Once again, I am pleased to present some of the best essays from my students on “Black or White” and “Earth Song.” When we cover this particular unit as part of the 102 curriculum, students are given the option of writing on either “Black or White” or “Earth Song.” Today I am going to feature selected essays from our unit on “Black or White.” The next post will feature some of the best essays written this past semester on “Earth Song.”
The current crop of essays are from the Spring 2015 term. These students range in age from seventeen-year-old Dual Enrollment high school students, to middle-aged returning students who grew up with Michael’s music. They are from many different backgrounds and ethnicities. Although we did discuss these works thoroughly and they did have a select number of sources to use, the many varied ideas, opinions, analysis and reactions to Michael’s work that you will read here are, as always, their own. To maintain the integrity of each essay, I have altered nothing, not even spelling or grammar mistakes (if/when they occur). These are, without exception, the words, ideas, and reactions of real students who have granted permission to me to post their work. I always find these essays very enlightening, both in learning how young people view Michael’s work and legacy today, and in seeing reflected in these pieces the understanding they have taken away from our unit.
“Worldwide” by John Drake
In 2008, while in the Marine Corps, I was stationed at the entry control point to Al Taqaddum Air Base in Iraq. I had to deal with several different Iraqis who could not speak English, and I could not speak Arabic. When trying to communicate with them I found one name that they all knew, Michael Jackson. Some would even try to dances like him, to out delight. Honestly, all of them were better than me. These Iraqis and my Marines were from totally different parts of the world and different cultures, but one thing we had in common was our appreciation for Michael Jackson and his dance moves.
As Joe Vogel put it in his article, The Misunderstood Power of Michael Jackson’s Music, when referring to Michael’s dancing, he is “continuing to shape, define, and redefine his routines”. From his iconic kick to the moonwalk, Michael had helped shape our culture. In Michael’s music video for his song “Black or White” he shows off not only his dances moves, but also those from around the world.
In the opening scene, it shows a boy dancing in his room. As I am sure most of us can relate to, he is playing the air guitar and jumping around his room. The child is just being a child. Listening to load music, at the expense of his parents, and enjoying himself. In this way, Michael is showing the free spirit of children. In the context of the song, I believe he is showing that children don’t care if your black or white. All they want to do is have fun and listen to whatever music they enjoy.
The following scene has Michael dancing in Africa with a group of hunters. They start off dancing in a native tribal dance while Michael does his own thing in the middle of them. Eventually, the hunters sync up with Michael as they all start to dance in unison. Michael is showing that he does not care where you are from, we all have a common aspect to our cultures. A love of dance.
After dancing with the African hunters, Michael runs onto a stage while the hunters continue past him. There he is joined by Indonesian women, who begin to dance when Michael joins them. He does not sync up with their dance, but rather dances in the middle of them. I do not know the meaning behind this Indonesian dance, as I am sure Michael did. Either way I am sure he chose it for its beauty. As to say, no matter where you are from, or what color you are there is beauty everywhere.
Michael is then seen jumping onto a stage, surround by a group of Native Americans. They are all dancing around him, as several others ride horses around the stage and dance elsewhere. Michael again does not sync up his movement to theirs, but lets them show off their own unique dance moves from their culture as he stands among them. I do not know what dance they were performing, but I can say, do not ask a Native American to do one for you. While I was in Iraq my Marine, Lance Corporal Blue, and I were waiting for a helicopter to take us to another base. We were delayed, and had to wait several hours due to a sand storm. I told Lance Corporal Blue, who is Native American that he needed to do a rain dance and knock all the sand out of the air. He did not find it as funny as I did, telling me that he could but he would have to kill a white man first.
Following his dance with the Native Americans, Michael is seem dancing with an Indian woman. The Indian woman is performing a native dance from India, while once again Michael dances beside her. At certain points during this performance there moves do sync up, as to say we may be from different parts of the world but even some of our dance moves are the same. The segment ends with them in unison dancing together, freezing in a moment where both their hands are up looking at one another.
In the next sequence, Michael is seen dancing with a group of Russian men. The Russians are performing a dance known as the Hopak, which is a Ukrainian dance and translates to jump. I am sure Michael chose this dance for its beauty and because it is what most Americans thought of when it came to Russian dance. I say this because the roots of the Hopak dance originated from the Ukrainian military celebrating their victories, while the song “Black or White” is all about peace (Foote). Though I am sure Michael either did not know it origins or just did not care. Choosing it for its beauty above all else. Michael does sync up with the dancers in this section, them not performing his moves but him joining in on theirs.
After all of these multicultural dances, Michael is shown back in America dancing on a stoop amongst a group of children. A mixture of black and white, all the children are showing simply dancing. In this way Michael was conveying that no matter black or white, we can all get along. Especially since we are all American.
Black, white, Indonesian, or Native American Michael broke thru all of these racial divides. His music and his dance moves can be seen and heard throughout the world. His stand against racism and fight for world peace are still ongoing to this day, and the legacy that he left behind will most definitely stand the test of time. I mean, if a boy from Alabama can go to Iraq and see an Iraqi man spin, then grab himself while sticking his hand in the air I am sure of it.
“Black or White” by Chad Gardunia
Michael Jacksons Black or White music video is rife with symbolism about racism in America. It is well known that Michael Jackson was one of the first very popular African American pop artists. The time period he first became popular, he encountered a lot of anti-black sentiment against him and other artists aspiring to be like him. Michael was fed up with it, as he said in previous statements, and if you watched the music video until the end there is a sequence where Michael does a dance in a seemingly abandoned city street. In this sequence he morphs to and from a panther, and is seen smashing windows, yelling, and jumping on cars. This might be Michael showing his frustration at the music industry and the obviously biased view they had on African Americans in the industry, or it could be Michael was trying to convey what black people as a whole felt like at the time.
Michael Jackson was one of the first African American artists to become popular, and he was also one of the first to be played on MTV despite being told that his videos would not air simply because he was black. Michael pushed through that barrier despite being told he would not, and became one of the most prominent black men of his time. When Michael finally was aired on MTV, he asked the question “can you hear me now?”(Kaufmann). This question could have been either directed at the African Americans in the audience, which would be a supportive question meant to challenge the black community to push the boundaries against racism. The other group the question could have been directed toward was the producers of MTV and mainstream media, asking if they could hear his voice then and challenging them to silence the message he was trying to get out. This question was very indicative of the frustration not only Michael was feeling, but the African American community as a whole was feeling at the time.
The ending sequence after the song shows Michael transforming to and from a panther or mountain lion that is black. The panther is very symbolic of the civil rights group called the “Black Panthers” whom advocated civil rights for African Americans against the oppression of the government, and they sometimes used violence to get their point across, though not nearly as much as some other groups such as the group that followed the civil rights advocate Malcolm X. The appearance of the black panther symbol in one of Michael Jacksons videos could be him showing his support of the black panther’s message, their methods, or both. The video certainly seems to show him supporting both, because after he morphs out of the panther he begins to destroy the city block he is dancing in by smashing windows, cars, and eventually smashing up a hotel, which after he smashes it up Michael turns back into a panther and walks away, seemingly finished with the message he was trying to send. The violence Michael showed could have one other meaning, however. He could be trying to get the message to not only African Americans, but the world as a whole that an oppressed people would soon tire of being oppressed. That the violence in the city blocks could not be placed solely on the shoulders of the ones committing the crimes. Maybe Michael was trying to warn of the powder keg that was America, lit at both ends and pressure rising, events coming to a head one way or another. The whole point Michael was trying to get across was that the way things were at the time, they couldn’t stay that way. The world needed to change, or the oppressed people were going to change it.
Michael Jackson’s Black or White was a video rife with symbolism for racial equality. The ending sequence of the song with the black panther was just as long as the original song for a purpose, and that purpose was to raise awareness of the impending change that was going to head our way, regardless of whether we wanted it or not.
“Retaliation in a Public Place” by Simone Robinson
Retaliation in a Public Place
Suppression of an individual or a group has the characteristics of a suppressed slinky. Yes, the force that is held within is still there, but is not fully appreciated or in other words revered until it is released. Being black in America is, more often than not, seen as a bad thing. Almost every person of African descent who came to American by means of a slave ship did so not by choice, and yet since then have been treated like they are less human due to the pigment of their skin. However, that kind of repression can last for only so long. The panther as a symbol represents a fierce demeanor and agility. However, though these felines are smaller in comparison to their relatives: lions, tigers, jaguars, leopards and such, they are known for their power (Woolcott). In Michael Jackson’s short film called “Black or White” he took on the persona of a panther because as the symbol for the activist of black progression it embodied such a fierce standard for fighting for what is right and just, as well as not tolerating the oppression anymore. As the snippet of M.J.’s short film reflects, the panther shows its ferocity when it sees that it is a necessity to do so.
Michael Jackson grew up in a time in which the color of his skin impaired him greatly even considering his exceptional talents. “You may recall hearing that MTV refused to play Michael Jackson’s music video short films, simply because he was African American.”(Kaufmann) After so many years of their counterparts treating them as if they were second class not only citizens but also second-class human beings. Artists like Stevie Wonder even wrote about a desire for a time of racial harmony. His song “Ebony and Ivory” could be considered to some the equivalent to Mr. Jackson’s “Black or White” (Kaufmann) The author of “Black and White and Proud” can attest to what it feels like to feel like “less of a citizen” in the country of her birth just because of her ethnic background. Civil rights were a big deal and therefore heavily reflected in the music of those who decided to fight for the cause.
Harmony is something most wish for when they have fought the fight their entire lives because the fight is always there. It is persistent, frustrating, and just plain tiring. The short film that is associated with “Black or White” starts out with a message about parental prejudices and children with new outlooks on life and then brings in other ethnic groups from around the world to show just how broad and beautiful all the diversity is. It is extremely likely that the conclusion of the video in which the panther is used is a claim stating that the dormant feline, with fire and justice in her eyes, is awakened and ready to take a stand or at least let its voice be heard. The question is why did the song and video take such a dark twist at the end and to that, the answer is simply an arising. The dark twist signifies that enough is enough! Racism in America had been such a blunt weapon upon the heads of minorities. Even though there were alterations occurring throughout the government and the minds of some people but it was still an ongoing occurrence for those who had to deal with it on a day-to-day basis.
That illustrates the facts of being black in America—you were a target for violence at the hands of those who wanted you to “know your place” in the social hierarchy.” (Kaufmann).
Knowing that just because someone had a prejudice toward you they could do as they please on a whim even if that resulted in physical or mental harm being inflicted upon you with little or no accountability or apprehension placed on them.
The panther dance is a direct reference to racism according to an excerpt from Ms. Kaufmann’s article. It was direct disrespect from the white tap dancers who painted their faces black and danced around in such a manner as to mock the slaves. Michael Jackson’s video for “Black or White” may have taken a “dark” twist but then again American is not new to “dark” twists.
Symbols in “Black or White” by Jake Jones
Michael Jackson was a very inspirational artist. He had a way with his words that some wished they could have. His songs ranged from racism to the earth itself. May things Michael Jackson dealt with in his life influenced his songs. The song “Black and White” was written in 1991. This was still a time of race, not like it ever ended. Michael Jackson makes references to the KKK, race of a person, and war in the world.
The KKK is an organization that is special in its own way. They do not accept any race other than their own. They were primarily racist against African Americans. In Michael Jackson’s song “Black and White” a reference is made towards the KKK. The line in the song goes, “I ain’t scared of no sheets” (Stanza 7 Line 6). This starts to raise questions as to why he mentions them. This song is talking about the concept of whites, and blacks in the world. The next line in the stanza states, “I ain’t scared of nobody” this can also reference to the KKK because of some of the things they did to African Americans. They did such things as burn crosses in the front yards of African Americans to even murdering entire families. We know now why Michael was so passionate about the issue. The race of a person shouldn’t be an excuse for the kind of torture they received.
Secondly, the race of a person has nothing to do with who they are on the inside. We are all human. The last line of many stanzas in Michael Jackson’s song “Black and White” states, “It don’t matter if you’re black or white” (Black or White). In the article Messenger King: Michael Jackson and the Politics of #BlackLivesMatter written by D. B. Anderson it states, “I think something other than apathy is really at work here: fear and trepidation. Artists fear that taking a political stand may jeopardize their reputations and careers” (par. 4). This goes to show that there is still racism in the world we live in today. It isn’t to the same extreme, but it is still evident that there is some.
Continuing with the race of a person we see later in the song “Black and White”, “See, it’s not about races, just places, faces, where your blood comes from is where your space is…” (Stanzas 8-9). This is Michael saying, the world isn’t a better place with race thrown into the equation. The world has enough problems of its own to need to deal with race. Michael Jackson was a very influential person. Reverting back to my earlier statement about the article, Michael did not care about what other people though, and he conveyed his message to many people without them knowing. If more artists were like this the world would have more influence to stop the racism towards African American’s as well as other races. Some of the issues dealing with race can even start a war on a certain race or country.
Next on the board is war. War can be a nasty thing to deal with, and can leave “scars” meaning it can leave lasting impressions as to why the war was started. The war on race was a major one. Though it might not be a significantly large as a world war, it is still in our home country. Michael Jackson states in his song in stanza eight, “for gangs, clubs, and nations causing grief in human relations, it’s turf war on a global scale…” (Black and White). The war Michael Jackson is talking about is a global war because it is not just African Americans who are discriminated against, it is also Jewish people and Arabs. Michael Jackson was able to show people through his lyrics that what we are doing in the world isn’t working. We need to put the skin color and ethnic background aside and become one.
All in all, Michael’s words or wisdom could be useful to American now. With everything that is going on in the United States of America from the race riots to the shooting of officers in New York City. The most recent was this Friday on Fox News where a Caucasian officer was shot in the head by and African American man. The madness Jackson spoke of in this song need to stop. From the KKK in Jacksons time, to the race of you as a person, and the war that it causes. The KKK thankfully is nothing like what it was in the times of Jackson. The race of a person is the main topic of discussion now days because of everything that is going on in this corrupt world. The war it is causing between races is uncalled for. Michael Jackson was very careful in putting this song together, the fact that he sang it and put it into the lives of many Americans shows that he has the courage to stand up to racism.
Symbolism in Michael Jackson’s “Black or White Video” by Solomon Ortega
In many of his works, Michael Jackson uses veiled imagery to represent social and cultural problems of the time. This trend is most prominent in his music video, “Black or White” in which he uses wordplay and allusions to describe racial tensions. In addition to the surface meaning of the video, which is the past and current injustices associated with race, there is also a good deal of symbolism that brings the problems of society to light. The end of the video is also important as it has a darker tone and reflects more on the deeper problems of the time. When considered with the initial reaction to the work, the two parts come together to show the problems and difficulties of a culture undergoing change.
The first part of the music video is, for the most part straight forward and literal. However, the lyrics of the song hardly match the video’s message of acceptance and cooperation. Phrases such as, “I aint scared of your brother, I aint scared of no sheets” (Jackson) and, “It’s a turf war on a global scale” (Jackson) represent the beatings and killings done by people and organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan as well as the attitude that it’s every group of people for themselves. Despite the grim tone of the lyrics, the video itself has a different tone with multicultural dancers, and babies of different race sitting on a slowly revolving globe. This contrast is itself a symbol for how people will say they act one way, but will actually, when not observed, act another. This idea is furthered by the line in which Jackson says, “Don’t tell me you agree with me when I saw you kicking dirt in my eye” (Jackson). The conflicting duality of the video serves to represent the confusion that surrounded the subject of race at a time when the errors of the past were not spoken of or forgotten. In a way, Jackson uses this video to unearth racial tensions and current wrongdoings of the time.
In the second part of the video, Jackson follows up on the song with a dance filled with racial symbolism. While the symbols are obscure to many of the white viewers they resonated deeply with many of the African American viewers who had different experiences. The first prominent symbol of the dance is the way in which he dances. Tap dancing originated as a form of comedy ridiculing black people and was not often seen at the time. Another symbol incorporated into the dance can be found in the use of eroticism that is prominent in the work. As Barbara Kaufmann wrote in her paper “Black White and Proud”, “Whites wanted blacks to be quiet and not propagate while they used many methods of population control” (Kaufmann). During the entire video, Jackson wears a white bandage on his right arm referencing the case in which he was reportedly beaten by a police officer resulting in extensive bruising on his arm. One of the more obvious symbols of the dance is the panther that transforms into Jackson. Representing the Black Panther organization, which primarily focused on black pride, the panther associated Jackson with racial pride.
Between its message and the confusing second part of the video, there was a large controversy over its release. Upon seeing the video, MTV initially refused to play “Black or White because it was made by an African American artist. However, the public outcry following this announcement caused the them to add the video to rotation under the condition that they could remove the last dance as it contained too many references to slavery and inequality, and was too confusing for many people to follow. The delay and censorship of the work further served to validate the points that the song makes as it shows that both racism and corruption were prominent in the society of the day. As Kaufmann wrote in “Black White and Proud”, “The white community was aghast at Michael Jackson’s “antics” They completely missed the message because it wasn’t intended for them.” (Kaufmann). It wasn’t until years after the release of the video, people began to understand What Jackson was saying. Today, Jackson is hailed as a visionary who broke the barrier for African American artists and began the process of cultural change in American society.
Without the extensive symbolism found in “Black or White”, much of the meaning of the video would been lost. Ranging from the open and obvious symbolism of the first part, to the more discrete and subdued nature of the second part, The message of “Black or White” was interpreted and has changed how a generation of people view both themselves and others. With the contribution of this song, Jackson changed the public view on race and began to pave the way to real equality. In all, Jackson’s performance has had a lasting effect on people and has made a lasting change in the world.
Black, White, and Something In-between by Will Murrey
Michael Jackson’s song, Black or White, he tries to show people how no matter your color, religion, or background, we are all still human. It seems like something simple to understand and support but at the time, and even now, it was and is controversial. The song was not just about race it also had a smaller “secret” meaning about family and how they should be together.
The opening scene in Black or White is of a young boy listening to his rock and roll in his room, just a little too loud. The boy’s father finally has enough and marches upstairs to force him to turn the music off, slamming the door behind him causing the picture of MJ to fall to the floor and shatter. In response the boy carries his electric guitar downstairs and plugs it into two giant speakers. With one big “rock star” strum he sends his dad through the roof and high into the sky. After this the main song starts and the boy is not seen again until later in the video.
There were other songs that were “rebellious” telling people to push against authority, but this song was almost the exact opposite. Instead, even though many did not see it at first, it was telling families to be together. Instead of going off and doing your own thing, turn off the TV or the music or whatever else and get together and spend quality time with one another. It is not too hard to imagine why MJ might have slipped this into his song. One reason being, as Raven Woods put in her summary of the song:
All one has to do is look back a few short years to 1985 and the popular success of Twisted Sister’s I Wanna Rock and We’re Not Gonna Take it videos to see what was, in all likelihood, the seeds of what would later evolve as the Macauley Culkin/George Wendt showdown in Black or White.
However there may be another reason for MJ to put this in his song. His own home life could have influenced the decision to put such a spin to his work. Michael’s father is known to be a very stern and feared man, Michael himself was afraid of him and this could be another added factor of why this scene was added to the music video.
Around the middle of the video the boy from the beginning appears again surrounded by other kids of different genders and races. “Michael is the lone adult figure in this group, but he is not seen as an authority figure” (Woods). This seems to further enforce the idea of everyone being equal and being friends. Children lack the discretion that adults have especially when it comes to things like racism, the adults are the ones that enforce these things causing the children to believe in the wrong morals. The deeper meaning comes at the very end of the video with a scene from the Simpson’s TV show where Homer turns off the TV. This may point again to the fact that Michael wants not only people but families as well to put aside their differences and spend time together.
In an interview Michael said that he never meant for the video to be so controversial, but many disagree. It is easy to tell that he meant for this to make people “wake up” to the world that they have become blind to. That was the real meaning behind the song, no matter how you took it, it was meant to change how you thought about the world we live in, or at least the home.
Does It Matter If You’re Black or White? by Katherine Mott
Nowadays, everyone is trying to fit a mold set by society. Whether it is to be skinny, tall, tan, beautiful, or muscular, there are many different expectations set in place for everyone to meet. In Michael Jackson’s time, it was especially difficult for African Americans, as they were (and still are) discriminated against for not being able to meet society’s standards. In the video for Jackson’s song “Black or White”, the theme of transformation plays a large role. Not only does he criticize the racism in America, but also the media’s portrayal of how everyone should look and act. Scenes of people morphing into other people and Jackson turning into a black panther serve to show how everyone is expected to fit a perfect model created by society.
Towards the end of the first half of the music video, many different people are shown dancing and singing along to “Black or White” and then morphing into other people. Not only does this showcase the diversity of the human race, it also serves to symbolize the expectations set by our society. Everyone is forced to believe that in order to be beautiful, you must be a certain height, weight, color, and age. Instead of promoting individuality, our culture promotes a specific mold that everyone must fit into. Magazines and commercials advertising the newest weight loss program or the latest makeup bombard us. Models and celebrities are praised for their beauty and appearance. In his music video for “Black or White”, Jackson celebrates the individuality of each and every person, no matter his or her age, shape, or skin tone. The people in the video are shown happy and beautiful, just as they were created. They didn’t have to meet society’s standards to be worthy.
In the second half of the music video for “Black or White”, a black panther is seen roaming the video set and then an empty street. All of a sudden, the panther transforms into Michael Jackson. Jackson then begins tap dancing. Both the black panther and the dancing are important symbols. The panther symbolizes the Black Panther Party, a group of black nationalists and socialists. According the article “History of the Black Panther Party”, the group trained in self-defense and worked against police brutality. They used community programs and projects to initiate revolutionary socialism (Baggins). The Black Panthers were strong believes in equality for African Americans, even if it meant attaining it in violent ways. The tap dancing was also a symbol. The author of the article “Black and White and Proud” said that tap dancing “began as a mockery of slaves with ‘blackface comedy,’ in which white men painted their faces black and mimicked slave farmhands working in the fields; depicted them as clumsy, as buffoons, and attempting to run away in tap dance movements” (Kaufmann). Jackson’s imitation of this was a way of bringing light to the racism and discrimination in America. People who were different were mocked and ridiculed. Jackson wanted to expose this injustice and make people uncomfortable. He wanted them to see what society had done to his relatives in the past. Obviously, he succeeded in making people uncomfortable, because MTV banned the music video soon after its release. These symbols serve as part of the theme of transformation in this video. They make people think deeper into the song than just the lyrics.
One of the greatest music artists in American history is Michael Jackson. His songs are not only fun to listen to, but most of them share a deep message. “Black or White” is a perfect example of this. Behind the upbeat tune lie lyrics that cry out for change. Jackson wants people to realize the corrupt state of our society and the media. By trying to shape and mold everyone into this perfect ideal, we are slowly destroying the beauty and creativity inside everyone. Through the music video for this song, Jackson portrays a theme of transformation. He slyly mocks the media for its concentration on an ideal perfection. Jackson wants everyone to know that it does not matter if you are black or white. Be who you were created to be. That is what makes this music video great. That is what makes Michael Jackson great.
Michael Jackson’s Fight for His Beliefs by Sureena Monteiro-Pai
Michael Jackson is well known for his catchy pop songs and his everlasting impact on the world of music. He used “Black and White” to show his disapproval of white supremecy and his support of civil rights and equality for those of every heritage. Michael Jackson can be seen as a civil rights activist and one who fought for everything he believed is right in his song “Black and White”.
Jackson’s civil rights activism starts from his childhood. He grew up as one who was exposed to racism and segregation. With the other members of his family, he would sneak in and out past curfew to play in town. With the older population still being accustomed to racism and slavery, he was still not treated as a true human. This is why he believes that the youth can fix what the older population has done (Kaufmann). He added the ‘parenting authority’ to encourage kids to ignore their parent’s habits of racism and integrate the children of all nationalities and races.
Jackson stated several times that he believes the press and other celebrities twist and turn his words and actions to reflect only upon the bad he does or appears to do. He spent a lot of his life dedicating time, money, and cheer to hospitals and other places with those in need (Woods). Despite this, the press would not focus on his charity work. Even though laws prevented slavery, the white community still had a lingering sense pride and entitlement to the greater resources. Although his music was popular, MTV denied him the ability to play his music videos on their channel due to his race (Kaufmann). He took this as an opportunity to strike back stronger whenever he was denied with “Black and White” and other songs. Jackson truly believed that music has the power to unify people and he used it to try to bring together people of many cultures and religions (White).
The music video of “Black and White” shows the racism and segregation seen in the world around Jackson. The video is “full of history, anger, beauty, and faith in humanity’s potential” (White). He tries to portray not only the sorrows experienced by the black community, but that it is not a curse to be Black. His main point is that all humans, no matter what color, are deserving of respect and love. In the video, the fire represents all the riots and rage between the colored community and the white community. At the time, there were riots in Chicago, especially at a hotel that he includes in the video. He makes references to the Klu Klux Klan by showing burning crosses to show how they would use flaming crosses to strike fear into the black population. He said “I ain’t afraid of no sheets” to reference the Klu Klux Klan men who wore white sheets and lynched black men (Kaufmann).
He also incorporates eroticism and tap dances to represent the cruelty of the slave owners. When he grabs his crotch, he is referencing how white men impregnated colored in order to prevent more colored children. This would instead produce lighter colored children to eventually eradicate their black heritage. The white people often could not understand what this was referring to and misinterpreted it as him being overly sexual and having sexual themes to the video. He purposely does this for the sole reason that it is highlighting an injustice that the white population has created and cannot understand. He also did the tap dance to reference slavery. White men saw the slaves work as never good enough and believed that they were all goofy and incapable of doing the work. The tap dance shows how the white men mimicked black slaves in order to make them look like they are slackers and are clumsy. It can also mimic their attempts to escape slavery (Kaufmann).
The final panther dance is considered vulgar and many people are baffled by what it means. It is actually referring to the black pride shown by James Brown and the Black Panthers. The panther also represents the fierce fighting force and the rage of the black population about the segregation (Kaufmann). He rips off both his black and white clothing to show that everyone should have the rage from when the hotel incident happened. He strolls off into the night with passive rage, doing much less damage than he did as a man. It shows his rage on the inside without doing damage on the outside.
Michael Jackson not only left his footprint on the world of music, but also established his career as a civil rights activist. He used music to try to bring together people of different heritages and cultures. His childhood greatly influenced his future aspirations as a civil rights activist. He incorporated many techniques in the music video of “Black and White” such as tap dancing, eroticism, and animal symbolism. His music created a large impact at the time it was released, as well as also having a continuing impact on the lives of many in today’s and the future’s generations.
Parental Authority by Bryant Moore
In Michael Jackson’s music video “Black or White” parental authority is used as a sub theme of the video. The music video starts off and ends with a scene of parental authority between a father and son. The role of parental authority can be observed by analyzing the opening conflict, the closing conflict and the role of childhood rebellion.
The opening scene of the music video starts with a young boy rocking out to a song a little to loud for his father’s liking. The father is watching baseball and yells for the boy to turn it down. The boy does not hear his demand so the father goes to the boy’s room to confront him. He tells the boy to turn it off, that he is wasting his time with that kind of music and to go to bed. On his way out, the father slams the boy’s door and a framed Michael Jackson poster falls and shatters. The boy decides to retaliate by setting up two incredibly large speakers and blasting the windows and his father out of the house. The father lands in a third world African country and Michael takes over with his song.
The second scene of a conflict of parental authority closes out the video and is of the television show “The Simpsons”. The camera pans out of the family’s television and shows Bart dancing on the couch to the ending of the music video, still playing on the television. Homer walks in the room and tells Bart to turn it off, to which Bart responds by telling him to chill out. Homer then takes the remote and turns the television off himself thus concluding the music video entirely.
The two instances both show a boy who is doing what he wants to do and the father telling him to stop. What the boys are doing apparently is not what the father wants them to be doing and we see the clash of interests take place. Both boys talk back against their father’s wishes and, even though the first scene never shows whether the father returns from the third world country it is implied that the son is disciplined later, the father puts a stop to what the boys are doing. The parental authority shown in these two scenes is depicted as a tyrannical form of authority. Nonetheless the boys rebel against their parents. These instances harp on childhood rebellion and Michael ties that with the real world issue of oppression and intolerance. Raven Woods touches on this topic in her post “The Seeds of Black or White and the Sub Theme of Parental Authority”. She says,
“The adults are simply being bullies, and the kids overcome the bullying by fighting for their right to express themselves. But in Black or White, Michael never strays too far from the moral compass. Parents can be bullies sometimes; they can be unreasonable, obnoxious, demanding, and annoying. But in the end, it’s only because they want what’s best for the child-and children must respect that.”
Michael ties this in with society in the instance of oppression and intolerance of blacks. Michael fought for equality and pushed for the oppressed to fight for their right to express themselves. So, this form of childhood rebellion depicted in this music video is a smaller picture to Michael’s bigger picture of society.
In “Black or White” parental authority is shown in two instances of the video, in the opening scene and the closing. The point of these instances is to show a form of childhood rebellion to the parents who seemed to be a little out of line. These scenes are Michael’s way of depicting society’s oppression and intolerance of blacks, and plays into his push for equality between all races not just blacks and whites.
“Black or White” by Tracy Crutcher
Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” video is the result of his hurt, anger and frustration from personal experiences as a victim of prejudice and racism. His feeling is expressed through his artistry of lyrics, dancing and humorous antics. It also reveals his thoughts of equality to anyone regardless of color or ethnicity. Michael Jackson, the social activist, raised his voice through his performance of fearless expressions against injustices during the video “Black or White”. His boldness simply relays the message that we are all one and the same.
Michael grew up in the sixties, during the era of the civil rights movement. He had to witness discrimination and segregation against blacks. The hatred was visible through many instances where treatment of violence and some inhumane actions towards them. As a child, his experiences and witnessing of injustices and inequalities is more than overwhelming and leaves lasting effects. Michael gains boldness to retaliate, but without violence, as the reaction to these horrible images. His retaliation is fought with the brilliance of his mind through his artistry. His sensitive nature and love for humanity leads him to become a civil rights activist.
As an adult in the height of his fame as a singer, dancer and performer, Jackson had the world’s attention. What better way for him to use the attention as a resource to voice his concerns and feelings regarding prejudice and racism. In 1991 released video, Black or White, is about bringing all types of races and cultures together. Some of his humorous antics within the video were misinterpreted. The erotic dancing had a hidden message to a particular audience. Punching through smoky cloud referred to the thematic rebellion against racial and cultural burning of crosses by the Klu Klux Klan. The lyrics relating to this scene is letting the white supremacy know that he is not afraid of them (Kaufmann.6).
He faced misunderstood criticism which caused controversy all over the world. This worldwide controversy leads to boycotting his videos by certain networks. One particular network, “MTV”, refused to play any of his short film videos (Kaufmann 4). Fortunately, it was not a hindrance to his success. Single-handedly with bravery and boldness, Michael broke that barrier by winning his second Grammy Award (Kaufmann 4). His ability to increase the meaning of his messages vocally, visually and physically earned his right to fame and recognition. His humbled mannerism only desired respect to go beyond boundaries.
As a global celebrity, he used every part of his being to make a difference (Anderson 1). Michael Jackson was not afraid to put himself out there for speaking the truth. Regardless of how it affected him as an artist or his integrity; it was his sacrifice for equality. He faced wrongful accusations from the media which tainted his image as a man. He was under attack by a white district attorney for many years charging him with scandalous crimes. These supposed crimes were never proven during trial (Anderson 2). He endured a great loss financially due to losing sponsorships following a protest against conspiracies of his record label as they were mocked in the press (Anderson 2). As a very vocal and influential wealthy black man, he stood to lose a lot; but all in the name of truth and standing for what is right (Anderson 2).
Researching works of Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” video, have given me a greater respect for him. His work reflects his belief that all men are created equal and should be treated as equal; no matter their color or cultural background. The ingenious artistry of how his message is conveyed has attracted the attention of many all over the world. He is letting the world know, that “he’s tired of this devil, he’s tired of this stuff” and “he ain’t scared of your brother, he ain’t scared of no sheets and he ain’t scared of nobody”. It don’t matter if you’re black or white” (Michael Jackson).
Color Blind by Searia Pride
The legacy of the late Michael Jackson is one that will live forever. From a small child growing up in Gary Indiana, there was something special about him that the world had to experience. His musical talents are probably what he is most famous for however, Michael Jackson was also an activist for civil rights. In one of his most popular and controversial songs, “Black or White,” Michael Jackson displays his disgust of being a black man in America. The video conveys a number of symbolic representations. From the KKK symbols, to the ethnic dances, to the Black Panther, Michael Jackson unmasks a racially corrupt America.
Jackson makes a profound reference to the Klu Klux Klan in one of his verses. “I ain’t afraid of no sheets,” he is describing the white sheets shaped like cones draped over the heads of a very brutal white supremacy group. They are responsible for the lynching of many blacks in the 1960’s. Jackson also shows the burning of the crosses that symbolize the torture caused by the group. The KKK would often burn crosses in the yard of blacks to terrorize them. In her article, Barbra Kaufmann describes the group being known for “vigilante justice”.
In another segment of the video Michael Jackson raises awareness about global racism. He begins to dance with different ethnic groups of the world: Asians, Africans, Native Americans, and even Russians. Kaufmann describes it as “the dance of life that encircles all humans.” Jackson shows his viewers that racism is not just an American issue, it’s a world issue. The dance choreography promotes unity and world peace. He sings, “It’s not about races, just faces, where your blood comes from is where your space is.” He demonstrates the common problem between many ethnicities which is racism. Throughout this song he shows us that no matter where you are from, love and equality has no preference. The dance ultimately represents his personal transformation.
Last, Jackson uses the black cat at the end of the video to reference the poplar Black Panthers Party of the 1960’s. The militant group is often depicted as terrorists; however the group and its supporters raise awareness to the “Black Power” movement. Their revolutionary and socialist demonstrations were initially used to change the behaviors of police officers and investigate police brutality. Jackson expresses his support of the party by displaying the closed fist. At the end of the video he proceeds on with what is known as the “Panther Dance.” It was an impromptu routine that included no professional dancing. This is Michael’s interpretation of the panther’s wild and animalistic behavior: He sheds light on the mockery made of African Americans such as entertainers. The tap dancing was a reference to slavery. Many slaves were mimicked by white men that painted their faces pretending to be working slaves. Michael’s awareness of this issue is further explored by his symbolic imagery.
Although we know Michael as a musical genius, he is also a powerful voice of racial reform. He used his platform to raise awareness to racism throughout the entire world. “Black or White” is just one of the many works that Jackson uses to cleverly depict world corrupt with racism. Who would have known that the very issues that he sung about many years ago would still exist today? In the wake of recent racial killings, his words still hold true. Jackson sings, “See it’s not about races, where your blood comes from is where your space is”. Although he is not with us, the profound messages in his work speak to hearts of many generations.
The Black Panther by Patricia Crayton
If there was ever an artist who could stand up to the establishment and make a bold statement while making a ‘song and dance’ out of it to and mesmerize the world, it would have to be Michael Jackson. MJ has never been a conventional person and the boldness of his artistry was all too evident in the music video of the song ‘Black or White’ and a clear allusion to the black-panther symbol that stood for the trials and tribulations of the African American community in the US.
Black or White is full of vibrant symbolism that is a vocal expression of Michael Jackson’s defiance against a grossly unfair system and country that condoned discrimination along with blatant suppression of human rights against the majority black population. It was during the 1960’s time period of racial segregation and injustice that the US had gone through and which MJ and the Jackson Five had personally witnessed and experienced.
However, the beauty about art is that it can cleverly convey a message in a manner that is laced with such finesse that it comes across as a ‘blink and you would miss it’. MJ effortlessly makes his point while you are taken in by the sheer picturesque arrangement of the spectacularly shot video.
First, the study aims to examine the unique imagery and messaging occurring from the inclusion of the black-panther in the “Black and White” music video by Michael Jackson. There were skeptics who had completely opposed the black-panther addition in this video as being unnecessary, avoidable, self-indulgent and even offensive. The peculiar motivations for Michael Jackson to portray the black-panther in this widely acclaimed and globally watched video that had taken the world by storm on its release. One of MJ unique messaging code in when the panther approaches the statue of George Washington it growls.
Second, the Black or White music video was released on US television in November 1991 to a confused and mixed response with some sections pointing out that the video alluded to violence, racial disharmony and sexual controversy. The allusion that was found offensive revolved around the distinct imagery of the black-panther in the form of the ‘panther dance’ that came towards the very end of the music video of ‘Black or White’.
This video has three separate sections with the first section depicting a typical white family in suburbia, a picture of ‘normality’ and even luxury in the American context. The next section depicts folks of various genders and races morphing one into the other to show skin color-based diversity that exists around the world. The last few minutes of the video show consist of MJ doing the ‘black-panther;’ dance without music in a dark alley with some violent and even possibly sexually laced moves including grabbing his crotch and smashing of a car window, tossing a garbage can and lots of screaming. It is this dance portion that evoked huge controversy after the video was released.
Third, the ‘black-panther’ dance has obvious symbolic significance as it depicts the reality of race relations and the long history of discrimination and mistrust that were a reality concerning African Americans in the US (Chin). MJ first dance is not just any dance, it is a tap dance. Tap dance has a significant historical context to blacks. It is especially demeaning because it originated as “blackface comedy”.
Starting with slavery and exploitation to segregation and injustice, the African American has seen it all. The Civil Rights movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr. espoused redemption and justice for the African American on a non-violent basis, much like the non-violent movement led by Mahatma Gandhi in India for freedom from British rule.
It was in this context that the Black Panthers Party was formed in California in 1966, as revolutionary movement to fight for the rights of blacks, using violence as a platform if need be (“The Black Panther”). The whole premise of this party was that the non-violent Civil Rights movement had failed in achieving its avowed goals; hence, there was a need to militantly fight for what was justly theirs. The Black Panthers had a 10 point charter that roughly translated to fighting for rights in education, employment, housing, and civil dignity for the African American. It is said that the FBI played a very active role in the collapse of the Black Panthers Party movement through various methods of sabotage.
Reverend Kaufman makes a reference to Michael Jackson and the Black Panther Dance in “Black and White and Proud” (Kaufman 2010) as “The past and Michael Jackson’s part in it, his contribution to the present and impact on the future, is not to be understated or dismissed.” This is a specific reference to the exact reason MJ wanted to include the Black Panther dance in the video of Black or White in terms of making a statement of the shared history of all African Americans. It was a kind of tribute to all the pain, insults and degradation that blacks in America had faced as part of their collective past, having been considered to be second or third class citizens of the USA.
Finally, MJ was quite aware of the past, but he wanted to make sure that his work in the present would represent a hope for a brighter future and in his own unique way he represented his sentiment through the Black Panther dance in the Black or White video. There were many who misunderstood Michael Jackson and his reasons for including the Black Panther dance.
I hope you have enjoyed these. There were actually a lot more essays on “Earth Song” this semester; so many, in fact, that I may have to split those over two posts. I will try to have the first batch up within a couple of days, and then will follow with the remainder a day or so after.