Why Many Blacks Think Mike's a Racial Target
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In quick succession, Michael Jackson's mother, a brother, and not surprisingly Jesse Jackson flat out said or strongly hinted that Mike is under fire not because of any hanky panky with underage boys, but because he's black. This is not only the wail of family members, and a self-serving civil rights leader, desperately snatching at the race card to deflect attention from the charge of child molestation, one of the most universally reviled crimes. Many blacks also loudly grumbled that the charges against Jackson were a racial hit.
That's the same thing they said when high profile athletes celebrities such as Mike Tyson O.J. Simpson, Don King, Kobe Bryant and bad behaving politicians such as Marion Barry wound up in a court docket. The inevitable opinion polls, on how blacks and whites see the Jackson case, will almost certainly show the same racial divide it did in the other celebrated cases.
The reason isn't hard to find. Many blacks remember the past brutal treatment by white police, judges, prosecutors, and juries. It was hardly an accident that Michael's brother, Jermaine, described the charges against him as a "legal lynching." This instantly triggered memories of that past brutal treatment.
Many blacks also regard the disproportionate number of black men being arrested, sentenced to stiff prison terms, and given the death penalty as smoking gun proof that the criminal justice system is viciously stacked deck against them. Jackson's staggering $3 million bail, the slapping of handcuffs on him, the small army of lawmen that ransacked his ranch, and relentless Jackson-is-guilty racial tilt in some of the press, further convinced blacks that Jackson has been tried, judged, and convicted before he has ever seen a courtroom.
The Jackson case also fuels the same racial unease, even paranoia, among many blacks that was blatantly evident in the O.J. Simpson case, even though both men would be dead last on anyone's list of potential targets of racial victims. They moved in the glitter and glamour world of sports and entertainment, hung out with white corporate executives, and celebrities, were hardly ever seen in black communities, gave no visible support to black causes, and rarely publicly commented on racial matters. When they did, their remarks were cautious, tepid, guarded, and calculated to reassure the public that racial problems were at worst a minor annoyance. The one brief, but notable, time that Jackson stepped into the racial box was to hammer Sony Records last year for allegedly stiffing him in the sales and promotion of his records. He branded Sony racist and devilish, and accused it of shamelessly exploiting black artists. But Jackson's racially tinged attack against a corporate giant raised more questions about Jackson than it did about the record industry's alleged vile practices.
Was his newfound racial militancy really a heartfelt effort to make the record industry atone for racism? Or was it a case of an aging, fading, pop star playing the race card to grab a headline, curry favor with blacks and in the process shake down a record company?
Before his racial outburst, Jackson had been in the music business for more than three decades, and had reaped a king's ransom from it, yet there is no record that he had turned his towering name and fame into a bully pulpit to blast the record industry for its long and in some cases well-documented disgraceful rip-off of Black artists by some record labels.
Still, the willingness of so many blacks to see hidden plots and conspiracies to nail wealthy and famous ones such as Jackson is often confused and misinterpreted. The assumption is that racial loyalty trumps common sense and that blacks are willing to excuse, and even condone bad, even criminal behavior by other blacks as long as their persecutors are white. It's a bad assumption. In a careful reading of opinion in the Simpson case, most blacks did not say that that he was incapable of committing murder, but that the system was incapable of giving him a fair trial.
This proved to be a terribly wrong-headed fear when Simpson was speedily acquitted. But the blacks that cheered the verdict were not cheering Simpson they were cheering a victory over what they regarded as a system hopelessly riddled with racial bias against them. Even as the Jackson case unfolds, there is little evidence that black suspicion that the criminal justice system is abusive towards them translates ipso facto into blind faith that Jackson's innocent.
An informal poll on BlackAmericaWeb.com found that nearly as many blacks thought that Jackson could be guilty of the charges against him. There were also noticeably few black faces at the rash of worldwide vigils by fans and admirers held to protest the charges.
Jackson did not wind up in handcuffs because redneck racists, as brother Jermaine claimed, are out to do him in. Yet, as long as many blacks think that prominent blacks, even painted ones, are the special targets of racists they won't believe otherwise.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. Visit his news and opinion website: www.thehutchinsonreport.com. He is the author of The Crisis in Black and Black (Middle Passage Press).