May 06 2010

The Sociopolitical Message in Black or White

Category: Justice,Lyrics,Photos,VideosSeven @ 3:01 am


by Samar Habib

Michael and the Black Panther symbol

Michael and the Black Panther symbol

I’ve been online discussing ‘Black or White‘ with a few friends over the last few days and thought I’d post my observations here… a friend of mine opened my eyes to the significance of the opening verse and the rest just flowed from there. I can’t believe that the significance of the line “Boy, is that girl with you?” passed me by for 19 years. I’m a political animal but just didn’t see what that meant.

Michael Jackson, the biggest black luminary of all time chose to launch one of his most commercially successful albums with a song about racism that begins with the line “I took my baby on a Saturday bang. “Boy, is that girl with you?”. “Yes, we’re one and the same“.

That verse represents a conversation he’s having with a racist who is offended at the sight of a black man with a white girl. The word “boy” is a racial slur. A word that racists used in reference to their black slaves. It’s the word that alleged KKK member and alleged racist Tom Sneddon used when questioning black superstar Chris Tucker on the stand during Michael’s trial – “If you’re a good boy“. Would he refer to Russel Crowe like that? Who knows…

Later in the video Michael sings “I ain’t scared of no sheets” while bursting through imagery of a KKK meeting. The “sheets” being a reference to the Ku Klux Klan white sheet clothing.

The video ends with Michael destroying racist graffiti including the slogans “nigger go home“, “no more wetbacks“, swastika images and finally “KKK rules“. After he does that he morphs onto a black panther. A BLACK PANTHER!!!! Do you know who the Black Panthers are???

That, my friends, makes that song (and video) a HUGE political statement. It means that when Michael Jackson was the biggest star on the planet he had something very important to say. It means that Black or White is not JUST a fantastic pop record. It means it was also a political masterpiece. Lady Gaga can song “oh-la ooh-la-laaa“… Michael Jackson sings “I ain’t scared of no sheets“. Absolutely amazing.

Black or White was the biggest video premiere in the history of our planet. No artist before or since had the platform that Michael Jackson did. Michael chose THAT moment to launch THAT message. To me, he used to be the greatest. Now that my eyes have been opened he’s the double greatest!

Muhammad Ali has always been my hero – not just because he was the greatest heavyweight of all time. But because, when he had a platform, he had something important to say.

But this??? This is just incredible. It elevates Michael Jackson even higher, if possible, in my eyes. The man was a genius.

That opening verse comes from the same place as Sam Cooke’s verse in ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ – THE civil rights record:

I go to the movie and I go downtown…
Somebody keep tellin me ‘Don’t hang around”

– Sam Cooke, ‘A Change Is Gonna Come

It’s the same line, different era.

I’ve been blown away by this realisation. I’ve been a fan for almost 30 years and this has just blown me away. I thought the guy was great. I didn’t realise how great.

Michael Jackson, may God bless you.

-Samar Habib

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Below is a video that attempts to explain some of the messages inherent in the ‘Panther Dance’ portion of the Black or White video. As the media most often does, they completely missed or deliberately ignored the social and political messages in this piece in favor of other distractions – like his sexual dance moves or in favor of complaining about the violence. In focusing on that, they missed the message completely. It’s what they always do. Their particular brand of willful tunnel-vision is impeccable.  Especially when it comes to Michael Jackson.

The anger expressed in the video is anger at racism, prejudice, and discrimination and it seems that would be obvious for anyone who isn’t sound asleep. It is not violence just for the heck of it, as the media with their constant barrage of disinformation assumed and proceeded to shape public opinion into believing. “We don’t understand it!“, they repeatedly said. What’s not to understand? I remember when this video came out and I was simultaneously disgusted and amused – not about Michael’s video – but rather with the lame$tream media’s collective sophomoric and willfully ignorant reaction to it. Good heavens. Pfft.

But then the media has made an entire industry out of negatively defining everything Michael Jackson is or does so it is typical that they would do the same with this video.  Granted there was then, as there is even now with an African American president in the United States, violence in this country caused by issues of social classism in which racism is so deeply embedded (or vice-versa). However, looking for excuses to invalidate any attempt to bring attention to the issue so that we can summarily dismiss and ignore it not the answer. Except to the lame$team media, apparently. Thus, they are part of the problem as they are with many issues we face in the U.S. as a “Democracy” (or Democratic-Republic) and as a society.

Rather than make any attempt whatsoever to embrace or even understand the social and political messages in this video from the most prominent black entertainer and artist of our time, the predominantly white-owned lame$tream media summarily and self-righteously criticized and dismissed it, and the most significant piece (‘the panther dance‘) was thusly removed from the remainder of the video in some distributions due to the controversy.

The entire ~11-minute film can still be viewed on YouTube and is available on his ‘Dangerous, The Short Films DVD.  In some versions, the graffiti Mr. Habib mentions above (‘nigger go home‘, ‘KKK rules‘, etc.) was removed from the video.  In my own opinion, this detracted from the effectiveness and intended message in the film, as did chopping off the last half of it – the ‘panther dance‘ portion.

Michael himself said this about the video in an interview:

I wanted to do a dance number [and] I told my sister Janet, I said, ‘You remind me of a black panther.’ I said, ‘Why you don’t do something where you transform into a black panther and you transform into yourself again?’ She said, ‘I like it,’ but she didn’t go with it,” he explained. “The two of us, we always think alike. So I did it. And in the dance, I said, ‘I want to do a dance number where I can let out my frustration about injustice and prejudice and racism and bigotry,’ and within the dance I became upset and let go. I think at the time people were concerned with the violent content of the piece, but it’s, like, easy to look at. It’s simple.  -Michael Jackson

Whether the media and their Ignorami followers who suckle at the tit of their incessant and unintelligent decades-long ‘negative-definition-of-all-things-Michael-Jackson‘ campaign like it or not, now that he is gone from this Earth, this piece of art will remain an indelible and historical statement on the continuing issue of racism and inherent social classism in this country. There is nothing they can do about it as much as they would like to continue finding excuses to invalidate the issue and the incredible black man Michael Jackson along with it (not-so-ironically or coincidentally).

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Here’s the entire Panther Dance sequence by itself:


Tags: , , ,

34 Responses to “The Sociopolitical Message in Black or White”

  1. JPOMICHAEL says:

    Night incarnation of Black Panther

  2. Catherine Gross says:

    I am so glad someone finally recognized this. Did you see the panther stop and look at a statue of George Washington? The Panthers had a “F**k You” attitude. They patrolled our neighborhoods because it was a time of EXTREME racism. They literally knocked a few policemen on their butts. The White policemen were sent to Black neighborhoods to abuse the people. You know, Rodney King style ( “Can’t we all just get along?”).For the most part people were being beaten with billy clubs,but they shot people in the street…not one of them was ever punished.Michael does a lot of interpretive dancing. His dance described the attitude the Panthers had toward the city. Like I said,it was a total “F**k You” attitude.There were riots in the streets. The people broke the glasses of windows of racist stores, and burned the buildings down…just like you see in the video. I could tell you much more, like why Michael is doing a tap dance…but I will answer all of that, and more…only if you ask me. It was really a painful time in my life.My boyfriend was beaten senseless, my neighbor was shot down in the street.If anyone wants to deal in civil rights,I promise you, a protest must be organized and planned.Well, nuff said.

  3. Beatriz says:

    I love this post Seven, thank you for share it,
    When I first saw how he extended his fist in March/2009 at the presentation in London, I asked another fans what they thought about it, because it is the classic symbol of the black power. I didn’t have the answer until now that I read what you exposes here.

  4. Susan says:

    Hi Seven and All;

    I just saw a snippet of a video wherein Spike Lee speaks about “They Don’t Care About Us”. He states that the “Jew me, sue me” lyrics were taken out because if you are even charged with being anti-semetic in this industry, it could be a death sentence. (Career or for real?)

    I’m really sorry, I don’t know the ins and outs of posting links (I am new to the world of computers) but if you just google – “Jan ’96 Spike Lee: Michael not upset over Lisa Marie filing for divorce” it gives you the video.