Was Michael Jackson a racist?
The Michael Jackson soap opera keeps bubbling along with reports that his doctor Conrad Murray will soon be charged with involuntary manslaughter for the pop star's death. And in less two weeks, This Is It, the film showcasing his pre-concert rehearsals that has become the top grossing music-documentary of all times will be released on DVD, reaching millions of additional teenage viewers.
One song performed by Jackson in the movie is They Don’t Care about Us, a 1995 release that features the racially notorious lyrics, “Jew me, sue me, everybody do me/ Kick me, kike me, don't you black or white me.” It reminded me of the hubbub that flared then and the ongoing controversy of whether Jackson was an anti-Semite.
The self-proclaimed King of Pop immediately denied the accusations, telling Diane Sawyer of ABC News that the song is a cry against bigotry and that "It's not anti-Semitic because I'm not a racist. I could never be a racist. I love all races. My accountants and lawyers are Jewish. My three best friends are Jewish: David Geffen, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg. These are friends of mine. They're all Jewish. How does this make sense?''
Yet, even close friends such as Steven Spielberg publicly stated they were not happy about Jackson using such a hurtful slur and found the track offensive. In fact, Spielberg was so angry at Jackson that he refused to join him at an apologetic press conference that the singer planned to do at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.
Consider this: in a song that has “They” in its title, clearly indicating a group rather than an individual, and is supposedly about all kinds of prejudices, the fact that Jews are the only group that is singled out casts doubt on Jackson’s denial that he was pointedly critical of Jews. In response to the barrage of criticism, Jackson apologised for using the anti-Semitic slang and recorded a new, re-worded version. However, the insensitive lyrics were reinstated for the video release, even though Jackson gave his assurances that the song would not appear again with those offending words.
Moreover, the apology wasn’t enough for Dawn Steel, former president of Columbia Pictures who wrote in the LA Times: "Oh, please, Michael! Why does your apology feel so facile, so much a part of a strategy to clean up your image? I for one don't buy it. The images and words and sounds you create don't just go away. They are indelibly etched into our consciousness, the damage is done. Your public relations problem might go away, but how can I forgive you for teaching my child the word kike . . . You are an adult. You must act like one. Stop blaming everyone else. Stop seeing yourself as a victim who has been misunderstood."
In various ways, the claim by Jackson that he was unaware that these lyrics would have such a distressing impact was a defence that many found hard to believe. Patrick Mcdonald of The Seattle Times observed: “It makes you wonder: Is there no one in the Jackson camp who confronts him when he does something stupid? He may have lived a sheltered life, but there really is no excuse for using terms like "Jew me" and "kike" in a pop song, unless you make it clear you are denouncing such terms, and do so in an artful way.”
This was not Jackson’s last brush with allegations of anti-Semitism. In 2005, telephone answer machine messages left by the singer to his former adviser Dieter Wiesener were aired on American TV, in which Jackson blames the Jews for his financial woes and declares "They suck. They're like leeches . . . I'm so tired of it . . . they start out the most popular person in the world, make a lot of money, big house, cars and everything. End up penniless. It is conspiracy. The Jews do it on purpose.”
Jackson never publicly responded to the revelations, though his attorney at that time Brian Oxman did not dispute that Jackson left the "leech" message”. Jackson’s former spiritual confidant Rabbi Shmuley Boteach was disgusted by the comments and issued a statement that said, "I watched in sadness the tragic and catastrophic decline of Michael Jackson since disowning him more than four years ago. But even I never believed that he would fall so low and become a racist, bigoted anti-Semite. I pray that Michael finally seeks out the serious spiritual and psychological help he needs to rediscover the inspiration he once brought millions." At the same time, Jackson's Israeli fan club told the press in 2005 that they did not believe the tapes reflected the true nature of Jackson's beliefs.
Interestingly, these scandals did not prevent the Jewish Museum in Vienna from displaying a life-size photograph of Jackson in a 2009 exhibition titled "Typical! -- Cliches of Jews and Others," examining the use and abuse of ethnic stereotypes in popular culture. Jackson’s 2002 image was used to show how the performer, through his surgical transformation demolished stereotypes and, literally cut himself away from the restrictions of physical definition.
And the Jewish connection does not end here. A continuing mystery is whether his two children, Prince Michael and Paris, are indeed Jewish? Given that their mother Susan Rowe, who was married to Jackson, is Jewish, according to Jewish law, the 12 and 11-year-olds are Jews. In 2005, Debbie Rowe did in fact disclose that she and the children were Jewish, releasing that information because she was concerned Jackson was embracing the teaching of The Nation of Islam.
And the saga continues . . .