Friday, November 28, 2003
New York His once broad nose has been surgically whittled to the size of a pencil. His formerly brown skin is now off-white. His woolly afro has been replaced by a sleek, straightened 'do.
Michael Jackson's physical transformation -- along with his two marriages to white women -- have led to questions about his standing in the black community. But since his arrest on child molestation charges, some blacks have reacted as if a family member were in handcuffs.
Even though Jackson and some other black stars "seem like they hang around with white folks all the time, even though they distance themselves from us seemingly, at the end of the day, we still claim them," said Jamie Foster Brown, publisher of the celebrity monthly magazine Sister 2 Sister. "Because when black people get in trouble, white people tend to look at the whole race anyway."
Jackson certainly has plenty of black detractors, as well as nonblack supporters like his friend Elizabeth Taylor. But judging by the response to his arrest from chat rooms, radio broadcasts and man-on-the-street conversations, there is more willingness in the black community to give Jackson the benefit of the doubt.
"I did a vigil," said Audrey Martin, a 58-year-old retired home care attendant from Fairfield, Calif. "He can't change that he's black. He's black whether or not he wanted to get rid of the black nose."
"African-Americans have had an extremely negative experience with the criminal justice system," said Roland Martin, founder and editor of the Web site BlackAmericaToday .com "We more than anybody else believe in innocent until proven guilty."
There has been a tinge of suspicion that the allegations against Jackson are about more than child abuse. Jermaine Jackson likened his brother's arrest to a "lynching."
It's a sentiment similar to when O.J. Simpson was charged with murder, Mike Tyson was convicted of rape and even as Kobe Bryant's rape case proceeds.
"That's the first thing (blacks) say -- the same thing with O.J. -- they're trying to bring down a black man," Brown said. "There is a reason for that, because there's always been lynching, be it physical or otherwise, since slavery."
Fueling such beliefs are factors such as Jackson's home being raided on the same day his greatest hits album "Number Ones" was released, and the jovial demeanor of Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon as he announced the charges (Sneddon later apologized).
Jesse Jackson said the arrest was so "impeccably timed that it leads to even more suspicions. ... It seems aimed to destroy this media mogul."
He also questioned whether the singer was being treated more harshly than other celebrities -- namely white ones.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Jesse Jackson noted that the bail in Phil Spector's murder case was $1 million while Michael Jackson's was $3 million, and questioned why there was no massive televised raid on Rush Limbaugh's home when reports surfaced that he had bought illegal drugs.
Evoking the cases of other black male celebrities who have been charged with crimes, Jesse Jackson said: "One gets a sense that there is an emerging pattern here, and these high profile blacks who perhaps think they are the exception are maybe the example after all."