How we all misunderstood Michael Jackson

Jan 17 2017 BY Gerald Onyango

Last week Michael Jackson’s name was in the headlines following the trailer for Sky Arts’ series Urban Myths hitting the net where it featured Joseph Fiennes portraying Jackson. The trailer caused a major uproar on social media with many lamenting their frustrations with Sky Arts for casting a white actor to play Michael Jackson. The person leading the outcry was none other than Michael Jackson’s eldest daughter, Paris Jackson, who said she was “incredibly offended” by Sky Arts’ decision. Subsequently, Sky opted to not air the episode with the Jackson family thanking the British network for doing so. With much being said about MJ’s race and identity in the past week, it made me think about just how misunderstood the King of Pop was throughout his short time on earth.

Michael Jackson’s identity has always been a constant puzzle to me and still continues to confuse me despite reaching adulthood. Not necessarily the fact that his complexion changed drastically over decades, but more so the fact it changed and there wasn’t much commentary around it at the time. I’ve asked my parents, colleagues and elders who were old enough during MJ’s peak on their thoughts of his many changing faces. While they all acknowledged it, they all seemed to shrug it off and refer to him being some form of fantastical being that you didn’t question what he did or how he looked, because was truly larger than life. I guess given that we’ve grown up in the social media age it’s startling that the biggest artist on the planet could constantly alter his look without much public scrutiny and a bombardment of questions. The obvious questions being the reason for such a drastic change and whether MJ was ultimately happy with being black – both of course were answered during his high-profile interview with Oprah in 1993.


With that being said, I do honestly think MJ was a proud African-American who did suffer from a skin disorder – a loss of pigmentation – forcing him to even out his skin tone. But I feel there are underlining issues that aren’t often mentioned and are too also overlooked in regards to Michael Jackon’s appearance. If we look at the great man’s career, he was the breadwinner for his family from age 8 and held all the pressure, demands and burdens of his family and, too, black hope in America when many at that age are still learning to ride a bicycle. In addition, we must remember that the majority of his life was spent in ‘Hollywood’ where everyone looks different to him, white is right, a world where if there’s something you don’t like about yourself you can head to Beverly Hills and instantly change it. It’s also the world where Disney and fantasy rule and your life and purpose for living is to solely entertain others ahead of your own wellbeing and ultimately your own happiness.

When you look at what MJ had to endure from age 8 until his death you can’t be too surprised as to why he made some of the decisions he did. While again I do think Michael Jackson was a proud African-American, I can’t help but think the environment he lived in perpetuated one that made him feel his own image was undesirable.  Add in the fact he had a skin disorder, second-degree burns to his scalp, a lack of childhood and private life, and the pressures of black America on his shoulders; the man was doomed from the very second he sang “I Want You Back”. If we look at today’s society where we’re well aware of the pressures of stardom and similarly have a better understanding of mental health, then if we were to look back at Michael Jackson’s circumstances and consider just what he had to endure during his life – but yet still dominate music for decades – you have to commend the man for his resolve and strength. There will never be an entertainer who is better than Michael Jackson and similarly I doubt there’ll be an artist who will be mentally stronger too.