"He put on one glove, pulled his pants up and broke down the color curtain where now our videos are shown and magazines put us on the cover. It was Michael Jackson that brought Blacks and Whites and Asians and Latinos together."
"Because Michael Jackson kept going, he created a comfort level where people that felt they were separate became interconnected with his music. And it was that comfort level that kids from Japan and Ghana and France and Iowa and Pennsylvania got comfortable enough with each other until later it wasn’t strange to us to watch Oprah on television. It wasn't strange to watch Tiger Woods golf. Those young kids grew up from being teenage, comfortable fans of Michael to being 40 years old and then comfortable to vote for a person of color to be the president of the United States of America. Michael did that. Michael made us love each other. Michael taught us to stand with each other."
Amid the seemingly endless news coverage that ensued after Michael Jackson’s death, Reverand Al Sharpton gave a powerful speech that made the memorial worth watching. Sharpton makes the point that Michael Jackson’s music had a cultural impact all over the world. He argues that because Michael Jackson’s music was so popular among people of all races, different people with different backgrounds could come together to share a common interest. The argument is very similar to our discussion about the impact of African American Jazz music in the 1950’s. Sharpton’s speech implies that Michael’s music creates a spark that starts chain reaction that ultimately breaks down racial barriers and brings people together.
For example, when a member of a white family becomes a fan of a black artist, their friends and children are exposed to the music. By inviting music by a black artist into their homes, they could become more exposed to black culture and may even idolize the black artist, thus being even more comfortable with African Americans in general. In fact, Sharpton argues that they could become so comfortable that they would be willing to vote for an African American to be the president of the United States. I believe that this same spark occurred when people saw Michael Jordan play for the first time, or when they saw a young Tiger Woods win his first big tournament, or when white housewives first stumbled upon Oprah’s show and thought, “that black woman gets me!”
Sadly, not everyone receives this spark. Many people are afraid to open their minds to different cultures or simply accept a person of another race for the amazing things they can do. These are probably the same people who still think that Bird is better than Jordan, or that President Obama is a really a Muslim terrorist. These people have also probably never heard Thriller.
Whether he planned to be or not, I do believe that Michael Jackson should be considered as a civil rights icon because of the many barriers that he broke down to gain equality for others. He was a black man who somehow transformed into a white man who was able to sell more records than anyone else to people of all races. If that doesn’t transcend race, I don't know what does.