Playing the Race Conspiracy Card

The instant that Santa Barbara Sheriff's deputies slapped the cuffs on the ex-pop king, Michael Jackson screamed that he was the victim of a conspiracy. In an interview Sunday with his newfound spiritual mentor, Jesse Jackson, Mike got even more explicit and said that he's an easy target because he's a rich, famous black man. Jackson cast himself in the mold of Muhammad Ali, Nelson Mandela, and Jack Johnson, all high-profile blacks, that allegedly wound up on the legal hot seat because they were black.

Jackson first gingerly flipped the race card on the table when he charged that Santa Barbara County Sheriff's deputies roughed him up when he was being searched. He implied that black men, even a black man named Michael Jackson, could be the victim of police abuse. Those are instant and identifiable words that are guaranteed to stir racial passions, anger, and protest among many blacks. Many blacks reflexively play the race card because of their past brutal treatment at the hands of white police, judges, prosecutors, and juries. Jackson's staggering $3 million bail, the slapping of handcuffs on him, the small army of lawmen that ransacked his ranch, and the seemingly relentless Jackson-is-guilty racial tilt in some of the press, further convinced blacks that Jackson was tried, judged, and convicted before he ever set foot in a courtroom.

When Jackson's home was raided on the day his greatest hits album Number Ones was released, some blacks immediately pounced on that and saw sinister conspiracy doings. Others even claimed that Jackson sealed his doom when he bought the rights to the Beatles song catalog and than added insult to injury by buying ATV publishing in 1985. This was the firm that controlled the Lennon-McCarthy music copyrights. In gobbling up their catalog, he supposedly had stepped beyond accepted racial parameters for a black. This supposedly made him a marked man. If the mainstream media could relentlessly assault the character of prominent black men, and prosecutors could orchestrate a damaging campaign to convince the public of their guilt even before a trial, than, many blacks rationalized that every black was fair game.

Jackson was not just any black. His fabulous wealth allowed him to do what he pleased, and when he pleased. There were no constraints on what he could or couldn't do, other than those he put on himself. For most of his professional career, the press treated him as celebrity royalty and did not engage in character assassination, and other than the usual celebrity lawsuits, there were no legal vendettas against him. When some writers and commentators seemed to toss the presumption of his innocence out the window, many blacks were convinced that he was already fitted for a prison cell before the trial had begun. Jesse Jackson certainly believed that. His racial suspicion aroused, Jackson rushed to the ex-pop king's defense. The arrest he claimed "seemed aimed to destroy this media mogul." Fortunately Jackson had the presence of mind to at least veil his hint that there was a dark plot to get Jackson with the qualifying word "seemed."

The willingness of so many blacks to see hidden plots and conspiracies by whites 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 O.J. 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 acquitted. The blacks that cheered the verdict were not cheering Simpson as a murderer who beat the rap. They were cheering a victory over what they regarded as a system hopelessly riddled with racial bias against them. From the start of Jackson case, there was little evidence that black suspicion that the criminal justice system is abusive towards them translated ipso facto into blind faith in Jackson's innocent.

Aside from scattered, infrequent quips, and a handful of racial photo-ops visits to black areas and churches during his adult professional career, Jackson never visibly paraded his racial identity. It appeared that he did the exact opposite-he ran from it. Though he did take a private interest in black causes, he did not make a public point of it. This did not mean that under his surgically-altered face, garish outfits, and odd lifestyle that he didn't care about blacks. The perception simply was that he didn't and that made it all the more peculiar for blacks to see Jackson as a racial target. Prosecutors and law enforcement treated him as a special case. It had nothing to do with race, and everything to do with his fame, name, and celebrity notoriety. Still, Jackson and Jackson have dumped race and conspiracy back on the public table. Now that they have, expect it to lurk even closer to the surface in Santa Maria.

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