Reflections on the Death of Michael Jackson: His Legacy, His Influence, His Impact and YOU!
By Ashahed M. Muhammad
Yesterday, June 25, 2009, at about this time, between 4:30PM and 4:45PM CST, I received two text messages and a call from friends inside the UCLA Medical center informing me that the rumors were true, the musical icon, Michael Jackson, was dead at the age of 50.
I along with others had been following the news of his upcoming
I never met Michael Jackson, however, my deepest memory related to him was a truly memorable moment from my childhood.
In the late summer of 1983, I was chosen to be a "back to school" clothing model for a television show called "AM Chicago" hosted by a slightly overweight, yet gracious and professional Black female who at the time was relatively unknown. Her name was Oprah Winfrey. That show later became "The Oprah Winfrey Show."
In context, you all know that many of the morning and daytime shows, especially those geared towards women, have back to school fashion shows. I came to be on that show as a result of my mother answering the call for viewers to send a picture of their children in to the ABC 7 headquarters in
I was picked along with one Caucasian boy, a couple of Caucasian girls, an Asian girl, and I think there was one other young boy who may have been mixed, or Filipino. (I can't remember for sure, but I know he was not White because I remember him having darker skin.) The day before, we were given a choice as to what clothes we would wear and model on the show.
Two "boys" outfits were left. It was between a winter-grey and black camouflage pair of pants, some black hiking boots, a grey sweater and a white turtleneck ensemble and an entire Michael Jackson clothing ensemble, complete with Black parachute pants, red-zippered jacket, and a t-shirt with Michael Jackson's face on the front with the words "Beat It." I think also there was a pair of 'Mr.T' Black hi-tops, so that should give you an idea of the era we were dealing with. (It's fine, you can laugh. I find it comical now also, however, at the time, there was not much greater in the eyes of a youngster of my age than Michael Jackson and Mr.T.)
I thought to myself that it was obvious that I would wear the Michael Jackson ensemble, but it wasn't so obvious to the other White boy who thought he would challenge me. Can you believe that the White boy wanted to wear the Michal Jackson clothes?!?
Even at that early age, I had a high level of race-consciousness. Logically, to me, since Michael Jackson was a Black man, and if anyone was to dress up like him, clearly, it should be another young Black child.
I defeated the young White boy. He didn't really mount a serious challenge to me. I easily dismissed him at the time finding it ridiculous that he would even consider wearing those clothes. He was clearly disappointed and almost cried, but to his credit, he did not.
He acquiesced and wore the camouflage war clothes and I wore the Michael Jackson themed clothing. All those who viewed the "AM Chicago" show on ABC (Channel 7 in Chicago) that next day would never know what happened. Perhaps that was his first lesson in race-consciousness. I wonder if he remembers it as clearly as I do. Although he did not see it at the time, I actually did him a favor by assisting him in preserving his White heritage. Those who view the world through a racial prism clearly understand what I am talking about.
Later in my life as I reflected on that moment over the years, I came to realize that Michael Jackson did in fact transcend many of the racial boundaries established by those in media, including the musical realm. The desire of that young White boy to wear the Michael Jackson themed clothing actual demonstrated at that time, something that is undeniably true today that we see through the actions of many, many White boys worldwide who are doing their best to imitate all aspects of the Black man, in hip-hop, sports, and acting.
This demonstrates our power. It also shows the power that Michael Jackson held and what those unscrupulous outsiders who controlled his life feared which ultimately led to the tragic end that he experienced and that we are all witnessing.
That is another story, to be told at another time that must and will be told.
I will end with this. As many of us were impacted by his tremendous body of work spanning almost his entire life, the musical genius of Brother Michael will be missed.
While we reflect on the moments of happiness brought on by his music, dancing and other appearances, we have to be committed to making sure that the tabloids and unscrupulous media barons aren't allowed to have the final word regarding his legacy.
Remember, WE are responsible for telling the stories of our great entertainers, leaders and scholars - past and present. We cannot expect those who control the media, to accurately reflect who and what he was, and what he meant to the world in general and specifically, the Black nation.
(Ashahed M. Muhammad is a journalist, author, the assistant editor of The Final Call, and the executive director of the Truth Establishment Institute.)