Student Essays on Black or White-Pt 3

Here are a few more today. Tomorrow I will try to post all of the remaining essays from my Alabama A&M students, as well as my Books and Coffee presentation on Dancing The Dream. Next week, I will begin posting responses to the video  from my Calhoun College students.

black or white women
“This Video Plays A Vital Role In The Racial History Of America”-Aminata Mboob, Alabama A&M University

Aminata Mboob, Alabama A&M University:

The emphasis on racial standards is quite evident through one of pop culture’s most prominent videos, “Black or White.” Composed by the late pop artist Michael Jackson, “Black or White” succesfully presents the theme of racial oppression.

The meaning “racial structure” is emphasized by everything from the video’s diverse cultural settings to the simple yet meaningful song lyrics. Examining one of the video’s scenes, one may conclude that Jackson fiercely affirms cultural hybridity. He goes from an apparent West African dance scene to a reenactment of a Native American slaughter. By doing this, Jackson is able to embrace victims of such racial “construction” through imaginatively and self-consciously constructed cultural acts. After these and additional cultural scenes, he once again demonstrates his affirmation by breaking through a symbolic wall of fire composed of burning KKK flags.

In addition to the symbolic setting, Jackson adds depth to the bigger picture-Equality-by the use of his direct lyrics. “I ain’t scred of no sheets” clearly symbolizes Jackson’s agreement with “Negroes” towards the KKK. Also lyrics like “Ooh when the going gets rough” also makes this song highly relatable, being that everyone has rough times. This also makes the meaning of Equality more versatile. It can pertain to race, gender, or age.

One of the most important scenes in the video is the “metamorphic” scene. Being shown images of racist graffiti, Jackson changes into a Black Panther, again symbolizing Negro oppression. This final scene was so powerful that it was banned from some television broadcasts.

This video plays a vital role in the racial history of America. Larger global forces are influenced by this as well. Given the nature of “Black or White,” Jackson is not only entertaining, but he is taking a stand.

black or white natives2(As a sidenote to Aminata’s essay, I wanted to add that, at first, I was inclined to take a bit of issue with her reference to the video depicting the “slaughter” of Native Americans. Of course, we do not actually see any such slaughter. But what we do see is a scene enacting a Native powwow, while all around the happy, celebratory dancers, there is gunfire from a surrounding cavalry. The scene is, of course, reenacting the old time Hollywood “cowboys vs. Indians” scenario, but on a deeper and more symbolic level, the cavalry gunfire does symbolize the mass slaughter of Native Americans at the hand of the U.S. government, and I believe this symbolic “massacre” is what Aminata is referring to. Even though we do not actually “see” the massacre, the implication is clearly there-Raven).


Serena Johnson, Alabama A&M University:

Michael Jackosn’s “Black or White”-Change

The world we live in is not precious but changes are developing at a slow rate. In Michael Jackson’s music video “Black or White,” the main theme is to unite people from different aspects to form one nation. The most important symbol in Jackson’s “Black or White” video is the scene where two adorable infants are sitting on top of the earth. This symbol gives viewers an idea that change does exist.

Michael Jackson’s Music Video Has Changed The World’s Perspective”-Serena Johnson, Alabama A&M University

Michael Jackson’s music video has changed the world’s perspective. His video helped convince audiences that racial discrimination or harsh racism is not the way to live an everyday life. According to the essay “Black and White and Proud” by Barbara Kaufmann, “Michael dances with all ethnicities: African, Asian, Native Americans, and with the United States’ greatest politcal enemy, Russians….” This shows that Jackson believes that every human being should be treated with equality and respect. In our world, us Americans  have been in difficult situations. Back then, we had experienced wars with other countries, racism, religious clashes, and so much more. These experiences had an effect that helped Michael Jackson create “Black or White” as an announcement to make a change.

Vorri Zanders, Alabama A&M University:

In Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” video, after viewing it, one would have a series of things running through his/her mind. The video is so powerful to the point that many were not able to correctly interpret its meaning. Jackson does a series of things throughout the video that was abnormal to see during that particular time. Symbolically speaking, the theme portrayed in Jackson’s “Black or White” video is to destroy the racial barriers among pretty much any race.

“Jackson’s Incorporation of Other Races, Such as Asians, Was To Show The Bigger Picture”-Vorri Zanders, Alabama A&M University

Although the video shows many racial backgrounds, the biggest problem at the time between races was with black and white people. Jackson’s incorporation of other races such as Asians was to show the bigger picture. He wanted to get the point across that people can be friends with someone regardless of ethnicity or the color of their skin.

In the article “Black and White and Proud” the author mentions how Jackson was a panther as a symbol for the group “The Black Panthers.” When the panther first appears it is seemingly just a panther until moments later Jackson himself evolves from the animal. Jackson also breaks the window of a car. That action could mean he’s breaking racial conflict or to display his anger towards racism.

Throughout the video, one has to analyze the meaning of some of his actions and try to read between them. In the ending part of the video the pop star consistently grabs his male parts, which struck a hoard of controversy. The groping of himself offended many of his viewers. In an interview with Oprah,  Jackson claims the music makes him do it. Nothing sexual is supposed to be taken from that.

Michael Jackson was a very talented musician. He made legendary music. His style and personality was like none other and many people found that hard to accept. People made many rumors about him such as “he bleached his skin to make himself appear white.” People did a lot to tear Jackson down when all he wanted was for everyone to get along. Everyone was really what he wanted because he didn’t exclude men, women, white, black, Asian, Chinese, and especially children. Jackson had a love for people that most did not understand. “Black or White” shows this upon carefully examining it.

“People Did A Lot To Tear Jackson Down When All He Wanted Was For Everyone To Get Along…Jackson Had A Love For People That Most Did Not Understand”-Vorri Zanders, Alabama A&M University


4 thoughts on “Student Essays on Black or White-Pt 3”

  1. Thank you for sharing those essays, Raven, and for making your students pay attention to my Michael’s work and his message. I wish Michael could read them as well as many other signs that although it had taken years with some, he got through to so many.

    I wonder if time is a factor here, since even among fans Black or White hasn’t been discussed beyond the its buzz-line “it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white”, until after his death.

    1. It is certainly possible, Gennie. In addition to the fact that there has been much revisionist thinking concerning Michael’s work since his death (especially in regards to his later work) there has also been a tendency to probe deeper even into the work of his so-called “peak years.” I think many are starting to realize that even his earlier work was always much more socially conscious than at first believed, but at the time, we were so busy dancing to most of it that it went straight over our heads. Many listeners only picked up on that catchy chorus “it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white” and that was really all they heard. I think there was more of a tendency in those days to brush off most pop music as socially irrelevant (people always looked to hardcore rock acts such as the Beatles, Bob Dylan, U2, etc as those who had “the answers” to our socially relevant issues). Even anthems such as “We Are The World” were dismissed by many critics as shallow idealism-a song that offered a catchy sentiment, but no real probing of the issues that had led to mass famine in the first place. I’ve learned a lot from reading Joe Vogel’s “Earth Song” although much of what he says is no surprise to me, since I lived through those times and understood exactly what he was writing about. The 90’s (and this would include the year 1991 when Black or White came out) was a very cynical time, when even a lot of the idealism that had been embraced in the 80’s was now scorned. So it has taken some time for that pendulum to swing the other way again. But inevitably, that pendulum does swing again, just as our country can only stand so much conservatism or liberalism before the pendulum swings the other way. I think this is partly why we are now seeing more in depth and analytical studies of Michael’s work, because we are finally in an era where it can be viewed more objectively. Perhaps his passing has given a little more license to this as well, because as long as he was alive, it seems much of his work remained cloaked in the same shroud of mystique which cloaked his life, and people simply weren’t bothering to look much deeper. His loss, tragic as it was, nevertheless provided the impetus to reassess his work and his place in the pantheon of great 20th century artists.

  2. Raven, do you have any thoughts on the symbolism of building a wall and blowing it up during Black or White performance in History tour? I was re-watching the concert and I thought there must be some meaning to it in connection to the song.. Destroying a man-made make-belief wall between people?

    1. That is certainly a good possibility. I wouldn’t know the definitive answer, but it seems as good of a way to interpret it as any.

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