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Even in Death, King of Pop Stirs Racial Divide

New America Media, Commentary, Earl Ofari Hutchinson Posted: Jul 08, 2009

The first nasty inkling that even the King of Pop can stir racial divides came with the Mt. Everest-sized list of postings on blogs, chat rooms, and Web sites the week after Michael Jacksons death. Many writers dredged up all of the old drug, child molestation and other dirt digs on Jackson.

In many cases they explicitly took big racial swipes at Jackson, papa Joe Jackson, and Jackson family members. Then there was the windy, over the top mudsling at Jackson by New York Congressman Pete King. King trashed the presumption of innocence and a jury acquittal of Jackson in his child molestation case, and branded him a low life and a pervert.

A Pew Research Center poll found that while the majority of African-Americans closely followed the Jackson coverage, fewer than one in four whites said they followed the coverage. A CNN poll found that a bare majority of Americans were thrilled by the Pop King. But, as always, buried in the numbers was the racial kicker. The overwhelming majority of African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians hailed Jackson. A decisive majority of whites, especially older whites, said that Jackson had no appeal to them.

The age factor in the line in the sand on Jackson is to be expected. But age alone doesnt explain the top-heavy racial split. A majority of older blacks in informal surveys and interviews clearly like Jackson, if not solely for his music, for smashing musical and racial barriers in his artistry, and for the role he played in opening the doors for other black artists. He defied Sony and MTV and demanded top money and billing for his music,

Jackson is no Mike Tyson, O.J. Simpson, or Michael Vick. There would never be a gaggle of sportswriters, talking head commentators, and pundits heaping every pejorative that they could think of on his head. Jacksons innate sweetness, childlike innocence, vulnerability, and his big-hearted charitable giving insulated him from that type of vilification.

Yet, there are some distinct markers that Jackson has beyond age and musical tastes that send a racial signal up. He lived an opulent and princely lifestyle. This always engenders grumbles and resentment in some quarters. There was a widespread rush to judgment during his child molestation trial that he was guilty of the terrible things that he was charged with. His clean and full acquittal didnt totally wipe the smear away. And he is an African-American male.

This cant be cavalierly shrugged off. The finger points at President Obama as the supreme example to refute any charge that black males are still routinely stereotyped, negatively typecast, and reviled is not a compelling argument that the old racial myths have totally vanished. During and after the Presidential campaign, polls consistently showed that while Obama got a high likeability rating from a big majority of whites, many whites still clung tightly to the ancient negative, stereotypical fears of black males, and strongly questioned their work ethnic and competence. Though Obama did soften the racial barrier when the final vote was in, he didnt demolish it. The majority of whites still voted against him.

Jackson found out the hard way that at the first touch of legal taint that fan adulation, goodwill, and fame can vanish faster than a Houdini disappearing act. Long before he touched a toe in the courtroom, much of the old racial typecasting of black males when the allegation is a sexual crime quickly kicked in. The acquittal prompted more talk that Jackson was able to use his fame and name, and his ATeam, high priced attorneys to massage the legal system to skip away scot-free.

Millions will and should continue to hail him for his enduring world-class music, artistry and charity. But some will continue to pick, probe and accuse him for his alleged drug use and addiction, and oddity, and worse, some will continue to whisper the dreaded words child molester. Jackson will likely never get a complete pass in death from the negative stuff. Sadly this comes with the turf when the racial divide inevitably rears its ugly head; even for the King of Pop.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His weekly radio show, The Hutchinson Report can be heard on weekly in Los Angeles on KTYM Radio 1460 AM and nationally on blogtalkradio.com

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