Friday, July 3, 2009

My Observations On Quincy Jones Questioning Michael Jackson's Blackness: Pot Meet Kettle

Was anyone else as perplexed as I was reading this Men.Style.Com article? We know how writers can take things out of context or let's be blunt - lie - about what an interview subject says to generate a salacious headline. So I was personally waiting for some sort of public protestation from Mr. Jones to clarify any of his comments as featured. Looks like they'll stand as is so I wanted to have a conversation about it. Talk about fair weather friends!

Q: Have you been crying?
A: Oh, man, it's more than that. It's way more than that. It hurts my soul, man. It's just a lump down there.

Q: You were there to witness the strange evolution in Michael's appearance. Did you ever step in and saying anything about it?

A: Oh, we talked about it all the time. But he'd come up with, "Man, I promise you I have this disease," and so forth, and "I have a blister on my lungs," and all that kind of b.s. It's hard, because Michael's a Virgo, man—he's very set in his ways. You can't talk him out of it. Chemical peels and all that stuff. 

Q: Did you believe him about the disease?
A: I don't believe in any of that bullshit, no. No. Never. I've been around junkies and stuff all my life. I've heard every excuse. It's like smokers—"I only smoke when I drink" and all that stuff. But it's bullshit. You're justifying something that's destructive to your existence. It's crazy. 

Q: But it must've been so disturbing to see Michael's face turn into what it turned into.
A: It's ridiculous, man! Chemical peels and all of it. And I don't understand it. But he obviously didn't want to be black.

Q: Is that what it was?
A: Well, what do you think? You see his kids?

Read the entire interview. I wanted to make sure I included the excerpt about how much he missed Jackson before getting into it. I thought he was very observant and blunt....but after all of these years Jones is well aware of what audience he's speaking to when discussing certain things. This wasn't an interview in Ebony. He was speaking to a predominantly white audience about Michael Jackson's behavior that went against established norms of other groups. That was a very calculating move on his part.

Let me be blunt: Quincy Jones made some valid points but he is the last person to be questioning another black man's "blackness". I was discussing this interview with a friend born in Italy who's staying in California for the summer and the first thing she asked about was Jones' penchant for dating white women - and she's white! This friend of mine holds no compunction about asking me direct questions about her own observations regarding this and other situations related to race, class and gender. She says she's always wanted to know about things of this nature but had no one to ask or didn't feel comfortable with potentially offending anyone. So white people do notice even if they're not saying anything. 

So to be clear, this isn't about Jones' mating rituals and I could care less. For as long as I've heard of Jones he has been with anyone but a black woman - but that is his choice. If Enrique Iglesias was available and asked me if he could be my Hero, he'd get an emphatic yes. Trust and believe that! More black women need to cast a wide net, meet and mate with a much larger variety of decent men than the wading pool selection of guppies they're picking through right now. We also need to do it for ourselves and not care what anyone else thinks! After three marriages, several children and numerous alliances I'm certain Jones has lived a very full life. He's a contemporary of Duke Ellington so he's been around for quite some time now. 

I don't remember what magazine featured a story on him but there was an accompanying photo of his children - that's when I found out that he had in fact been married to and had children with a black woman but it was before I was born! Anyway, my point is that he has biological children whose appearance looks very similar to MJ's kids. Is he confirming his own desire to escape from blackness by trying to have the whitest-skinned children possible. Is he telling us this is what some (many? most??) black men who mate with non-black women are trying to do? I don't get the pointed dig at bringing them into that conversation. They have nothing to do with his relationship with himself or Jackson and I thought that was very declasse of him. 

The other issues he brought up, about blacks who want to change their appearance to be more comfortable in their skin was very telling. Michael Jackson was an extreme case because he was so famous and under such scrutiny. It has me wondering now if it is in fact more common for black males to feel that need to be a different phenotype. Regardless it is black women collectively getting pressure from other black men to be different from who they are.  We can observe this in noticing those who publicly express their desire for all women who aren't black, or have to fit a narrow definition of blackness based strictly on appearance. It's a pretty vicious cycle that goes back to the core weakness of a few dictating terms for the majority.

The observation of Jackson's struggle with his identity is one that can be applied in a broader sense to other black men who don't feel comfortable with who they are in their skin when a sizable portion chose to mate with women who look nothing like the women who begat them. It's all a choice and that choice is an individual's right, but what motivates it and to what lengths? When you have high-profile black men choosing non-black women and elevating them as the preferred choice that's where I protest. That doesn't seem to be about determining who's best for you and being in an affirming reciprocal relationship. That's about black-on-black racism and disdain for black women. I cannot abide by that.

In "Michael Jackson On Race - His Race" an article featured on, Carmen Van Kerckhove delves very eloquently into the intracacies and contradictions of our struggle with race and identity. 
Each of our individual histories and the histories of our ancestors act in concert to shape who we become and what we value. And when personal histories are complex (as most are), they often result in a racial identity that is equally complex and sometimes even contradictory. 

About Jackson: Race cannot be separated with precision from body dysmorphic disorder, hatred of his tyrannical father, or any potentially relevant theory being discussed right now.


Because if he hated his body, he was hating a black man’s body. If he hated his father, he was hating a black man. Race ran through it all; we cannot and should not dismiss its effect.

So in our own history of being black in this country where does the conscious, healthy, non-colorist behavior begin and when has the "hatred" or its varying degrees of discomfort ended?

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Khadija said...


In its own peverse way, this reminds me of how several of my adulterous, middle-aged, BM coworkers behave. They loooove to talk about how they "don't know why some folks become baby-daddies...blah, blah, blah.." All said with a tone of voice as if the cheating-on-his wife speaker was Cliff Huxtable. [And yes, I did call one of these clowns on this. He then got very quiet. And learned not to make these "shocked, shocked, I say!" comments in my presence.]

I think a lot of guys compartmentalize the negative things they do. They like to believe that they can DO "x,y,z" without BEING the sort of person who does "x,y,z."

Quincy Jones has a LOT of nerve and a major lack of self-awareness about his own actions.

Peace, blessings and solidarity.

Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...

As much as I want to hold MJ to certain standards and wag my finger at things he did I see so many of his fair-weather friends revealing themselves one by one and have tremendous empathy. Then I remembered they actually hadn't worked together in two decades and who knows if they were friends anymore.

Jenny said...

I listened to a recording of Stevie Wonder giving an acceptance speech for the Spirit Award at the Montreal Jazz Festival, which turned into an MJ memorial speech, naturally. And I got thinking -- Stevie and Michael had similar beginnings, as prodigious children. Whether Stevie ever achieved the extreme levels of global fame and adoration as Michael I don't know, but I think they began similarly in a lot of ways.

And then I got thinking about an alternate reality Obama Inauguration. Stevie Wonder was in many ways the star performer of that event, being the guy Obama names as his favourite musician. But for some reason I can't help thinking of an alternate universe where Michael would've been the big name at that show instead of Stevie. If, say, starting in the mid-'80s, things had gone differently. He hadn't had the surgeries. And then of course he hadn't had young boys in his bedroom (which remains the only verifiable fact we can know about the situation; anything more was not proven in court).

But even if Michael hadn't been embroiled in the molestation trials, even if he hadn't had babies with his dermatologist's assistant, if none of that scandal followed him he still wouldn't have been at the inauguration if his skin colour was still so radically changed. I don't think, anyway.

Anyhow, in the end, I echo a sentiment I read last week -- wherever he is, I hope it's somewhere where he doesn't have to hate himself.

Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...

Jenny: You bring up some interesting points. Stevie hit his artistic peak in the 70's and early 80'. MJ was made for the video era plus they have different styles, etc. With all the controversy surrounding him and the insistence by whites to remind everyone he's a _____ insert negative word there Obama would be careful to not raise their ire. We have to remember we don't personally know any of these people only their crafted images. I think the Memorial was an effective tool at rehabilitating MJ's image.