African business, politics and lifestyle
Black or white?
Nowhere was Michael Jackson mourned more than in Africa. Young and old, people wept openly when news broke of his death, struck by disbelief and sadness. His funeral was followed across the continent anywhere that a television set could be found.
Jackson’s link with Africa strengthened when he visited the continent at the age of 14 as lead singer of the Jackson Five. Emerging from the plane in Senegal, he responded to a welcome of drummers and dancers by screaming: ”This is where I come from.”
But by the time of his death, it was unclear whether Jackson was so proud of his origins. Surgery had altered his appearance to such an extent that many felt he looked as white as he did African-American.
His comment that he was “neither Black nor White” drew controversy during a visit to Africa in the 90s. Although he was happy to be crowned chief of several African villages and to shake hands with hundreds of people, the trip was a public relations nightmare – with allegations that police had beaten the crowds who went to see him and complaints in the local media that the pop star had been seen holding his nose, as if to keep out a bad smell.
Racial unity was long a subject close to Jackson’s heart and his 1991 single “Black or White” explicitly promoted it, but his efforts to make himself look less black sent a more confusing message. There was no doubt that he was an incredible musician and entertainer, who will be remembered in Africa for a long time to come.
But what about the other side of his legacy? Did he undermine pride in being African with his efforts to change his own appearance? Should Africa be proud of him?