[22 July 2009]
Michael Jackson left us—all of us—the harmonies, melodies and complex beats to which he popped, dropped and locked it like a Dogon dancer in the plains and cliffs of Mali. One imagines that the little brown boy that visited Senegal with his folks in the early seventies left with more than artificial antiques. No sooner than he could debark from the plane, Michael danced with the people who assembled to sing and dance to welcome the Jackson 5 on their first trip to The Continent.
Yet, we fear this power and far too often demonize power out of fear. We fear the creativity and genius necessary to penetrate through a world where, for example, it really, really matters if you’re black or white.
All the children of the world should be
Lovin’ each other wholeheartedly!
Yes it’s alright,
Take my message to your brother and tell him twice.
Take the news to the marchin’ men
Who are killin’ their brothers, when death won’t do.
Yes, we’re all the same:
Yes the blood inside my veins is inside of you.
Would the children of Iraq believe that an American would sing like this if not for Michael Jackson? Would children in any of the regimes that Michael Jackson’s government toppled around the world believe that any American perceives anything like a global community of humanity? That we’re all brothers and sisters? That “humanity,” as the Dalai Lama says, “is interconnected,” that the the blood inside my veins is inside of you? Can YOU feel it?
The quality of air we breathe matters if we’re Black, white, red, yellow or brown. The quality of water we drink matters if we’re Black or white, rich or poor gay or straight across religions across the globe. The access we have to democracy heavily depends on our (perceived) race, gender and class.
Many voices joined Michael Jackson’s chorus when he raised his voice to say that our identities, our diversity only matters insofar as we celebrate difference, which admittedly, takes courage, reasoning and reinforcement. Michael’s beats provided many the necessary fodders to consider and perhaps appreciate difference and individuality as a means to respecting ourselves as local and global communities.
I am glad that Michael Jackson didn’t ‘color inside the lines’, and instead dared to express himself. Though saddened by the ill-takes of his project, it is clear that Michael made every attempt to map out this vision of inclusiveness by crossing all the lines. The same could be said for all our martyrs. Michael had no choice, and had to either be grand- like on stage- or grounded- like a for real human being. “Did you ever stop to notice?” He had difficulty managing both.
Naturally, an artist will spend a great many energies crossing the two. With so much strife in humanity, the mirror is at times tarnished, or even all-out grayed. And then, there are those, like knowing torture under a dictatorship, or suffering chronic poverty in a wealthy nation, who continue to say that freedom is a choice. Their voices, speak to us and say that freedom should not be taken for granted. They look to us and encourage us to come nearer to one another, give each other the benefit of the doubt. And when in doubt, they urge us not to give into fear, to stand courageously and believe in ourselves.
Few other voices speak with such care. Certainly, the plethora of authority figures in a child’s life may operate more from sheer instinct than careful attention to care. Parents, teachers, aunties, uncles, nannies, and friends might come to play such roles as to dictate behavior, crush expressiveness, and react on fear- not love. Discipline itself takes reinforcement, let alone the discipline to practice freedom and appreciate freedom with reverence.
Instead, many of us are slaves to our roles. In our careers, we do what makes most sense, and we pretty much lead our days by instinct based on ‘what already makes sense’. We are conditioned not to think too deeply about the world around us, taking most actions and reactions for granted- ignoring cause and effect.
We easily accept that it matters if we’re Black or white, boy or girl, rich or poor. There are periods in our history when that’s all that mattered. Nonetheless, we still leverage our lives to chance; just by chance some were born broke, and others filthy.
Michael Jackson said that all that doesn’t matter, if we can learn to respect one another. “What about all the things…” Michael calls out in a whimpering refrain before he starts shouting, which, in the video to Earth Song, reverses the damage we’ve done. That damage includes dumping on the globe, mining for resources, and trampling out indigenous people.
All of those things are happening right now and out government is in a Pandora of ways implicated heavily therein. Yet, as consumer citizens with no moral leadership, we have little voice in these matters. And Michael shouted. Michael shouted out loud: “Did you ever stop to notice, all the children dead from war? Did you ever stop to notice, the crying Earth, the weeping shores?!?” Well, did you?