What Michael Jackson meant to diversity

Having had the chance to sit down and process the life and tribulations of Michael Jackson, I believe that there is one thing that the media has not truly addressed. One of the only people who addressed it correctly was Al Sharpton. I fully admit that I am not the biggest fan of Sharpton, but he was dead-on with his assessment of Michael Jackson. "Michael Jackson made culture accept a person of color way before Tiger Woods, way before Oprah Winfrey, way before Barack Obama." I will detail my feelings about this in the following.

When Michael Jackson came out with the Jackson Five long ago the prevailing thought was that the young men were awesome. They were performing music that was classified by the "Motown Sound" which defined their sound as black music. Even at this time the Jackson Five clearly had the crossover appeal. And the one that made that appeal greater was Michael himself. The Jackson Five stands as one the most important musical groups that set standard for successful musical groups, boy-band or not to this day.

When Michael Jackson decided to go solo, it was clear that he was on to something huge. His music and style became synonymous with success. Previous to Thriller, which is by far the most successful album ever to be released, MTV didn't play black artists music. The network had no choice but to play the music off of that album. Whether it was because they wanted to be racially accepting, or rather they believed it made great business sense, playing black artists allowed MTV a far reaching audience that they gravely ignored. Looking at MTV now, the black artistic influence is abundantly clear.

Michael Jackson became a huge reason why BET Networks began. Michael was one of the first artists that the network used to market their music and programming. The connection with black music being commercially viable on television by his success on MTV allowed for the emergence of a network geared primarily for the black community. The cyclical nature of this one man is evident and undeniable. By him doing it on a white network why couldn't he do it on a network geared toward people of his own race?

I mean this in all sincerity and with not a bit of humor: studying the physicality of Michael Jackson is a clear example of what race and diversity is. Here was a man that was born black that for all intents and purposes passed away looking like a white woman. Now some may say that this is messed up, but its undeniable that during Michael's time he underwent major changes to his body to try to look more like what society accepted or more so what his father was not. I clearly can debate the pros and cons of this, but that is not for this piece.

The one aspect of Michael's life that clearly shows his importance to diversity was his music. I have never seen an artist have such large appeal across a demographic as far reaching as Michael Jackson. From Europe to Africa, from India to China, people know his music. In 2001 I spent a summer in Kenya. When Kenyans found out I was from America, the two things they asked me about was politics and music. One of the major artists that was played and discussed on Kenyan radio was Michael Jackson. It really dawned on me how far-reaching his appeal was. Here I was half-way around the world and they were playing Thriller and Beat It. His music stands the test of time as some of the most iconic numbers the world has ever seen. When the history books right the Michael Jackson story, I believe that his genius will outweigh his madness and his name will be mentioned with the names of the best.

While some may say its a stretch to equate musical crossover appeal and diversity, Michael Jackson made the link undeniable. I only wish that the "King of Entertainment" could have received the love and respect for his music, and not the hate and scorn for his private life that he often saw.

"Soon and Very Soon" is one of the most appropriate songs that was sung at his memorial. As I said in my facebook status update from that day:

Our King of entertainment has gone to be with our King in heaven. May he rest in eternal peace and salvation in the comfort of knowing the impact of his legacy on many he left on earth.

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