Thursday, June 25, 2009

get inside the heads of non-white people

Michael Jackson
(1958 - 2009)

How do those in the oppressed group answer the question "who am I?" Albert Memmi writes that the oppressed internalize an identity that mirrors or echoes the images put forth by the dominant group. People come to accept and believe the images put forth about their group as part of their natural definitions of self. Moreover, in questioning their own positions in society, members of the oppressed groups often believe that the source of their problems lies not in the structural relations in society, but in themselves, in their own inadequacies and inabilities to be anything other than what the dominant image describes.

--Frantz Fanon,
The Wretched of the Earth (1961)

At a certain point in their existential experience, the oppressed feel an irresistible attraction toward the oppressor and his way of life. Sharing this way of life becomes an overpowering aspiration. In their alienation, the oppressed want at any cost to resemble the oppressor, to imitate him, to follow him.

--Paulo Freire,
Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968)

I remember Michael Jackson for the internalized racism that he seemed to increasingly display, and for how the incredible light in his young eyes gradually faded as he grew older, perhaps in part as a result of that burden.

I remember him more, though, for so much amazing music, and for what was even more amazing to me, the many ways that he made his body move.


  1. thanks for posting this critical but respectful note on mj. so sad, but so true.

  2. I followed his oh-so-public transformation from a lovely and hopeful young black man to such a sad and self-hating man who seemed to want to be a white woman. Perhaps that self-image was less threatening in his mind? Who knows? I'll miss him but I'm glad he gets to rest in peace, he deserves it.

  3. As another site pointed out, he seemed to be the most famous case of Body Dysmorphic Disorder that was never diagnosed.
    I'm not making excuses for his behavior but I think a great deal can be explained by his dad's physical, mental and verbal abuse.

  4. Absolutely, pocketlama - and Macon. A fascinating and tragic case study in self-hatred, fear and ...shockingly immense love for all that was human in others.

  5. Only a few of his songs I liked:

    "I Wanna Be Where You Are"


    "Get on the Floor" (a great dance song!)

    I'm not surprised that one of my favourite websites, Awful Plastic Surgery, paid him farewell

  6. I'm having the darnedest time writing today...

    Correction to my previous comment:

    I liked much of Michael Jackson's (and the Jackson 5's) music. Here are a few songs of his (theirs) that I like a lot:

  7. There is a Michael Jackson of my child hood that I feel died a long time ago, when he was still alive. Now that Jackson will live on through the wonderful music that he made.

  8. Maybe MJ did internalize white racism. . .but so what? That's a good explanation for his bizarre transformation into a white woman.

    However, his ongoing belief that it was ok for him to and I quote "share his bed" with other children is WRONG, and totally unacceptable.

    The outpouring of support for this PEDOPHILE is absolutely disgusting!

    Farah Fawcett is hero because of her cancer struggle. MJ? Not so much. . .

  9. @JackoIsNoHero:

    We are not giving a pass for pedophilia. We are mourning the passing of the old Michael Jackson, before all the accusations of pedophilia. Many of us mourning him also ridiculed him during his downfall (repeated accusations of child molestation, plastic surgery, other questionable acts), but to people who are probably older than you, Michael Jackson's music made much more of a memorable impression on our lives.

  10. @Macon D:

    stuff white people do: get inside the heads of non-white people

    And this is exactly what you are doing, or trying to do.

    Michael Jackson had vitiligo. You do not know what is going on inside the heads of POC. I can't believe you would continue with your typical, pretentious psychoanalysis-of-POC in a post about the passing of MJ.

  11. He was special indeed and yes much of what we saw from from him was a result of internalized oppression.

  12. i'm sort of inclined to believe the allegations, since many victims of sexual abuse are not believed. but i also realize that he was also a victim of abuse. yes, he was inappropriate with children (i'm sort of reminded of Johnny Depp's Finding Neverland...)

    as for the racial aspects of MJ, well, i don't think it's my place to comment...

  13. Restructure wrote, "You do not know what is going on inside the heads of POC. I can't believe you would continue with your typical, pretentious psychoanalysis-of-POC in a post about the passing of MJ."

    Rippa wrote, "He was special indeed and yes much of what we saw from from him was a result of internalized oppression."

    Are only black people like Rippa allowed to say things like that about other black people? Should Macon not even be QUOTING renowned intellectuals like Friere and Fanon on internalized racism?

    Also, macon wrote, "I remember Michael Jackson for the internalized racism that he seemed to increasingly display, and for how the incredible light in his young eyes gradually faded as he grew older, perhaps in part as a result of that burden."

    I don't find that pretentious.

    Restructure also wrote, "Michael Jackson had vitiligo."

    Yeah. And as for the sickeningly narrowed nose? And lips? And straightened hair?

    Internalized racism IS the result of whiteness "getting inside the heads of non-white people."

  14. You also might look at the different reactions of Black vs. white people (or white vs. poc?) to his death. It seems like Black folks are talking more about his musical legacy, while white folks are talking just as much about the pedophilia allegations as they are about his music. That's kind of like OJ to me. Maybe he did it, but that's not the point.

  15. @Restructure:

    vitiligo does not cause the deformation of facial structure evident in mj in the last 15 years. the man has had serious plastic surgery, presumably to look less black. granted, he's not the only pop star to have done this but vitiligo certainly didn't cause it. also, vitiligo grows in patches. one's skin does not become increasingly light over the years but instead patches of non-pigmented skin appear and spread.

  16. i think the angry black woman says it best here:

    "In deciding to write this, I went through many thoughts on why I feel able to be sad about Michael’s death and to even say positive things about him when I would not extend the same charity to other flawed artists. For example, when Ike Turner died I was unwilling to allow his talent to overshadow my feelings about his history as an abuser. And if R. Kelly were to die today I would think it was a shame, but I would not mourn. In the former case I don’t have much opinion on the talent of the individual; in the latter, I do feel that the man has a lot of talent, but I can’t separate that from the disgust I feel at his sexual adventures with underage girls.

    "So why don’t I feel the same about Michael?

    "I can’t give you a good answer. Perhaps because I feel like, whatever Michael is alleged to have done, I can see how the damage done to him in life could have led to it. Doesn’t excuse it, certainly. But it allows me to personally look past it to the good things about him: his music."

  17. One thing that I think it's appropriate to note in a place like SWPD: before he started getting all weird and increasingly puffed up with the King of Pop propaganda, Michael Jackson was a musician who united black and white kids like no other performer in history. When Thriller was hot, every kid in my school wanted to be Michael and do the moonwalk at every opportunity. It didn't matter what color they were. The dude had style and talent that transcended all boundaries.

    Yes, he was a very weird person who went totally over the edge in every way later in his life. But he left an incredible musical legacy that touched people of all races, all around the world.

  18. Yes, if you looked at my first comment, I stated that he had plastic surgery. MJ's skin became increasingly whiter because he had vitiligo and he was evening out his skin tone because of the vitiligo. I don't think he would have done it if he didn't have vitiligo, as even white people aren't that white.

    For this post, however, MJ's recent picture was juxtaposed with the quotes about internalized oppression and the post title. Together it's saying that his skin shows his internalized racism, which is what people have been saying for decades. However, people would not be saying this if it wasn't for his skin colour. If MJ's skin wasn't white (but he still had plastic surgery), there wouldn't be a post about internalized racism right after his death. Janet Jackson had plastic surgery too, but she's brown, and when she dies, people are not going to comment on her internalized oppression like this.

    Are only black people like Rippa allowed to say things like that about other black people?

    I don't know about being "allowed". However, I think it's a good idea to refrain from accusing someone of internalized oppression. There's a lot of ignorance concerning Asian eye lid surgery; many white people say that they are trying to look white, but Asians can have double eyelids too. (While I think there is internalized racism involved, dialogue like that (double eyelid = Caucasian) is oversimplifying the issue.)

    Should Macon not even be QUOTING renowned intellectuals like Friere and Fanon on internalized racism?

    The problem is the quotes in an MJ context, not the quotes themselves.

  19. Why don't we just throw out our court system, and go back to the old "lynch mobbin" days. Some of you latent barbarians would just love that wouldn't you? RIP Michael. Too bad you had to die to get away from the meanness of some.

  20. Interesting post Macon. I think you may have hit the nail on the head, but we will never understand truly what was going on in his head.

    I think another thing white people, or mostly just white people do, is complain that MJ is getting too much coverage or that it is too favorable. Of course these same folks don't seem to complain when a missing middle class woman or girl takes over the McNews channels on cable, or some sensational trials (like both OJ trials, and MJ's trial) take over but now it is so horrible b/c so much serious stuff is going on in the world and we are "ignoring" them. Not mentioning that those channels do a piss poor job of covering the news adequately in terms of scope, depth, and analysis. SMH.

    RIP Mike, I hope you have the peace now that you never had on earth.

  21. meant to say "middle class white woman or girl" I know if my black middle-class butt (or any other black middle class woman) disappeared hardly anybody but my family and friends would care.

  22. We get it..

    It's all the fault of white people!

  23. RIP Michael Jackson

    May we *please* call a truce to this ongoing war between Restructure and Macon D? You're both on the same side. Quit it!

  24. Huh? I'm not at war with Restructure . . .

  25. Allow me to expand somewhat on my "internalized oppression" comment:

    A case can be made that due to his ethnic identity (not his skin color pre or post vitalago) as a member of the African American collective he too, though sucessful financially and otherwise had a target on his back because of his ethnicity.

    It could be said that he too was a target just like AA males in this country. There has never been an AA entertainer as large as Michael Jackson to date. If you think the race conscious assholes in this country who are steadfast and rooted in White Supremacy are the way the6y are about Obama. One can only imagine what Michael Jackson had to deal with behind the scenes unknown to the public.

  26. There are some great comments discussing the racial meaning of Michael Jackson's plastic surgeries at Racialicious.

    Latoya Peterson:

    "I’ll always wonder what was the meaning of the self-mutilation. As I was watching MTV yesterday as they were playing most of his videos, I noticed something that escaped my attention before. Even post lightening, even at the height of his fame, even as he started becoming more popular in other markets than he was here, he always featured PoC in his videos. Far past the point where he was crossing over."

  27. I'm not at "war" with Macon D. When I was in Grade 4, I also said that Michael Jackson was trying to be white. This is a very old, very simplistic, and very common characterization of him.

    I just think that it's an overly superficial characterization, and on a blog about race especially, we should recognize that it's probably a lot more complicated than that. If my Grade 4 self made that comment, it's probably not a deep racial insight, but rather a popular racial perception.

  28. @ pocketlama,

    When a poc (read black people)run and get plastic surgery, get hair extensions/weaves or even wear colored contacts, its called self-hate.

    So what do you call white people who sit their pastey asses in the sun knowing full well that baking in the sun causes cancer and pre-mature wrinkles, rock corn-rows, braid, locs, get lip injections, ass implants and boob jobs?

  29. What I never understood about the "vitiligo" claim was why Michael didn't simply cover up the light patches with Dermablend or some other concealer in the shade of his natural skin tone?

    Tricia Rose professor of Africana Studies at Brown University explains Michael's plastic surgery by saying that she thinks it's a way of "matching skin color with features" and the "feeling that he would be more universal if he weren't so African-derived looking." podcast.

    Gone too soon. R.I.P., Michael.

  30. It's difficult to assess a person's mental process when you are looking from the outside in. I personally don't believe that Michael was trying to be white. He had surgery to repair his nose because he had broken it while rehearsing a dance routine. There are many things that led to MJ's transformations...getting burned while filming a pepsi commercial, his skin disease (vitiligo) and even the mental abuse he endured from his father. What I think is interesting is that as MJ made his transformation, his songs also changed. It had a message about suffering, acceptance, racism, oppression, beauty, and our world.

    To demean his legacy by calling him a child molester or a wacko is disgusting. He was found not guilty, give it a rest. That trial weakened Michael and took a toll on him because those were people he trusted who were just trying to make a quick buck. Michael changed the world whether you choose to accept it or not. Even in death people are attacking him. RIP Michael, you will be missed dearly.

  31. Also as many have said, lets not forget the NEGATIVE influence his father had on him. He would CONSTANTLY rag on Michael about his the size of his nose (as well as acne among other things) KNOWING he was sensitive about his appearence. It seemed as if he wanted to erase part of himself that he was told was so hideous by others (mainly his father), so he would'nt have to deal with the ridicule anymore. Despite all of the negativity he was reciving I so I wished that he could have ignored his father (impossible I know, because folks don't seem to realize how much a parent's opinion can have such a hold/influence on their child) because he was an attractive man just the way he was.

  32. MJ is an extreme example of internalized racism. For a more nuanced version, you might want to consider M Night Shyamalan's work, past and especially his most current, The Last Airbender (a cartoon based on Asian and Inuit culture with Asian-esque and Inuit-esque characters.

    Here's a quick snip of an interview on why he got into the series. FYI, his daughter is a person of color. Katara has the darkest skin tone of any character on the series. For the movie, they casted a white girl to play Katara.

    What a fail message to send his daughter. Oh well.

  33. Thanks Restructure, I was just thinking about that. Michael had Vitiligo and lupus so that's why he looked the way he did.

  34. Also, Vitiligo is a strange disease, so it might have caused for he's nose to be messed up and caused him to have surgery done for it. You don't know what was happening with Michael's lupus or Vitiligo.

  35. I personally think that the man was bleaching his skin. I don't buy the vitiligo thing for one second. It does not matter than not even white ppl don't have skin that white. The point for Michael was to disassociate himself from anything that reminded him of his father. It had more to do with his abusive childhood than it had to do with the internalization of racist ideas regarding blackness.

  36. I often wonder when people say he bleached his skin to get it that white. I have seen numerous women and men who have tried to buy bleaching aids that have not had any effect let alone turned out super white.

    I think that there were many issues that caused MJ to be the way he was. Most of which we may never know.

    I do know that in speeches he has given he identifies as a black man. I do agree, also, as another poster wrote, that he continued to enlist PoCs in his videos as well as associating with and joining with people from all over the world who are PoCs.

    The man was great in many ways. People are going to come through and try and bring him down even more in his death, but he was a game changer in many ways.


  37. If you haven't seen the interviews that Bahir did and the out-takes that Maury Povich hosted Michael addresses the rumors that he wanted to be white, answered the questions abotu his plastic surgery and talked about Debbie Rowe and the anon donor of his last child and the rumor that he was gay.

    He had me LOL when he talked about white people getting suntanned.

  38. This is my favorite of all the MJ posts there have been. And great thread.

  39. @Renee

    I don't buy the vitiligo thing for one second.

    1. Vitiligo is a real disease.
    2. Michael Jackson had it.

    Given these two facts, I can't understand why the constant denial that he had vitiligo is anything but an invocation of ableism. When I first heard about his disease in Grade 4, I thought it was an excuse, because I had never heard of such a disease and I didn't think it was a real disease. Is there any reason why you don't buy it, besides knowing that there are people who don't have the disease and lighten their skin anyway?

    @Professor Zero

    I think this is the worst MJ post I have seen, and I find it disrespectful. Other posts have focused on his music or his alleged child molestations, but this one was about his appearance, accompanied with an unflattering picture, to boot. The best MJ post I have seen is Carmen van Kerckhove's Michael Jackson on Race - And Who He Saw in the Mirror.

    @Macon D

    Maybe you should just break out of the "stuff white people do: _____" format sometimes, instead of inappropriately reframing important topics to maintain a post title consistency.

  40. Restructure, I disagree that this post's title inappropriately reframes the post's topic, and I did not write that title just to "maintain a post title consistency." As the two quotes point out, whiteness and white people do "get inside the heads of non-white people" and cause internalized racism, and as I wrote in the post, I in part remember Michael Jackson for how that may have happened with him. As you and others point out, other factors may have influenced his altered appearance as well, and the post does not disallow those.

  41. @Macon D:

    As you and others point out, other factors may have influenced his altered appearance as well, and the post does not disallow those.

    But your post title does disallow it.

  42. @Renee:

    I don't buy the vitiligo thing for one second.

    I found this video slideshow showing photos of MJ's vitiligo, which should clear up your (ableist) preconceptions.

  43. But your post title does disallow it.

    No it doesn't. The post title is about something that white people do, not Michael Jackson. Within the post, he's described as a potential example of what the post's title is about.

  44. @Macon D:

    All right, let me put it this way. How would you like it if for your obituary, I made a post titled "Stuff white people do: Rape underage Thai girls", and it had your photo, along with academic excerpts about the general trend of white men travelling to Thailand for sex tourism, and then I said that Macon D may have raped underage Thai girls when he visited Thailand? Then I posted a video about your life accomplishments?

    Let's say somebody complained about this, and then I said that the title allows other interpretations, because it was about stuff white people do, not necessarily Macon D, although the post is a half obituary.

    Would you think that my explanation was valid and that I am taking responsibility for my actions?

  45. R, I don't see myself as refusing to take responsibility for my actions here.

    Your analogy is specious; there's plenty to suggest that MJ may well have suffered from internalized racism, but not enough in your example in my merely being a white male to suggest that I would do that if I were to visit Thailand.

  46. Besides his appearance, what is the evidence that he suffered from internalized racism?

    Isn't your blog supposed to be about what white people do and think, not what POC do and think?

  47. Restructure, stop putting words in my mouth. I didn't say there's evidence that he suffered from internalized racism -- I said he "may well have," and in the post I wrote,

    I remember Michael Jackson for the internalized racism that he seemed to increasingly display, and for how the incredible light in his young eyes gradually faded as he grew older, perhaps in part as a result of that burden.

    In answer to your second question: yes. And I don't see this post as a deviation from that; white Americans in general have set up a system of white supremacy that, as the post title says, "get[s] inside the heads of non-white people," and the post cites MJ as a possible example of that. And so, to go back to your first question, the evidence that he may have suffered internalized racism is the obvious -- thinned nose and lips, and straightened hair. (And perhaps the less obvious -- I've read and seen so much about MJ that I don't know where this was, nor if it's true, but if "his children" are not actually his biologically, he may have even not wanted to sully them with black blood.) Yes, he may well have done those things for other reasons as well, and plenty does suggest that he loved blackness and that he identified as black, and he did say left and right that it don't matter if you're black or white. But we're all complicated and contradictory -- all of that and more doesn't disallow that at other levels of his psychic and emotional being, he may well have also suffered from internalized racism.

  48. I think every person of colour has some degree of internalized racism, but what I have a problem with is you singling out a person of colour and using him as an example. You are using a POC to prove your point, even if this POC has not said what you wanted him to say, and he actually said the opposite.

    My analogy is not specious. It and your response shows that the validity of your post comes down to whether or not you can suggest that MJ may have had internalized racism, not whether white people do get inside the heads of non-white people.

    Again, you are providing superficial arguments about why he may have had internalized racism, but none of these are or ever will be determinants of internalized racism. You have no authority about what goes inside the heads of a POC or any other person, unless you believe that you as a white person can really get inside the heads of non-white people. If it wasn't for his vitiligo, which he couldn't help, he wouldn't be singled out like this as a paragon of internalized racism.

    resistance at Resist racism wrote something that may better express what I'm trying to say:

    The second problem is obviously that “white” features are assumed to be so universally desirable that any change away from the “natural ethnic” is because of self-hatred or a desire to be white. To me this speaks of a deep underlying belief in white superiority.

    When white people straighten their hair and dye it black, nobody insinuates that they are trying to become Asian. Yet if an Asian person streaks his or her hair, they are trying to be white. Because of course this is the standard we have all been raised to accept. This is the obvious desired result of any intentional physical improvement. (For that matter, it’s also a way to demean and denigrate people of color who are intelligent or educated–they’re trying to be white as well. Because education and intelligence are the province of white people.)

  49. I mean "singled out like this as a potential paragon of internalized racism"

  50. In answer to your second question: yes. And I don't see this post as a deviation from that; white Americans in general have set up a system of white supremacy that, as the post title says, "get[s] inside the heads of non-white people," and the post cites MJ as a possible example of that.

    Your post is obviously about stuff POC do and think, even if you are rewording it as white action. Because "get inside the heads of non-white people" is not about the actual actions of white individuals, but about whiteness in the heads of POC.

  51. Restructure, I am amazed by your tenacity. But I also think it's ironic that after denouncing here what you see as Macon's continuance of his "typical, pretentious psychoanalysis-of-POC in a post about the passing of MJ" you yourself would use the passing of MJ to continue your war against Macon. I've seen you wage that personalized war on other blogs too inclduing yours. it's obviously something personal for you. I hope you get help some day with whatever is troubling your soul that drives you into this war.

    You should give what you're doing on this post for example a rest. You are also embarrassing yourself. Your arrogant Grand Inquisitor manner also does that.

    I think this post is about whiteness--who do you think set that up? white people. who do you think continues to run the cultural and educational and so on machines that get whiteness into people's heads? white people "do."

    I see this post as respectfully mournful. and with the video, celebratory. It's very sad that whiteness gets inside the heads of POC, and to think that it might have gotten inside Michael Jackson's (as many people besides Macon have said).

  52. Thank you, Linda, for your psychoanalysis and interpretation of my behaviour as "arrogant". It's great to know you've already concluded that I have some "personalized war" against Macon D, and at the same time, you admit that you do not know what the alleged "personal" issue is about.

    Of course, my criticism of this post is similar to criticisms of Macon D I've made in the past, in which I complained about him writing about stuff POC do and think instead of stuff white people do and think. However, instead of seeing the pattern among the SWPD posts I've complained about, the pattern that you see is Restructure complaining! According to you, it is me who has a long-standing issue, not Macon D's writings on race! Why try to understand the common theme in criticism/problematic posts, when you can simply infer that the common theme is the person doing the criticizing? Wow, I'm impressed at your deep critical analysis!

    I think this post is about whiteness--who do you think set that up? white people. who do you think continues to run the cultural and educational and so on machines that get whiteness into people's heads? white people "do."

    Thank you for dismissing any possibility of agency on the part of POC and telling me that white people run the minds of POC. After all, even when it comes to the minds of POC, white people will always be the subject and POC will always be the object--white people are really that superior!

    (By the way, my tone is sarcastic.)

  53. I see a pattern of you complaining because this post does not add to the pattern in Macon's writing that you say exists. I see some of your relentless criticism here agreed with by Macon, and yet when he and others disagree at other times you arrogantly insist that what you claim is fact. It's odd that you think you are good at finding patterns but you do not see this pattern in your own behavior.

    Don't worry, I have tried "to understand the common theme in criticism/problematic posts" that you make (interesting to me how you again insist with arrogance that it's just there, rather than something you yourselv see) and I think that it is often not there. That is the case again with this post. Do not be so arrogant as to think that what you are claiming is so complicated that I cannot see it. And for goodness sake, who is "dismissing any possibility of agency on the part of POC and telling you that white people run the minds of POC." Internalized racism doesn't run the minds of POC. It is mixed with many other things. Some may have it, some may not, and some may become aware that they have it get rid of it. That is a lot of "agency." You know, I think a problem might be that despite all your arrogance, you are actually rather simple minded.

  54. Watch it there Linda, no need to get personal like that. I'm going to delete any more comments that characterize another commenter.


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