This is a piece I wrote right after Michael Jackson died, and which I read at the VONA student reading last night. Thanks to my friend Tammy Johnson at the Applied Research Center, whose video response to Michael's death inspired me to refine my piece.
Rest in peace, Michael, we will always love you.
In case you don't know the song I've excerpted below, you can click here to hear it and watch the video.
Yes, I’m Wearing Black Today Because Michael Jackson Died
(sung) “You are not alone I am here with you Though we're far apart You're forever in my heart”
Thank you, Michael, for giving us your voice—clear, piercing angelic and soulful, the kind of voice only an 11-year-old child could have, but that only you did. And thank you for your dance—the grace and innovation that everyone from James Brown to Fred Astaire had to give props to. Thank you for giving so freely and so early on of your divine gift, a gift that would prompt us to take more from you than you should ever have been asked to give.
I’m sorry, Michael, sorry that you were pushed so hard by a father who saw in you his chance for immortality, and by all the other adults around you who saw their fame and fortune in your golden voice, your silver moves. I’m sorry that none of them stopped to wonder if you were being used and exploited.
And, Michael, I’m sorry that our greed to witness this divine gift of yours over and over wasn’t enough to make you realize how precious and unique you were, just the way you were. I’m sorry that we took you for granted. We are greedy creatures, we human beings, and when we see beauty and talent as deep and singular as yours, we want to breathe it in, eat it, live it, and then when it’s not there even for a moment all we want is more. I’m sorry that our ceaseless wanting caused you pain.
And it hurt us too, to watch someone we loved so much hate himself, to watch you despise your own face, and take out on yourself and the children who trusted you whatever anger and grief our adoration couldn’t stop you from feeling, all because someone, somewhere made you feel like you weren’t good enough, pretty enough, and yes, White enough. We watched in dumbstruck terror your transformation from a beautiful young black man into a strange pale ghost that we could barely recognize.
Until, that is, you opened your mouth. Until you moved your body and showed that despite all the self-hating surgical procedures and medications you’d heaped upon your body, your soul was still intact, a soul with a god-given talent that infected the world with a divine fever, with a feeling so good and real that we could not even name it.
This morning, I finally cried for you—the Michael Jackson that was and the other Michael, the young, innocent black boy that lived beneath the mask.
Michael, if I could wave my magic wand and make this whole week vanish, and make Bubbles the Chimpanzee and NeverLand Ranch disappear, and take you back before the days of Bad and Thriller and even before Off the Wall, even back before the Jackson 5 and Motown, if I could go back and ask God to give you a loving, unselfish father and a mother who could nurture you the way you needed, if I could give you a regular life and be assured that you would grow up a normal, happy Black child—as happy as a black boy can be in a world as insane as ours—would I give up all the joy you’ve given me? Would I give up all the memories, the dance moves, the music, the piercing woo’s, the magic that you weaved when you stepped onto a stage or up to a mic? Would I give it all up if I knew that there would be just one more blackboy in the world who would grow up healthy, strong, happy and loved just for who he was?
(sung) “You are not alone”
And the answer is yes, yes.
And Yes, I am wearing black today because Michael Jackson died.