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“Michael Jackson, Glenn Beck, MLK, and the Worlds We Create” – Racialicious

This is an excerpt of Latoya Peterson’s poignant blog post for Racialicious.  Read and watch the entire article here.

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Friday night, after another day of survey gathering and site visits, I headed over to the 9:30 club for DJ Dredd’s dance party to celebrate Michael Jackson’s birthday. As we swayed with the crowd rocking along to Michael’s (and Janet’s!) greatest hits, an observation kept pushing to the forefront of my mind, one I had wanted to write about last year when he passed.

While much was written about the racial politics of Michael Jackson, particularly in reference to his skin color/plastic surgeries, there was little discussion of the most striking part of Michael’s racial politics: the worlds he created in his music videos. Most folks are familiar with two of his most political hits, “Black or White” and “Man in the Mirror.”

But what always stood out to me was the populations of Michael’s created worlds – which were overwhelmingly multicultural, featuring a lot of different types of people all rolling with the King of Pop.

Michael’s worlds were often overwhelmingly urban. Featuring streetscapes and subcultures, Michael’s videos illuminated – and humanized – different segments of American and global life, in the face of a pop culture environment that insisted those types of images remain marginalized. Even his journey back to ancient Egypt became a quiet political statement.

Watching the mega-sized images accompanying the DJs selections, and looking at the assembled crowd gathered, it hit me that Michael’s legacy was one of both pop and politics – and in many ways, he had succeeded, continuing to unite very different factions of people through the shared love of his music.

On Saturday morning, I woke up early to work Columbia Heights Day for the Public Media Corp (Read the whole article to get the full gist of her work). Sore from dancing, but with Michael’s songs playing in my head in an endless loop, I worked, gathered surveys, handed out waters, and looked at the conscious effort to create community. It was interesting working an event in my neighborhood – some of the other fellows asked if the make up of the crowd go-ers reflected Columbia Heights. While the crowd was pretty diverse for a community day, it still didn’t reflect the Columbia Heights I have come to know and love. Columbia Heights Day was intended to celebrate the diversity of a neighborhood in transition, the historically working-class black and latino population meshing with the new young, predominantly white professional set. But did we succeed in creating a celebration the entire community felt comfortable participating in?

It is these ideas of inclusion and exclusion that I keep thinking of, particularly in the aftermath of this weekend.

If my neighborhood looks like this:

Columbia Heights Mural

And Glenn Beck’s world (amusingly tagged “Whitestock”) looks like this:

And Al Sharpton’s world (as seen by his “Reclaim the Dream” rally) looks like this:

Al Sharpton Rally

What type of worlds are we each creating?

If Beck cared about creating a truly equitable society, then where is that reflected? Why didn’t the Restoring Honor rally look like my neighborhood? Or, better yet, why didn’t it look like Dr. King’s original march on Washington?

Dr. King's original march on Washington

…The part I hate the most is that we are all involved in shaping and creating the world in which we live – even those who chose to dodge these issues. And, as Dr. King showed, inclusion and opportunity for all is something that must be fought for. Complacency will not lead to equality. Bitterness (which many trade upon for political gain) and hatred of those different than ourselves can never lead to true unity – only more divisions… The battle has changed, no doubt, but in many ways we are still fighting for those same values so many marched for in the 1960s.

In a way, I can understand why people want to declare the fight for racial equality over. It is tiring work, to undo hundreds of years of policy, thousands of years of conditioning that those that are different are lesser beings. It is so temptingly easy to rest on our laurels now, to say that the heavy lifting was over, that the most important goals have been achieved. And it is far to easy to allow those who did not stand with us to pervert what we fought for, to “get their country back” by ignoring the massive inequalities that still exist.

No one said fighting for justice will be easy. And it is always a fight. In our own, tiny way, sweating out in the sun with surveys that most people don’t want to take, grappling with feeling inadequate, fighting the feelings of internalized shame, wanting to give up, knowing that if we do, we will do a grave disservice to the communities that need the most help…

The larger fight requires far, far more effort.

But, luckily, we have a lot of things working in our favor.

One of which is the burning desire for a better world, held by those who can look around and acknowledge that yes, injustice exists, and yes, we have the power to change it.

And fortunately, those of us who believe that we can make a change have a kick ass soundtrack to help ease the load.

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