Lauren Riggins, Alabama A&M University
In the film “Black or White” by Michael Jackson, the theme of anti-racism is very monumental. Racism was in effect around the time Michael did this video. The video was inspiring and influential to the public and our society.
In the short film Michael stresses to his watchers that it doesn’t matter the color of your skin or what ethnicity you are because we are all the same at the end of the day. He even lets the world know that he doesn’t agree with the Ku Klux Klan and nor is he scared of them, which should have been inspiring to others, but we as the people tend to be afraid to speak out because of the reaction society might give us. The burning of the cross and the lyric “I ain’t afraid of no sheets” became a strong verse and of course some people did the best they could to destroy Michael’s career.
Furthermore, the busting of the windows and the panther at the end of the video symbolized that he wants to destroy all that is not good and that discriminates against our rights as individuals. The panther is symbolic of the organization “The Black Panthers.” All Michael wanted to do was speak and show what others should have said long before this film. He was just brave enough to actually do it and not care.
In my conclusion, this inspiring video truly was a wake-up call to the world, and rather you liked it or not the word and the point still got out. Michael inspired so many children to dream and not be afraid to follow their dreams, in spite of what things may look like or what people say. I truly believe in anti-racism just as much as Michael did.
Della Nix, Alabama A&M University:
The first time that I ever heard Michael Jackson’s big hit-well, one of his many big hits-it was amazing, but I hadn’t seen the video. But the meaning behind the song was impeccable. Let me remind you that when I did see the video, they had cut out the ending of the video. The moment when I saw the whole video, yes, I was a little confused. I was wondering what in the world was going on.
That was until I read the article “Black and White and Proud.” The writer made some captivating points. Michael Jackson grew up in a world when racism was a huge problem. He had gotten sick of the mistreating, disrespecting, and wrongful doing. Not only for the black race but for every race there is. In the video, Michael has ethnic groups from Asians to Black Americans, showing and telling the world that we do not always have to be malicious towards one another. Having hate for one another wasn’t the key to success or a happy life.
What really upset many people was Michael Jackson’s dance after the song. I did not get the chance to see the graphic dance at first because for my generation, they cut the dance out. In the dance, Michael shows angry, furious rage and destructiveness. As Michael Jackson busts the car windows and smashes the car door, it shows his overall reaction towards racism. Michael screams to the top of his voice to show madness. I read that when Michael was young he was beaten by a store owner. All the pain that he felt when he was young, he shows it in this dance.
One thing Michael was not afraid of was speaking up for himself or anyone else. It was brought to my attention that he was a civil rights activist. I did not know of this. I guarantee that whoever judged Michael because of his graphic dance did not have any clue of this. Michael was not the only celebrity to make a statement about racism. James Brown made a song, “I’m Black and I’m Proud” during his career. Now what if Brown danced the way that Michael did in his video, would they pass judgement on James Brown? I just think that because of the position that Michael was heading to, they just wanted to throw salt into his career.
Jamarcus Perry, Alabama A&M University:
In the article “Black or White and Proud” the author describes Michael Jackson’s legacy and some of the challenges he’s faced as a performer. It talks about how many people ridiculed him and how he sometimes felt as if he were all alone in the world. In some instances, some TV stations refused to play Michael’s songs because he was black. For example, MTV at first refused to play Michael’s short films.
Michael’s music was very inspirational to young African-Americans. After “Thriller,” Michael Jackson made “Bad,” letting African-Americans know that they could and should go to college. In his hit music video “Black or White,” he ended the video with what some called “a disturbing scene”-the “Panther Dance.” In this particular scene, he indicates the fact that prejudice exists not only in America, but throughout the world. He goes from destroying a car, to walking away as if nothing happened.
His destroying the car was a symbol that we are destroying the world and each other every day and at the end of the day, we act as if no one got shot or hung because they were black, or that no one got thrown in jail because they felt the need to march for what they thought was right.
Michael Jackson’s music will always be inspirational to us. But if we really take the time to break down every video, every lyric, and every phrase, we would be so shocked to know that the whole time he was alive, he was trying to send us messages.
Nicolette Goldston, Alabama A&M University:
The video of one of Michael Jackson’s greatest hits, “Black or White,” tells the human race and society that everyone is different. It does not matter what race you are, what gender you are, or even what style of culture you and your family believe in. The only thing that matters is that we are all human at the end of the day. This song teaches people that the color of your skin does not define who you are, but your character and your demeanor does.
This song symbolizes that Michael Jackson was frustrated and angry that society has gone down due to people being disrespectful and discriminating against one another. When this video came out, the news media said it was too violent to play on certain music stations. I believe that Mr. Jackson was just trying to get a strong message across to the world, without exactly saying it, that as people of America, we have to do better as a whole.
There is a scene in this video that disturbed people the most, and that os when he’s going crazy by smashing out the car windows, screaming at the top of his lungs, basically vandalizing the streets, and so forth. MTV refused to play the full length video.
In my defense, I do not think that Michael Jackson was wrong for making this video. It was about how he felt at the time and what he believed in, and everyone has the right to freedom of speech. That’s what he did. People were just in shock at how he did it and they couldn’t believe that the video went viral and that the media would be so bothered and uncomfortable by it. Michael knew that everyone in this world is not the same, but instead of saying it, he just wrote it in a song.
Ariel Merriwether, Alabama A&M University
“Black or White”: A Silent Black Panther
In Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” there were many great examples of symbolism. The most powerful yet silent message of the video is that of one of the most undisputed [influential] African-American groups in history, The Black Panthers. During the time period of the video and before, African-Americans have been above the radar as victims of racism. The slavery era was one of the most deep rooted dark ages of Black history and the pain is still felt today by victims of racism and their offspring.
The video “Black or White” symbolizes the message the world is trying to say, “We are all the same”-a message that is portrayed in the video through different images such as dances and customs from around the world, women transforming into men and vice versa, and even taking a spin on what today’s society might classify as “bleach rap” with a white child rapping the rhyming verse.
After all, Michael Jackson does an outstanding job at relaying the message. There has been too many years of cruel and unusual punishment committed against the African-American race and nothing has been done. The idea of Michael turning into a black panther and causing mayhem is an example of the bottled pain and anger that the African-American society has due to unfair treatment. The video “Black or White” symbolizes the different customs and races of the world who scream for equality. The message is a cry for help; peace will heal the world.
Anthony Pennie, Alabama A&M University:
In Michael Jackson’s song “Black or White,” the song exemplifies and symbolizes many different things. His songs have reached out to many and with this song, “Black or White,” he has made an astonishing delivery. The theme of Jackson’s song was racism, and the title of his song was a symbol of his theme. He is essentially saying that we should put racism to an end because we are all equal.
Michael goes about this in numerous ways in his video, from his different dance moves, to the destruction of racist symbols to changing from a panther then back to a human again. Michael also demonstrates equality when he is dancing with people of different ethnicities, showing that everyone should join hands and come together.
Michael never initially wanted for people to see or recognize him for being black or white, but for his artistic abilities. He understood that some gangs, clubs, and nations are protected for their beliefs but then, he also knew that this was what was causing grief and suffering in human relationships. He had tried so hard to deliver his message; however, some people misinterpreted it.
Another primary example that the theme and symbols were about racism and equality were, really, the lyrics. Even the first few lines of his song contains meanings of equality. He goes about saying, “They printed my message in the Saturday Sun/I had to tell them I ain’t second to none.” In other words, he is saying that he is not “no one,” but he is a person of equality. He was an open minded person and and was willing to accept many people, which he also conveys in his song by saying, “If you’re thinking about being my brother/It don’t matter if you’re black or white.”
In Michael Jackson’s song “Black or White” the meaning and lyrics exemplify many different things, but reaches one common theme-peace, equality, and an end to racism.
Yves Diallo, Alabama A&M University
Music Soothes the Soul
Since the dawn of time, music has been a way to entertain people, but music also soothes the soul. In the “Black or White” song, Michael Jackson sings about peace, love, and harmony between races. He does a video to support the message he wanted to express but could not include in his lyrics.
Michael Jackson grew up in a period where African-Americans were fighting for civil rights and black people in South Africa were fighting against Apartheid. Those fights were mainly caused because of the difference of the color of peoples’ skin. Black skin or white skin was where he got the title of the song from.
In the “Black or White” video, Michael Jackson appears dressed in black and white. The two colors in one body [on one body] symbolize the discord between the two skin colors that fight in America. That fight was mainly caused by white people in another century, starting with the slavery of black people brought to America from Africa, then the oppression and segregation of black people after abolishing slavery. By wearing those two colors, he wants to express a new era where black and white are getting along.
Michael Jackson did not limit his message to just black and white, even if it is the title of the song. We can see him dancing in one scene of the video with Native Americans (Indians) all dressed in their traditional dresses. Native Americans also suffered from the oppression of European explorers. They have been massacred and chased from their land for railroad construction, gold exploration, or fertile lands. They have even been placed onto reservations where they were not allowed to leave. In this scene, Michael Jackson also wears black and white. This symbolizes that we need to embrace all culture-black, white, and Indian.
The five continents can all talk about this video and take pride in being included because we all find ourselves in at least one of its symbols.
This installment concludes the essays from my Alabama A&M students. By the way, we have had some problems with converting the video of my presentation, so it looks as though that may be just a little while longer. I will try to have it up sometime Monday.-Raven