Who Gave You the Right to Take Intrusion?

Lisha:  In a previous post we talked about the evolution of Michael Jackson’s Ghosts, from an unfinished cross-promotional short film for Addams Family Values to a 38-minute musical masterpiece, which curiously, never received a proper release. Both films depict a small town Mayor leading an angry mob as they attempt to force the local “weirdo” out of his home and out of town. Unfortunately, the storyline hits terribly close to home when we consider what actually happened in Michael Jackson’s life.

Willa:  It really does. It’s almost like he could predict what would happen.

Lisha:  Eerily so. After years of being harassed by law enforcement and vilified by the media, “an angry mob” from the Sheriff’s Department raided Michael Jackson’s home and attempted to prosecute him based on flimsy “evidence” that frankly, strains credulity. When the facts were presented in a court of law, Michael Jackson was fully exonerated – suggesting the case should never have been brought in the first place.

But even after vindication, Michael Jackson was informed that he was still in danger of malicious prosecution. Despite his wealth, fame, and proven innocence, Michael Jackson abandoned his home and fled the country.

Willa, I know we’re all troubled by what happened in this case, but the more I think about it, the more deeply troubled I am. I’m just not ok with any government authority forcing an innocent man and his family out of their home and out of town. And it greatly disturbs me that this was accomplished in lockstep with the infotainment industry. Journalists are supposed to question authority and investigate abuses of power, not join in the mob mentality!

Willa:  Exactly. That’s why the news media is sometimes called the Fourth Estate. We have a government of three branches or “estates” – the presidency, the congress, and the Supreme Court – that are supposed to provide checks and balances on one another, and then the news media is another avenue of checks and balances. That’s where the term Fourth Estate comes from. But what happens when the media fails to provide that review, and instead only adds momentum to abuses of power? It’s really frightening to think about.

Lisha:  It’s terrifying. It is crucial in a democracy that the media investigate all branches of government. When they don’t, we have reason to be alarmed. But to be honest, I’m not sure the media or the prosecution has fully understood their actions in the Michael Jackson case.

Willa: Or the implications of their actions.

Lisha: Yes, and I don’t think the general public has stopped to consider what a slippery slope this is either.

Willa:  I agree.

Lisha: So I’d like to dig deeper and try to put Michael Jackson’s expulsion from Neverland into some kind of historical context, in an effort to shed light on how something like this could happen in the “land of the free.” Specifically, I’d like to talk about racial politics in the US and the history of banishment that has occurred in African American communities all across the country.

I recently came across a 2007 documentary film titled Banished, directed and narrated by Marco Williams. It really got me thinking about the painful history of banishment in the US and how this history echoes in Michael Jackson’s exodus from Neverland. For anyone who is interested in watching the film, here’s a link:

(For those who cannot access the YouTube link, here are some other resources: a description of the film and a Washington Post article about it.)

Willa:  We should probably warn everyone that the documentary is about 90 minutes long, but if you can find the time to watch it, it’s well worth it. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it, Lisha, ever since you shared it with me.

Lisha:  Me either, Willa. It’s hard to shake.

Willa: It really is, and it shows there has been a recurring pattern in the US, ever since the Civil War ended slavery as a legal institution, of resentful whites destroying successful black communities and confiscating their property. It generally begins with false accusations against a black man – that he has committed rape or some form of sexual assault against a white woman. Then a white mob gathers, and he is either lynched or threatened with lynching. The violence spreads, other black residents are advised to leave their homes if they want to save their lives, and almost everything they own is lost. The pattern is remarkably similar each time, and there are surprising similarities to the Michael Jackson case.

Lisha: Shockingly so. Especially when you consider that almost every case of banishment begins with an unproven allegation of sexual violence.

Willa:  Exactly, but that accusation is just a justification for destroying or confiscating black property, which is the real motive.

What we see over and over again is black homeowners, black business owners, and entire black communities forced to flee at a moment’s notice, leaving almost all of their possessions behind. This is especially troubling since I read a study one time that said it generally takes an immigrant family to the US five generations to collect enough assets to be considered comfortably middle class, meaning secure enough where one tragic event like a house fire or the death of a breadwinner won’t send the entire family back into poverty. So if a community loses its property and all of its material assets, it is impoverished not just now but for generations.

Lisha: I agree that the consequences are far-reaching, for the families who have been displaced and for the entire community. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that the law actually supported this process. After victims were terrorized and forced to leave their homes, their property was often taken from them, legally, through laws of adverse possession.

While the specific legalities may be different in Michael Jackson’s expulsion from Neverland, the overall contour is identical: someone in the dominant culture is allowed to decide who can or cannot occupy a certain space – regardless of its rightful ownership – and the actions taken to gain control of that space are mysteriously never questioned or fully examined. In the end, black property and wealth are lost, and someone in the dominant culture takes possession of property that was legally purchased by another.

Willa: Yes, in many cases false accusations of sexual misconduct ultimately led to a legal transfer of property, as you say, Lisha. And the individuals who committed violence against black property owners were almost never held accountable for their actions.

Lisha: That’s exactly right. And we’re not just talking loss of property, but loss of life as well. Many, many African American men lost their lives this way. This is a horrific part of our past that I don’t believe has been honorably resolved. In fact, I believe this history lingers on, but in more subtle ways. For example, in a 2003 CNN interview, Jermaine Jackson called his brother’s arrest “nothing but a modern-day lynching” and I’m inclined to agree with him. While I certainly don’t want to minimize the heinous murders that occurred by comparing them to a case that ended in a fair trial and 14 not-guilty verdicts, I agree with Jermaine Jackson that this violent history still plays out in less obvious forms.

Thomas Mesereau gave an interview to Charles Thomson, Jamon Bull, and Q of the MJ Cast on Vindication Day, June 13, 2015, the tenth anniversary of Michael Jackson’s exoneration in court. As Mesereau has stated before, he strongly urged Michael Jackson to leave his home and never return, warning him that he could never be safe there again (about 1:13:17 minutes into the interview):

Bull: Following the verdict, did Michael make it clear to you that he wanted to leave the United States so soon and head to the Middle East?

Mesereau: Not in the least … When I first got into the case and met the prosecutors and met the sheriffs, and went to the evidence locker to examine evidence they had seized and planned to use in the trial, I had a very distinct feeling they were just on top of the world. They were about to embark on the world’s most covered trial. They felt there was no way they could lose it. They were feeling like movie stars and feeling no pain. …  

And I remember watching some of these police officers, these sheriffs, as they were doing a second search [of Neverland]. And you know some of them were like, touching his artwork. It was almost a demonic sort of look on their faces like we’ve got the great Michael Jackson under our control. He might be the great Michael Jackson with all this wealth and fame but we control him. And I had a distinct feeling the cruelty and the abuse he could be subjected to if convicted and incarcerated might have been monumental. I mean to me it was like a death penalty case. …

I told [Michael Jackson] to leave Neverland and not return. And he seemed a bit shocked at what I said. … I said he can’t live in peace there ever again. They have ruined it. I didn’t know where he was going to go. I did not know he was going to the Middle East until he started calling our office from the Middle East. But I strongly urged that he leave and not return. I said, you know, many things in life have a time and a place. Neverland has run its course. You will not be safe there. You know you can’t go through one of these things again.

So Michael Jackson abandoned Neverland, fearing what prosecutors would do to him and his family.

Willa:  Wow, Lisha, I hadn’t heard this interview before. Thank you for sharing it. Mesereau’s description of the police at Neverland is just chilling, especially the part about them “touching his artwork” and seeming eager to have “the great Michael Jackson under our control.” It’s horrifying to think about what the police could have done, or what could have happened to him in prison. As Mesereau said, “I had a distinct feeling the cruelty and the abuse he could be subjected to if convicted and incarcerated might have been monumental.” Looking at it this way, I think he was right to treat Michael Jackson’s trial like a death penalty case.

Lisha: I agree. This was no trivial matter. It’s quite clear to me that what happened to Michael Jackson was an act of violence and that he was forced to leave his home in terror. While the violence may take a different form than we’ve historically seen with lynchings, shootings and banishment, nonetheless, violence and terror were inflicted on Michael Jackson. The end result is that he was forced to flee his home and he nearly lost his freedom and his family too. He also suffered tremendous financial losses. By 2008, the AP reported that “Michael Jackson has given up title to his Neverland ranch, transferring the deed to a company he partly controls.”

So as we know, Michael Jackson did lose control of Neverland and it is now for sale. I’ve heard speculation that his Estate may not profit at all from the sale, depending on the final purchase price. Personally, I’m not willing to entertain any theory that Michael Jackson’s complicated debt structure was the cause of this loss, without first taking into account the untold millions that law enforcement and the media cost him.

Willa: Exactly. Blaming the loss of Neverland on his rising debts misses the point, which is that the false allegations against him severely damaged his career and his income, causing him to go into debt. As the article you just cited says, “Jackson has struggled to pay his debts since his financial empire began to crumble following his arrest in 2003.” Actually, the problem began much earlier, with the 1993 allegations.

So as in the three cases studied in the Banished documentary, racial jealousy and false claims of sexual misconduct against a successful black man led to loss of property. It’s tragic, especially when you think of how much he loved Neverland, and how hard he worked to make it a special place where he could feel safe from prying eyes.

Lisha: It is tragic. And there is a direct causal link between the false allegations, the official response to them, and the loss of income and property sustained. Many of the losses can be calculated quite precisely in cold hard cash, like the canceled endorsement deals and movie offers. But Michael Jackson’s home and livelihood were so much more than just a place to live and a way to earn a living.

Willa: Yes, Neverland was much more than a home, and his art was so much more than a source of income. It was his life. It really is heartbreaking.

Lisha: It is.

Willa: But it’s heartbreaking when anyone loses their home. And when we look at this through a historical lens, it becomes very clear that this is part of a larger pattern.

Lisha: I agree. It’s a larger pattern of violence attempts to disguise the intolerance at its root.

Willa: Absolutely. I recently found another documentary called The Night Tulsa Burned and it focuses on one specific case of banishment: the Tulsa, Oklahoma, race riot of 1921, which left as many as 300 people dead and 8,000 people homeless. According to a 2011 features article in The New York Times, it “may be the deadliest occurrence of racial violence in United States history.” Here’s a link to that documentary, which is about 45 minutes long:

Lisha: I’m so glad you shared this, Willa, because for me, the Tulsa riot shows so clearly why even in 2016, we are still fighting for racial justice and “Black Lives Matter.”

Historian Jelani Cobb recently pointed out in a New Yorker article that although the Tulsa race riot was one of the worst incidents of domestic terrorism in US history, it is rarely referred to that way:

The F.B.I. Web page on the [Oklahoma City] Murrah bombing lists it as “the worst act of homegrown terrorism in the nation’s history.” That designation overlooks the Tulsa riots of 1921, in which a white mob, enraged by a spurious allegation that a black teen-ager had attempted to assault a young white woman, was deputized and given carte blanche to attack the city’s prosperous black Greenwood section, resulting in as many as three hundred black fatalities. From one perspective, the Murrah bombing was the worst act of domestic terrorism in our history, but, as the descendants of the Greenwood survivors know, it was likely not even the worst incident in Oklahoma’s history.

Cobb makes a very important point: loss of black life is often diminished or forgotten when the dominant white culture historicizes the past. A big reason for this in the Tulsa case is that law enforcement and the media actually participated in the violence. A local newspaper put out false, inflammatory information to incite the riot, and law enforcement stood by and watched as approximately 300 black Tulsans were murdered. Believe it or not, the National Guard took over 6,000 black citizens into custody while their homes and businesses were being destroyed. And no one was ever arrested or prosecuted for the terrorism that happened that day.

Willa: Yes. It sounds unbelievable but that’s exactly what happened. In fact, the more you learn about the details of the riot, the more outrageous it becomes. Apparently a black teenager, Dick Rowland, who worked at a shoeshine stand in downtown Tulsa, was entering an elevator so he could visit one of the few bathrooms that was available to blacks in that segregated city. It seems he tripped as he entered the elevator and fell against the young white elevator operator, Sarah Page. He was accused of assaulting Page and arrested, but she refused to press charges, and many prominent white businessmen came to his defense, saying that wasn’t in his nature.

However, rumors of the incident spread, and that afternoon The Tulsa Tribune published an inflammatory article that accused Rowland of either rape or attempted rape. That evening, a mob of about 2,000 whites gathered at the courthouse, and violence erupted. The police resisted the mob and protected Rowland from lynching, but they didn’t arrest the white men who were leading the mob. Instead, they arrested thousands of black men, as you say, Lisha, and put them in detention centers, leaving their homes and businesses defenseless.

White men with torches then swept through the Greenwood district of Tulsa, setting fire to black homes and businesses. In the documentary, one riot survivor, George Monroe, describes what happened this way:

I will always remember four men coming in our house with torches. My mother saw them coming and she put the four of we children under the bed. And from under the bed we could see them walking to the curtains and setting fire to the curtains to set our house on fire.

I find this image of the white mob descending on Greenwood with flaming torches in hand eerily evocative of the opening scenes of Ghosts.

Lisha: Exactly! I do too. Monroe’s childhood memory is just so horrific. Like the story in Ghosts, the mob didn’t enter Greenwood looking for a criminal (they knew Rowland was already in custody). The mob went to Greenwood to force people out who they believed were different from them, despite the fact they were on their own property and legally entitled to the same rights and protections everyone else had.

Willa: That’s a very important point, Lisha – Rowland was in jail when the mob descended on Greenwood. That really underscores the fact that the false allegations against Rowland were just an excuse. That’s not what the riot was really about. The true motivation was racial jealousy.

Before the riot, the Greenwood district was one of the wealthiest black communities in the US – an area so prosperous Booker T. Washington called it Negro Wall Street. In the economic expansion of the late 1910s and early 1920s – a period known as the “Roaring Twenties” because it was such a boom time, financially – many businessmen became very wealthy, including black businessmen. And as historian Scott Ellsworth notes in the documentary, “For some white people, a black person with any wealth, then as well as today, is something that created jealousy.” So as black wealth increased, race riots broke out across the nation. As Ellsworth goes on to say,

The important thing to remember about race riots during this period is that they are characterized by whites invading black communities … attacking black businesses, attacking black homes.

So the allegations of sexual misconduct were simply a pretext, a way to justify white aggression against black property owners, when the real motivation was racial jealousy and a blatant land grab.

Lisha: Yes, that is the pattern. When black success occurs, economic jealousy, unproven allegations, and white-on-black violence follows. The false accusations of rape are even more infuriating if we look at the very real problem of white-on-black sexual violence that has occurred all throughout US history.

Willa: Yes, that’s a painful legacy with roots deep in our history. The rape of black women by white slave owners was a common practice for centuries before the Civil War. In fact, Thomas Jefferson, a US President and the author of the Declaration of Independence, had children by one of his slaves – a woman who was herself the (black) daughter of his (white) father-in-law, so his wife’s half-sister. It seems to have been tacitly accepted that white men should have access to black women’s bodies.

However, black men were prohibited from white women’s bodies, even through marriage. Miscegenation was illegal in many states until the Supreme Court finally struck down those laws in 1967. The merest hint of sexual relations between a black man and a white woman, even if it were consensual, remained an inflammatory issue, and many black celebrities were targeted because of this, as if (white) authorities were making an example of them. We see this with Jack Johnson, Chuck Berry, Malcolm X, and many others.

Michael Jackson talked about this in a 2005 interview with Jesse Jackson:

The Jack Johnson story … called Unforgivable Blackness. It’s an amazing story about this man from 1910 who was the heavyweight champion of the world, and thrust into a society that didn’t want to accept his position and his lifestyle. And what they put him through. And how they changed laws to imprison the man, to put him away behind bars, just to get him some kind of way.

Jack Johnson’s unacceptable “position and lifestyle” that Michael Jackson mentions include his title as heavyweight champion of the world, his flamboyant displays of wealth, and his numerous relationships with white women, including three marriages. Because of his success and his defiance of racial expectations, he was targeted by white authorities and sent to prison under the Mann Act. That’s what Michael Jackson was referring to when he said “they changed laws to imprison the man.”

Lisha: Yes, apparently the Mann Act was originally intended to prevent women from being lured into interstate prostitution. The law had to be bent considerably in order to prosecute Jack Johnson. Legally, it’s hard to believe it was used to send him to prison.

Willa: Yes, and that same law was later used to imprison Chuck Berry. There was an attempt to use it against Michael Jackson as well, as Charles Thomson talked about in a post with Joie and me about Michael Jackson’s recently released FBI files. As Charles said, the files reveal that “Tom Sneddon, the DA pursuing Jackson, tried to get the FBI to prosecute Jackson under the Mann Act.”

Lisha: I don’t know how much clearer the connection could be between black success and government persecution, really.

Willa: Yes. Michael Jackson himself clearly saw his case as part of a long history of white authorities targeting successful black figures. For example, when Jesse Jackson asked him, “How are you handling it?,” he replied,

I’m handling it by using other people in the past who have gone through this sort of thing. Mandela’s story has given me a lot of strength – what he’s gone through. The Jack Johnson story … And Muhammad Ali’s story … All these stories that I can go back in history and read about give me strength.

Lisha: It stands to reason that black celebrities are especially vulnerable to this kind of attack, precisely because of their wealth and success. This is especially true of those who refuse to fit the mold of the “model minority,” such as Jack Johnson, Muhammad Ali and Michael Jackson. Ali publicly stated that he strongly related to the Jack Johnson story. It’s unsurprising that Michael Jackson identified with both their stories as well.

Here’s something that has been bugging me for a while that I’ve really wanted to talk to you about – it’s Bill Maher’s response to the Jesse Jackson interview you just mentioned. In the past, I’ve considered Bill Maher to be one of our smartest comedians. But have you seen this clip of him belittling Michael Jackson while trying to get Rev. Jackson to denounce his interview with him? It’s disturbing to me how this commentary generates so much laughter:

Willa: I agree the audience’s laughter is very troubling, and so is Bill Maher’s handling of this. I mean, they laugh because he cues them to laugh. But it’s interesting to look at what Maher is saying. He begins by telling Jesse Jackson,

He [Michael Jackson] compared himself this week to Jack Johnson, Muhammad Ali, and Nelson Mandela. Now, as a civil rights leader who has really, really faced the battlements – I mean, you were there with Martin Luther King when he was shot, you marched, I mean, you faced the firehoses – this has gotta bother you. …

This must upset you when people take this when it’s really not a racial issue.

So Bill Maher seems to think that racism was something that happened in Alabama in 1965, not something that was still happening in California in 2003. The police response to Martin Luther King is clearly racism to Maher, but he doesn’t see how the police handling of the Michael Jackson case also fits a pattern of racism.

But I thought Jesse Jackson’s response to Maher was brilliant:

We all love Nelson Mandela tonight. For 27 years we saw him as a terrorist. We’ve loved him since 1990 [when he was released from prison]. We all love Dr. King today. He was killed as one of America’s most hated men with a target on his back. We all love Jack Johnson now. He was locked out of the ring because of his race.

And so the point is, whether you are Jack Johnson or Paul Robeson or Martin King or Mandela, seemingly when blacks hit very high spots they are in the line of fire. Michael perceives himself to be in that line, and that’s the basis of his statement.

Lisha: I agree with you, Willa, Rev. Jackson nailed it. His response is nothing less than brilliant.

Willa: It really is. First, it puts Michael Jackson’s statement within a historical context that shows there is in fact a pattern of targeting successful black cultural and political leaders. As Jesse Jackson says, “when blacks hit very high spots they are in the line of fire.”

Even more importantly, to my mind, is Jesse Jackson’s point that Nelson Mandela was not a beloved figure when he was in prison, Martin Luther King was not beloved when he was leading marches and pressuring Lyndon Johnson, and Jack Johnson was not beloved when he was challenging the supremacy of the white race in and out of the boxing ring. These figures are treated as respected icons now, when they are gone and no longer a threat, but that’s not how they were treated when they were standing up and challenging white authority. They were harshly criticized and even ridiculed at the time, and so was Michael Jackson.

Lisha: Well said. I’m so glad that Rev. Jackson tactfully pointed out that although Maher can cite some significant events in the past, he still suffers from historical amnesia. He doesn’t see how the past reverberates in the events unfolding right before him.

I was especially interested in how Rev. Jackson, Whoopi Goldberg and Dr. West’s responses differed from Bill Maher and Alec Baldwin. Jackson, Goldberg and West are reluctant to assume the police allegations and media reports are correct, and they don’t seem to find a lot of pleasure in joking about them. Although West is not yet convinced of how grave Michael Jackson’s situation is, he expresses concern that he be given a fair trial. He does not automatically assume that will happen. Maher and Baldwin, on the other hand, take the law enforcement and media narratives at face value and they seem quite entertained by the idea that Michael Jackson got arrested. This effectively divides the conversation across racial lines.

Both Maher and Baldwin indicate they believe Michael Jackson is guilty of something, no proof necessary, and that the charges against him are in no way related to racial persecution. Again, it bothers me that they both find it so humorous, especially after Rev. Jackson just explained that Michael Jackson was denied dignity and due process.

Maher: But is that because he’s black? Really? If this was country singer Alan Jackson sleeping with young boys…?

Baldwin:You’re at your home and you are inconceivably wealthy. And someone comes into your home and you give them the booze and you’re watching the internet porn and you’re doing this. Then that guy runs out the door and he sues you for trying to do something. You got everything coming to you that you deserve because you’re an idiot that you would put yourself in that position. He’s a dumbass that he put himself in that position.

Their statements assume the following unproven “facts”: (1) sleeping with boys, (2) giving them booze, and (3) watching internet porn. Yet when you look at the evidence,  it’s clear these aren’t facts at all. It’s revealing that these assumptions are made by the two white panelists, while everyone else has a “not so fast” attitude in accepting the prosecution/media version of events. When we look at the history of racism in this country, it’s not hard to figure out why people of color don’t automatically assume prosecutors and the media are telling the truth.

Willa: That’s true. I also thought Jesse Jackson raised a very important point when he said that how we see Nelson Mandela now, and Martin Luther King and Jack Johnson now, is very different than how they were seen at the time. History isn’t fixed – it’s constantly being rewritten.

That’s why it’s so important that Michael Jackson’s supporters raise these issues, and keep raising them, until the allegations against him are seen in their proper context. The story of Michael Jackson’s life is still being written, as Toni Bowers addressed so well in a recent article in the Los Angeles Review of Books, and it’s up to those of us who care to help write that history.

Lisha: I agree. Michael Jackson fans play an important role by interrogating the media and the government’s response to him. It’s important to keep talking!


About Dancing with the Elephant contributors

Joie Collins is a founding member of the Michael Jackson Fan Club (MJFC). She has written extensively for MJFC, helping to create the original website back in 1999 and overseeing both the News and History sections of the website. Over the years she conducted numerous interviews on behalf of MJFC and also directed correspondence for the club. She also had the great fortune to be a guest at Neverland. She has been a Michael Jackson fan since she was three years old. Lisha McDuff is a classically trained professional musician who for 30 years made her living as a flutist, performing in orchestras and for major theatrical touring productions. Her passion for popular musicology led her to temporarily leave the orchestra pit and in June 2013 she received a Master’s degree in Popular Music Studies from the University of Liverpool. She’s continuing her studies at McMaster University, where she is working on a major research project about Michael Jackson, with Susan Fast as her director. Willa Stillwater is the author of M Poetica: Michael Jackson's Art of Connection and Defiance and "Rereading Michael Jackson," an article that summarizes some of the central ideas of M Poetica. She has a Ph.D. in English literature, and her doctoral research focused on the ways in which cultural narratives (such as racism) are made real for us by being "written" on our bodies. She sees this concept as an important element of Michael Jackson's work, part of what he called social conditioning. She has been a Michael Jackson fan since she was nine years old.

Posted on March 10, 2016, in Michael Jackson and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 32 Comments.

  1. Awesome article, Lisha and Willa!

    MJ was so much more than just a blip on the entertainment-scene radar… and his historical context and cultural importance must eventually eclipse the media-created meme of perverted eccentric if that is to be widely understood.

    To dismiss this means adding to the sub-rosa dismissal of what this country supposedly stood for from its beginnings. Lady Liberty is looking even more beat up in this astonishingly bizarre election year.

  2. Another great post. It’s good to learn from the two of you. Maher’s attitude reflects his blindness to white privilege. It’s crucial to keep calling out people who define themselves as progressives while persisting in this version of racism. Thank you.

    • I agree that unconscious white privilege has a lot to do with Maher’s attitude, but he is not alone, even among “progressives.” Many iberals, especially the liberal elite joined or led the mob that set out to destroy Michael Jackson, like Maher, cloaking their racism in elitism, and using ridicule as their weapon. And, being liberals, with unimpeachable reputations vis a vis racism, they were taken seriously and their blows landed, doing MJ a lot of damage (a lot more damage than if an attack was launched from an openly racist source which would have easily been discredited) — especially when it came to his being taken seriously as an artist– a great artist.

      To see an example of a paragon of liberal virtue and a shining example of the liberal elite belittling and trivializing and ridiculing MJ in no less publication than The New Republic, as early as 1984, see the following article by Michael Kinsley. The link is to a reprint of the original article, which was published in the Guardian at the time of MJ’s death, paying the original hateful remarks forward.


      With friends like these….

      The question is, what did (and do) these people like Maher and Kinsley and the myriad cool NYT columnists and other writers who wrote him off have to fear from MJ that motivated them to devote so much ink and vitriol and tv/airwave time to destroying him? My guess, is that it has a great deal to do with the fact that white women found him so attractive, which translated into white women finding a different set of male cultural values attractive, which in turn represented a threat to the white male culture they represented and gave them value. I believe MJ and his phenomenal success struck at the very roots of white patriarchal culture, the culture that gave birth to and nourished and rewarded these men, and that at an unconscious level, they knew it.

      Understand that I write this as a recovering member of the liberal elite class. I am now left of the left, a radical old white woman. Is it scary???? Can’t help it if I wanted to… Better stop now.

      • Eleanor – You Are Not Alone!

      • @Eleanor

        Thanks for the Guardian article. It (unintentionally) sums up what a threat Michael Jackson was to white patriarchy, doesn’t it? Michael Jackson amasses fortune before he’s out of grade school, and that means “he has no adult life”? Come again?

        Michael Jackson admitted he felt cheated in life because he had so little opportunity to experience anything other than “adult life.” Does Kinsley really believe that making all that musical product was a walk in the park? A fun kid’s game anyone can play?

        Kinsley attacks Michael Jackson’s masculinity, mental state, “extreme abnormality,” education, maturity, even his “taste” in music. But his loudest complaint is Michael Jackson’s commercial success: “He’s bigger than Sinatra, Elvis, the Beatles, Jesus, Beethoven – all of them.”

        It speaks volumes that it’s difficult to find any of these vicious attacks *before* Michael Jackson became the biggest commercial success ever.

      • Hi Eleanor. That Michael Kinsley article is so troubling, in so many different ways. It professes to be sympathetic, but paints Michael Jackson as such a deeply deformed victim of corporate greed that he’s scarcely recognizable as human.

        And of course Kinsley attacks Michael Jackson’s sexuality – it seems all white journalists (and some black journalists) feel compelled to do that. As Kinsley says,

        What’s happened to Michael Jackson isn’t too different from what they used to do to young male singers in Europe a few centuries ago, to keep their voices sweet. … In fact, what American capitalism has done to Michael Jackson is even a bit like what the Soviets do to their women athletes.

        In other words, Kinsley suggests (in not too subtle ways) that Michael Jackson has in effect been castrated, at least psychologically if not physically or chemically. And this was in 1984, long before the allegations.

        I really do wonder where that hostility comes from, and I think you’re right that Michael Jackson represented a deep threat to the status quo. As you wrote so well, “My guess, is that it has a great deal to do with the fact that white women found him so attractive, which translated into white women finding a different set of male cultural values attractive, which in turn represented a threat to the white male culture they represented and gave them value. I believe MJ and his phenomenal success struck at the very roots of white patriarchal culture …”

        • Michael Jackson as a threat: I think you need to broaden the scope, folks! 🙂 While there undeniably is an element of racism and jealousy in the backlash against MJ, that’s just one part of the story. If white males (which I happen to be) should feel MJ so threatening because many (white) females felt attracted to him – how shouldn’t they (we) feel about groupie-magnets such as Lenny Kravitz or Mick Jagger (who seduced thousands of women in his career). In fact, I have many examples of other kinds of people reacting with hostility towards Michael Jackson:
          – in Bergen, Norway, I heard a group of black males making fun of MJ after they’d seen the Bashir documentary – mocking him by talking in a childish voice
          – in the Spike Lee OTW documentary you can see Eddie Murphy making fun of MJ’s sensibility and vulnerability – to me, at least, it looks as if Eddie Murphy feels threatened by something! 🙂
          – here you can see Jay Pharaoh, a black comedian, making fun of MJ ”loosing his nose”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEGsvSXwrbc
          – Dianne Sawyer looks and acts like she feels threatened during her interview with MJ and Lisa-Marie
          – a former (white) girlfriend of mine found Michael Jackson ”weird” (threatening), and couldn’t understand my fascination with him

          I could go on and on… My point is: All kinds of people feel threatened by MJ! What do all these people have in common? They’re adults!

          I think THAT’s the real threat: That Michael Jackson insisted that in order to create a better world, we need to change our adult gaze! We need to look at the world with wonder and appreciation. If fully implemented, MJ’s worldview would make our hierarchies meaningless. Who’s afraid of the army if the soldiers are laughing and playing hide-and-seek? Who would ever kill if all life is seen as precious?

          If we want to understand the threat MJ keeps posing to society at large, we have to look beyond racism. We have to study child psychology, we have to study power structures, we have to find the roots of violence and aggression…

          MJ was a threat because he kept his child-like ability to wonder in an adult world that is all about status and positions. Nothing illustrates this better than the time Vaclav Havel, Czech president and playwright, invited him to Prague: http://prague.tv/en/s72/Directory/c206-Art-and-Culture/n695-vaclav-havel-and-lou-reed

          I think this quote is very thought-provoking:

          Havel had invited Jackson to Prague Castle in 1996, because he was interested in the pop star as a “civilization phenomenon,” but found him “disappointing.”

          Rather than discuss his own cultural significance, says Havel, Jackson wanted to “go to the third courtyard and say hello to the children.”

          • “My point is: All kinds of people feel threatened by MJ! What do all these people have in common? They’re adults!”

            I absolutely agree with you on that point, Bjørn, and it reminds me of the works of Swiss-German psychologist and psychoanalyst Arno Gruen who died last year. For example:

            “In “The Insanity of Normality”, the psychoanalyst Arno Gruen challenges the assumption, made popular by Freud in the twentieth century, that humans are born with an innate tendency to destruction and violence. Gruen argues instead that at the root of evil lies self-hatred, a rage originating in a self-betrayal that begins in childhood, when autonomy is surrendered in exchange for the “love” of those who wield power over us. To share in that subjugating power, we create a false self, a pleasing- to-others image of ourselves that springs from powerful and deep-seated hopes of being loved and fears of being injured and humiliated.”


            Or as he said in his acceptance speech for the Loviisa Peace Prize 2010:

            “Being forced to be obedient while growing up leads to the inability to perceive our own empathic potential because of our anxiety and fear, which must not be acknowledged, since fear and uncertainty are labeled as weakness. Although we are driven by our fear, it must be denied and repressed. Here we can see the vicious circle of our development, which is influenced by a culture that causes parents to experience their infants’ aliveness and high spirits as disturbing or even threatening. As they get older, these children will soon be filled with anxiety and worry and will learn at an early age that their original, authentic self imperils their relationship with their parents and for this reason is bad. As a result, their innermost nature turns into something strange and foreign. And it is this alienated part of one’s self that must be fought against from now on.”


          • Hi Bjørn. Thanks for sharing that article about Havel and Lou Reed. (What an unexpected combination!) I thought the quote you shared was really interesting, but so was this one that came just after:

            Reed, irritated by the audience’s laughter, defends Jackson. “He’s a great singer, a great dancer, then there’s all this other stuff and people don’t pay attention.”

            To be honest, I’m impressed that Lou Reed, as an avant garde artist, went out on a limb and expressed admiration for Michael Jackson as a performer … and this was a few months before Michael Jackson’s death, when it was still rare for people to defend him.

            So I completely agree that racial bigotry wasn’t the only prejudice Michael Jackson face, and that a contempt for his childlike qualities played a part (as did misogyny, homophobia, …) but I don’t think it’s an either/or situation. I think he experienced both, and that the two different kinds of prejudice actually augmented each other in complicated ways.

            For example, a centuries old element of racism in the US is the stereotype, growing out of slavery, that slaves were childish and lacked the judgment to live independently, so needed the guidance of slave owners and overseers to survive. Jackson’s soft voice and childlike wonder played into that stereotype.

            There is also the centuries old stereotype that black men are beasts and sexual predators – a prejudice that is still very much alive today – so I think white commentators in particular were very uneasy with images of him with children, especially white children, were predisposed to believe the allegations against him, and reacted much more harshly to those allegations than they would have if he were white.

            So I strongly agree with you that “Michael Jackson insisted that in order to create a better world, we need to change our adult gaze! We need to look at the world with wonder and appreciation. If fully implemented, MJ’s worldview would make our hierarchies meaningless.” (And I love the way you stated that!) I also agree that this was perceived, perhaps subconsciously, as a very real threat to the status quo. But I still think racism played a big part in it also.

  3. Ghosts, by the way, has been my favorite MJ short film from the minute I laid eyes on it. I can’t even imagine it having been used as part of the original intent, an Addams Family film promo? — good grief!

    I’m sorry that false accusations undercut the original project yet in hindsight I’m grateful that Michael’s film was able to evolve into the gem it became because of that detour.

    Though he always publicly soft-balled Ghosts as just a bit of fluff to entertain and amuse, I think not. Just too much subtlety there. I have to think that the dialogue Michael was able to say as the Mayor, to himself as The Maestro –hmmm –that gets confusing but you know what I mean — must have been exquisitely liberating for him, after having been the one so many Mayors wanted to cast out and insult. Obviously he believed in the film enough to finally get it made – but ironically it went virtually unknown in his home country.

    And perhaps those who are named in your article – King, Johnson, Robeson, Mandela… and many others… are actually the Ghosts who named his short film, and haunted MJ into becoming more politicized and more direct in speaking out about broader issues in his later life.

    • Oooooh Chris, that ideas of the ghosts just gives me chills. Spot on. I easily imagine him hangin with other visionaries, movers and shakers like King, Johnson, Robeson and Mandela…

    • “And perhaps those who are named in your article – King, Johnson, Robeson, Mandela… and many others… are actually the Ghosts”

      @Chris Kohler
      No words to describe the amount of life your insight just gave me.

      • … and the Greenwood families, and the Groveland Four…are the Ghosts.

        I may have to lie down for a bit.

        • “I may have to lie down for a bit.” Me too! Great observation Chris Kohler!

          • Glad my wandering mind went somewhere interesting to you, Lisha and DB…

            I’ve often wished to be a fly on the wall during the period that the HIStory album and the short film Ghosts were in creation… Knowing what an avid history buff MJ was, how this period moved him into another place, how his racial/cultural history moved him (but he still tried hard to stay on the inspirational side of the line in the sand judging by the song History) and what he was intending. I think Ghosts the film causes one to listen to the HIStory album with slightly different ears – and perhaps vice versa. And I heartily wish either MJ or Stan Winston were alive to tell us more about how the film evolved – surely way beyond any curious initial Stephen King plot lines…

  4. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Such important information that is usually unknown to white audiences because it is intentionally hidden from us. But it’s our responsibility to know this history. It is OUR history too. I knew the outline, thanks for filling in so much detail. I’ll definitely be watching the videos, and will share this on my blog in a couple days.

    • Hi Keely,

      Thanks so much for your comments and for sharing this on your blog! I so agree with you that white audiences have a responsibility to know our history and not look away because it’s painful. As a white American, I have to accept that white racism is our problem to solve. We can’t afford to pretend it’s not there or act like it’s someone else’s issue. It’s our problem and we have to deal with it. As Whoopi Goldberg said in the interview, sometimes it’s easier to look away, because we often don’t realize the extent to which we rely on white privilege. We need to work as hard as we can to see the truth.

  5. Michael Jackson to me is just the most popular example of what is happening everyday to unknown innocent people all around the world. And I think it is a very important example to reveal this pattern of abuse and media distortion because Michael always made and still makes people care. Even if most of us never got to know him personally we all felt that personal connection that he created as the artist he was. It shows so clearly that it is indeed possible to create that sort of connection with any other human being that you just know from afar (which means through television or mass media in general) if you try hard to (love them). And because he gave voice to those people, he identified with them and showed us how we can identify with “strangers” as well. That is powerful!

    “That’s why the news media is sometimes called the Fourth Estate. We have a government of three branches or “estates” – the presidency, the congress, and the Supreme Court – that are supposed to provide checks and balances on one another, and then the news media is another avenue of checks and balances. That’s where the term Fourth Estate comes from. But what happens when the media fails to provide that review, and instead only adds momentum to abuses of power? It’s really frightening to think about”

    It is frightening to think about it and horrifying to realise that this is actually the case. I think Noam Chomsky is one of the most prominent US thinkers who openly speaks about modern day propaganda which talks people into war in foreign countries against foreign people they were made to see so differently and strange they couldn’t identify with. All these “branches” you named, Willa, are totally dismissed when it comes to the drone war. No trial, no judge, nothing. “At a recent debate concerning the National Security Agency’s bulk surveillance programs, former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden admitted that metadata is used as the basis for killing people.” https://www.rt.com/usa/158460-cia-director-metadata-kill-people/
    Can it get any worse?

    • Hi Julie. Thank you for sharing this article. I didn’t even know what that quote meant, “that metadata is used as the basis for killing people,” until I read the article, but that is truly terrible. Is does seem that some agencies designed to protect citizens – from the Santa Barbara police to the NSA – have lost their way and are using their power in abusive ways that only serve to maintain an existing power structure.

      The K.C. Arceneaux article Lisha shared below gets to that also, showing there was a pattern of abuse in Santa Barbara, but I hadn’t connected that kind of local abuse of power with global events like the drone war. It’s deeply troubling to think about.

      • It really IS troubling and MJ was indeed the first case I truly got this! I just couldn’t believe that the media coverage was so distorted and false. I just couldn’t imagine how this could happen. But just hear what former CIA analyst Ray McGovern had to say:

  6. Thought provoking as usual, ladies. It still breaks my heart that MJ felt he had to leave his home the way he did. And to think about the others that had to also, you’d think in this day and age we all would have moved past that-sadly, it is not so.

  7. Great post.

  8. Lisha and Willa,

    A “wow” post. Really appreciate how you aligned what happened to Michael with the historical practice of running successful black people out of town. I will definitely set aside aside time to watch “Banished.”

    I just finished reading “Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America.” by Gilbert King. It’s the story of a case that happened in Lake County, Florida (just north of Disney World) that Marshall defended on behalf of the NAACP before he was nominated to the Supreme Court. The case has all the same tell tale features:

    1. Successful black farmers who owned property in a majority white rural area. Their two grown sons served honorably in the military, wore their Army uniforms in town, and refused to go to work in the white-owned citrus groves.

    2. A false sexual accusation by a white woman, followed by unjust pursuit & arrests of the two sons, plus two more innocent men.

    3. The sheriff told the families of the accused black men to get out of town “for their own safety from the white mobs.” Then the sheriff permitted the mobs – tied to the KKK – to burn down the homes belonging to the parents of the accused. The National Guard was stationed nearby and could have stopped it, but the sheriff refused to call them in.

    We could really just stop right here, in terms of demonstrating parallels to Michael’s forced exile from Neverland.

    The sheriff hunted down & murdered one of the accused at the beginning of the case. The other three men were convicted in a bogus trial – the doctor who had examined the complaining woman found no evidence of rape, but this exonerating evidence was withheld from the defense team.

    When two of the men were later sent back to Lake County for a new trial – due to NAACP pressure – the same sheriff was allowed to perform the prison transport. He stopped his car on a deserted road and murdered one of the men in cold blood. His story was that the handcuffed men had attacked him.

    The other was re-tried and convicted again because Thurgood Marshall was unable to pry the exonerating evidence from the district attorney’s office. The home of the local NAACP organizer – who had brought Marshall in – was then firebombed and he & his family died.

    The sheriff, the prosecuting attorney, and most of the Florida law enforcement system not only allowed this to go on, they were behind it. This case began in 1949, but that same sheriff got re-elected every year and was still running the show in Lake County until 1973.
    The Lake County sheriff was finally suspended by a new governor for the death of (an unrelated) black prisoner in custody. He then resigned. The sheriff was never convicted of anything.

    When looking at the Groveland case, I can’t help but see Tom Sneddon and the infamous LAPD. The 1973 detail, in particular, haunts me in a personal way I can’t seem to express right now. The best I can do is this:

    The sheriff kept this up for 20 more years, until 1973.
    Michael sang “Ben” at the Oscars in 1973.
    Disney World had already been open for three years by 1973.
    Tom Sneddon had already been Santa Barbara Deputy District Attorney for four years in 1973.

    Thanks again for your great post.

    More Info on The Groveland Four

    It’s only because the FBI files on the Groveland case were finally de-classified in 2012 that true extent of the horrors are now known. The author also got access to Marshall’s NAACP files for the first time.


    The families of the wrongly accused have now petitioned Florida Governor Rick Scott for posthumous pardons for the black men. Governor Scott refused.



    • Thanks so much, D.B. Fascinating and horrifying and depressing. There’s the myth of what our country is all about, and then there is the reality…

      • That’s for sure. In elementary school we were required to memorize the poem inscribed on base of the Statue of Liberty and believed every word:

        “Give me your tired, your poor
        Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
        Send these, your homeless, tempest-tossed to me.”

        If this was ever true, it was only for some.

        I’ve always thought it was eerie how Ghosts predicted what happened to Michael, but I read the film symbolically. The idea that Ghosts could be Michael’s artistic statement on historical literal home invasion and forced expulsion hadn’t clicked before now. I’m sure he knew the history, and perhaps Ghosts shows us that was Michael was also aware Sneddon wanted him gone from the neighborhood, even if he didn’t imagine it could still get as bad as it did.

        • Hi D.B.,

          Thanks for all the information on the Groveland Boys. As Eleanor said, it’s horrifying and depressing to think about cases like this. But it’s important to realize that they aren’t isolated incidents or common in only certain regions of the country. They are widespread and they reveal deeply ingrained cultural attitudes. I can only assume these events are hugely under-reported.

          Are you by any chance familiar with this 2004 article by K.C. Arceneaux?: http://www.rawstory.com/exclusives/contributors/sneddon_allegations_michael_jackson.htm

          Apparently there have been claims that Tom Sneddon and other city officials discussed ways to “get Michael Jackson out of the county” as early as 1994, and this included racist remarks as well. I’d be curious to know more about it.

          • Lisha, I have seen this article before and seen fans discussing it. No further info. Others may be able to contribute more details.

  9. Hi everyone. Interesting post but a bit out of my depth not being an American.

    However of course many shades of similarity to racial tensions in my adopted country of South Africa, which at times still flare up in the black, white and coloured communities, . I came here in the mid 80s almost at the end of apartheid and have only got partly to grips with it since, it being a very complex situation, which was enforced, rather than what seems to be more covert apartheid in US i.e. not outwardly and entirely sanctioned by the government of the day. as it was here There seemed to have been what is termed a ‘third force’ here also whipping up an already very volatile situation, and I am sure that kind of thing still happens unfortunately. We are having real problems with black students causing havoc in the universities wanting a freeze on student fees (indeed no fees at all) free accommodation etc etc., and it seems from friends of mine working at the University of Cape Town that much of this is being stirred up be young people who are not even registered students on campus!! on we go……………

    Changing the subject back to MJ – has anyone bought the new Off The Wall package including the CD and Spike Lee’s DVD? It impressively arrived in my post box only 10 days after release, much to my delight. I love the way it is packaged, brickwall and chalk included. Feel sure Michael would have approved. Spike Lees DVD is great. I really hope that he doesn’t stop at Thriller, but goes on to do the rest of Michaels albums.

  10. ‘ While the specific legalities may be different in Michael Jackson’s expulsion from Neverland, the overall contour is identical: someone in the dominant culture is allowed to decide who can or cannot occupy a certain space – regardless of its rightful ownership – and the actions taken to gain control of that space are mysteriously never questioned or fully examined. In the end, black property and wealth are lost, and someone in the dominant culture takes possession of property that was legally purchased by another. ”

    Thank you. We thought it was history but it isnt.
    A sad conclusion against the backdrop of what is happening today to Michaels estate ( not to be confused with the executors)
    Many lies are being told , untold, denied, spinned, twisted. Michael is blamed for making debts.
    Michael was supposedly 300.000.000 in debt when he died. The executors created a 730.000.000 debt to the IRS. Anyone who believes that Michaels beneficiaries will profit from selling his sony share, coincidentaly at the same amount of his IRS debt, is deliberately ignoring the facts.
    Michael was a prophet in many ways .He knew what was going to happen and it happened exactly as he predicted.

  11. Can you all do a discussion about Michael Jackson’s song “Monkey Business”? I want to know what the song is about. Can you all describe who Michael Jackson was talking about in the “Monkey Business” song?

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