructive to your existence. It's crazy."

The fact is that Michael Jackson demonstrated a lot of self-hate for himself as a black man. He is a very strange choice for any celebration of black racial pride.

Yet, the New York Times ran a straight news story on the front page last week making the case that after his death black Americans have "embraced Mr. Jackson without ambivalence."

The Times added that in interviews "some African-Americans said those most determined to discuss Mr. Jackson's failings were white." That was followed by predictable comments that had nothing to do with Michael Jackson but focused on the black fear that "the system likes to take black men down," in the words of one black person interviewed by the paper.

On the other side of the racial divide, the deceased Jackson is suddenly a target for white conservative politicians who can see polls showing that 70 percent of whites say there has been too much news coverage of Jackson's death. Only 36 percent of black people agree. Similarly nearly half of black people say there is too much attention to all the scandals that surrounded Jackson [47 percent] less than half as many whites [22 percent] agree.

The people who most want the spotlight turned on possible drug abuse, charges of child molestation and other scandals are older, mostly white people -- apparently a lot of Congressman King's constituents. Age is key here -- it is likely more important than race in the reaction to Jackson.

Only one in five people over 65 are interested in hearing about Jackson; in fact only 27 percent of people between 40 and 64 have an appetite for all the hoopla over Jackson, according to Pew.

Everyone is taking sides on the Gloved One.

My bottom line is that I loved much of his music and dancing. He was a tremendously talented entertainer. His early music with the Jackson 5 makes me smile; to hear "I'll Be There" now makes me nostalgic for the young Michael Jackson.

Is any of this really a racial issue?

The answer is absolutely no. It is a generational issue and there is a large difference between the racial make-up of older, mostly white America and young America where already nearly half of the under 40 population is made up of people of color. Those young people grew up listening to Michael Jackson and watching his videos.

The fact is that Jackson's music played on white and black radio stations, it played internationally.

He sang "We are the World," with an interracial cast that celebrated being red, white, black and every other skin color. The superstar had a 1991 hit with "It Doesn't Matter if You're Black or White." He did "The Girl is Mine" with Paul McCartney, a white man, and in the song the two of them are bragging about having the upper hand in a competition for a woman of unknown race. The point was clear -- race no longer matters in the ideal world of Michael Jackson.

Sad to say but the people who see profit in racial games are twisting his legacy of being a cross-over star with an intentionally indistinct racial identity.

The people who claim to love him and the people who say they can't stand to hear any more about him have apparently succeeded in one common goal: In death Michael Jackson is back to being black.

Juan Williams currently serves as a co-host of FOX News Channel’s (FNC) The Five (weekdays 5-6PM/ET) and also appears as a political analyst on FOX News Sunday with Chris Wallace and Special Report with Bret Baier. Williams joined the network as a contributor in 1997.