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Monday, June 29, 2009

RIP Michael Jackson: Were You Ever "Comfortable in Your Own Skin"?

Sorry, faithful readers, for the gap since the last entry--I've been pre-occupied with family of origin duties.

I thought I'd weigh in on the death of the "king of pop," seeing as every other writer or commentator and their grandmother is doing so.

My first memories of Michael Jackson are this: I had a friend my age who in his preteens (perhaps because he had older sisters) was into the Osmonds (as white bread as they come) and the Jackson 5 ("bubblegum soul" I heard it called recently). I thought at the time I was much cooler than him because I, on the other hand, due to the influence of an older brother, was into the Monkees and Paul Revere and the Raiders. Looking back, my groups were much more prepackaged and inauthentic.

But Michael Jackson, bless his soul, became less authentic, in my view, as time went on. His transformation in appearance has been well-documented. While he would have had us believe it was entirely, or principally, due to an unfortunate, painful skin condition (or perhaps stemming from the Pepsi commercial fiasco), those hardly explain the racial and gender-related ambiguity that characterized his later life. His speech went from unremarkable to a babyish, womanish talk that was teased unmercifully by comedians (was he trying to imitate his idol and mentor, Diana Ross?). And the transformation of his nose, his lips and, yes, his skin tone certainly gave rise to the question: was he trying to become white?

There is a long history of products and promised "remedies" to help African Americans appear whiter: from hair straighteners like Afro Sheen (at least it was less painful than the process Malcolm X described in his autobiography!) to skin bleach products that often left users scarred and disfigured, such desires reveal the pain and disadvantage of being part of a visible, oppressed minority. It really is important , it would seem, to be "comfortable in one's own skin" to achieve happiness in life. Despite his fame, fortune, and undeniable talent and appeal, Michael Jackson never seemed to achieve it. Even his marriages and sex life were bizarre caricatures of authentic love relationships. Where his history of being abused by his father fits into this sad picture is hard to know in full.

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One postmortem account called Jackson something like the first African American superstar with massive crossover appeal. I thought that inaccurate. In music, there was Nat "King" Cole (who might arguably have sold his racial heritage to achieve that appeal to whites). In sports, there were Jesse Owens, Joe Louis, Willie Mays, and Wilt Chamberlain, to name a few.

Michael DID break down racial barriers, however. Before Thriller, MTV--the fledgling music television cable network--was refusing to play videos by almost all black artists (Rick James' "Superfreak" being one notable example). MTV's excuse was that they were a "rock" music station, not a "rhythm and blues" or "soul" station. Jackson blurred those racially determined categories, especially by collaborating with white rock guitarist Eddie Van Halen on "Beat It." He also knocked the socks off the production values of previous videos so that MTV could not ignore his work and remain viable in the marketplace.

Rest in Peace, Michael Jackson. May you serve as a warning to all, of any race, to learn to accept yourself as God made you, and demand that the world do the same. And may you, in the next life, find that self-acceptance which you so movingly sought in the song "Man in the Mirror."

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

88 year old white supremacist tries to go out in a blaze of glory

So the shooter at the Holocaust museum was a well-known white supremacist from way back. James von Brunn is the nut's name who served 6 years for trying to kidnap the Federal Reserve's board members several decades ago.

I don't suppose it's sheer coincidence that the security guard killed yesterday, Stephen Johns, was black. Von Brunn is said to have decried "the browning of American" and saw Jews as a threat to the "white gene pool."

Between this and the shooter of the Kansas abortion provider, it gives the lie to the idea that crazy cranks are just harmlessly spouting angry, hateful words. Behind the words, and thoughts, too often, are hateful, hurtful, deadly actions. Sad.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

black racists?

I recommend a thought-provoking blog entry by prominent black blogger "Field Negro" on the question of if only whites can be truly "racist," or if blacks can properly be labelled such, as well. field-negro.blogspot.com/2009/06/racist-by-any-other-name.html
He correctly says most blacks say only whites qualify, since you gotta be in a position of power over those you're prejudiced against to rightly be called racist, while the great majority of whites label as "racist" anything they perceive to be anti-white coming out of a nonwhite's mouth.

Monsieur Field Negro rightly bypasses the rhetorical issue and gets to the heart of the matter--who holds power to make others yield to one's will. One part I took slight issue with--when the eminent blogger says "All those former colonies are now being led by black people"--neocolonialist critique and global systems theory would both claim, of course that the black "leaders" of these countries are still under the whip of white masters of the global economic and political realms.

The Small Black Starting MLB Pitcher Fraternity

Another Yahoo! editor, sports guy Tim Brown, wrote a nice piece on phenom David Price and superstar C.C. Sabathia's first head-to-head meeting sports.yahoo.com/mlb/news;_ylt=AvF_h8_KcvY6HLZncqLLVtIRvLYF?slug=ti-sabathiaprice060509&prov=yhoo&type=lgns. David Price is paraphrased as saying he felt different from all his teammates growing up. Evan all the players on opposing teams, too. "It's tough to get started, and even tougher to stay out there" is how he puts the challenge of sticking out as the only African American.

The author makes a bit too much of the "being a model to those in the inner city" thing, in my opinion (First off, who is HE to say what their role should be? And is the assumption that every potential black major leaguer is in the inner city? None in the suburbs, the medium sized towns, or the rural South?)

The dearth of African American starting pitchers is startling, though. Earlier in my lifetime, Bob Gibson, Ferguson Jenkins, Vida Blue, and a little later, Dwight Gooden and Dave Stewart, to name a few, were dominant, year in and year out. From the beginning of the color line break, guys like Don Newcombe and ageless Satchel Paige were impressive. But for the past 10 years or so, you can count the number of black starting pitchers on your hands. And that's out of 30 teams, 150 slots plus injury fill-ins, probably 180 to 200 in any given year. Only 5%, if that, are non-Hispanic blacks.

Interracial dating dilemmas

Arnold Chao, Yahoo! dating editor (how does one get a job like that?!) wrote a good piece on four common obstacles in interracial dating. (http://dating.personals.yahoo.com/singles/relationships/24298/dating-101-dealing-with-the-race-factor)
First: dealing with what he charitably calls "traditionalists" that think people ought to "stick with their own kind" (my paraphrase). Chao's advice is good: we need acceptance, so gotta surround ourselves with friends who are approving, to counter the inevitable negativity.I'd say "celebrate," not "tolerate" diversity, though, as Chao puts it)
Second: dealing with media stereotypes (playing it safe so as not to offend). Recognize it for what it is--a crass commercial decision.
Third: dealing with bigoted family members. Stand up to them, firmly, and demand respect from teh get-g0, or you'll regret it, eating away at you.
Last: dealing with "gazers"--cope by not assuming they are offended, and pretend they see you and your partner as notable celebs, instead! (nice!)

One last notable observation from a table Chao doesn't comment much on--the gender difference in interracial preferences. White males are 3 times more likely to have an Asian spouse than are white females (530,000 vs. 174,000). And black males are more than 5 times as likely to have an Asian spouse than are black females (34,000 to 6,000). Finally, and less surprising to me, though just as troublesome, black males are 2 1/2 times as likely to have a white spouse as are black females (286,000 to 117,000). Color blind my gluteous maximus!