Come on People! What’s the Big Deal about a President Welcoming Students Back to School?

By Dr. Marybeth Gasman

gasman2009Ronald Reagan did it, George H.W. Bush did it, why can’t Barack Obama?  Why can’t public school children listen to our president welcome them back to school? 

I’ll admit that I was not the biggest fan of our last president, but I would not have a problem with him speaking to school children — reading a book to them, talking to them in front of their classroom, giving them a welcome back to school speech.   As an historian, I think it’s important and meaningful for children to see their president and hear what he (or she) has to say.  They don’t have to agree with him — they can put their heads down, for that matter — but they should have some exposure to the leader of our country.  After the speech, teachers could tease out the ideas and ask the students to debate them — we do want our children to think critically, right?  Or, if the speech is what the White House says it is, teachers can just continue with the first day of school — motivated by the words of the president.  Barack Obama is a man, who despite many obstacles, made it to the presidency.  His journey to the White House, educational achievements, and role as a father are certainly ideals that we can all admire as citizens of the United States.  He is the embodiment of the American dream.

So, why would someone object to President Barack Obama delivering words of welcome to our nation’s young people?  I can think of only two reasons and they both begin with “P”:  extreme partisanship or prejudice.  Although Obama ran on a platform of bringing people together, he is a figure that can be easily used to polarize people.  In addition, since Obama became president, we have seen prejudice and racism rear their very ugly heads way too many times.  People who have benefited from the status quo are scared that their way of life may change.  The president has been accused of being a Communist, a Socialist and the like for proposing that we “be our brother’s keeper,” that we take care of one another in this nation of ours.  Interestingly, this is a similar message thatwe give our children in school.  We tell them to be kind to one another, to treat each other with respect, and we discourage bullying.  I know my 10-year old daughter is graded on her treatment of others and respect for diversity in the Philadelphia public school system.

Presidents have influence that can be used in good and bad ways — we have seen this throughout history.  Motivating our young people to stay in school and pursue college is a good and is vitally important given our high dropout rates and need to increase college enrollment.

The positive aspect of all of this Obama speech hub-bub is that most liberals and conservatives agree that it’s fine for the president to welcome students back to school with a speech.  It’s typically those at the fringes (regardless of party) that have issues with these kinds of actions.  Those in my friend circle — Democrats and Republicans alike — think it’s not only appropriate, but, in fact, patriotic to listen to our president on the first day of school.

 

An associate professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Gasman is the author of Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) and lead editor of Understanding Minority Serving Institutions (SUNY Press, 2008).

 

It’s HBCU Week in Washington DC: Let’s See What the Future Holds

By Dr. Marybeth Gasman

gasman2009Every year, I attend the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities Conference, which is held in Washington D.C. in September.  It’s a unique event in that it brings together the leaders of both public and private HBCUs with members of the federal government, funders, and those representing the private and nonprofit sector.

This morning I had the privilege of listening to the new Executive Director of the White House Initiative John S. Wilson talk about his goals for HBCUs.  Wilson a dynamic and entertaining speaker who has a wonderful ability to appropriately incorporate history into his vision for the future of HBCUs.  Wilson is also a straight talker who realizes HBCU success and the success of their graduates is tied to improved graduation rates and increased outcomes across the board, including stronger endowments, higher alumni giving, lower attrition rates, lower deferred maintenance, higher faculty salaries, lower faculty teaching loads, and higher enrollments.  Of course, the only way to increase outcomes at HBCUs in the way that Wilson describes is to provide these institutions with the necessary support and the appropriate tools for success.  Wilson understands that increased support for infrastructure and tools for capacity building are essential.

Wilson’s agenda for HBCUs is results-oriented.  He mentioned strategies such as “collecting data to make the case for HBCUs.”  He specifically told the large audience of HBCU supporters that we all need to  Recover, Uncover, and Discover HBCUs.  First, he encouraged HBCUs leaders to recover the history of HBCUs and to share that history of success with others, noting “you can have a great history without a great heritage.”  From this historian’s point of view, it was  refreshing to hear an HBCU leader point to new examples of the contributions of HBCUs — their role in increasing literacy rates in the United States, for instance — rather than the same examples that are pointed to over and over.

Second, Wilson asked the audience to “uncover” the problems and challenges that HBCUs face, saying “we cannot fix what we do not examine.”  Although there are risks in pointing to the problems that HBCUs confront, it is absolutely essential to their future that we identify these problems, interogate the reasons for their existence, and work diligently to tackle them in an effort to make HBCUs stronger.  Wilson urged HBCU insiders to shine a light on their challenges; this is imperative because if HBCU supporters don’t shine this light, others will.  Wilson also wants us to hold HBCUs responsible for the education of their students, but he also wants to hold the Federal government responsible, admitting that in the past there has been “bias and bureacracy in federal funding to HBCUs.”

Third, Wilson asked the group of HBCU leaders to “discover” HBCUs all over again, emphasizing that HBCUs are often well-kept secrets.  These institutions boast some of the best programs and resources for educating African-Americans and other students.  There is much to be learned from their strategies for success, but all too often HBCUs fail to highlight success and to share their legacies with those outside the HBCU community.

In closing, Wilson said one of the most important things I have heard in years pertaining to HBCUs.  Based on his own personal experience at Morehouse College, he talked about the student who loves his HBCU, but doesn’t always like it.   He noted that the way that HBCU leaders handle this student is absolutely key to the future success of HBCUs.  If you engage the student in making changes that strengthen the institution — if you listen to him or her — more than likely, you end up with a lifelong supporter of your institution and a donor.  But, if you ignore the student and dismiss his or her perspective, the result is an alumnus who never looks back with fond memories and never gives back.

In my opinion, Wilson exemplifies President Barack Obama’s stance on HBCUs and  articulates the Obama vision for these institutions as well as higher education overall.

The Growing Intolerance Must Be Confronted

by Dr. Elwood Watson

elwoodwatson

Think about the following:

• Former Alaska governor and Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin has made the claim that President Obama’s health care plan would establish “death panels” to oversee end of life care for the elderly and  terminally ill.

• A Swastika was found spray-painted on a sign fronting the office of U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Georgia,  (who is Black) a week after rowdy attendees at a town hall meeting angrily confronted the congressman over health care reform.  

• Newly-turned Democratic Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania faced a hostile crowd as well as taunts during a town hall meeting on health care reform.

• Right wing agitator and talk show host Glenn Beck of FOX News states that President Obama has a hatred of White people.

• A political poster of President Obama equating him with the deviant Batman character, the Joker, is posted on a number of right wing Web sites.

• A small but vocal number of Americans (known as birthers) refuse to believe that President Obama is an American-born citizen

• The majority of Republican Senators vote against confirming Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court

I could provide you with more examples, but the point should be made clear by now. Unless you have been comatose or camping in the most remote regions of the earth without any access to modern technology then you are aware of ferocious rage that has erupted among a segment of the political right. From dishonest comments from certain right wing radio talk show hosts to aggressive and in some cases, mob violence from resentful tea baggers and private citizens who align themselves with such a movement, the far right has been on the warpath demonstrating its ugly, callous, and largely inhumane face to a currently surprised mainstream America.

For over a month now, the leaders of this political segment of American politics have engaged in the most destructive rhetoric publicly expressed by fearful citiizens  since the days of the early modern civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. Even President Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy” of the late 1960s and early 1970s, which was able to successfully garner the support of the region by manipulating racist Whites who were fearful of and resented the civil rights movement, did not seem  so overtly hostile in its aims.

Some radical critics have gone even further and compared such troublesome behavior on the right to that of the Third Reich in Nazi Germany in the late 1930s. While it is probably safe to say that this nation will never reach the horrific crisis that engulfed Germany during the Nazi era, the similarities are far too eerie to dismiss. The naked raw emotions and resentment expressed by Obama opponents in public are  striking.

From ruthlessly spreading falsehoods that the current proposed health care plan would allow “death panels” to pull the plug on dear old grandma and grandpa if they became too ill; to shamelessly lampooning the president; to referring to Judge Sotomayor as a “Latina racist”; to arguing  that Obama was born in Kenya; to comparing the Obama White House to a Nazi organization and the president himself to Adolf Hitler, the malcontents who represent this extreme brand of conservatism have shown their racist, sexist, sinister and xenophobic teeth. And guess what? They have demonstrated that they are not afraid to bite no matter how disgraceful, rabid or perverse the consequences. Some of these anti-Obama protestors have arrogantly carried loaded guns to town hall meetings.

All one has to do is listen to the steady stream of hate that is coming from right wing talk radio on a daily basis to realize that the anger, fear and mistrust is rampant among more than a few people. The level of hate is unreal. Throughout American history, every president has had critics who have levied all sorts of allegations against him no matter how bizarre or unfounded. History has shown that there tends to be a vehement hatred toward those in power from those who are looking in from the outside.

Nonetheless, I would argue that among our very contemporary presidents –from Jimmy Carter onward, there has never been the level of unrestrained paranoia that is being directed toward our current commander-in-chief from his opponents. To be sure, while Ronald Reagan was not popular among many liberals (or many Black Americans for that matter); many liberals did like him personally.  No one managed to incur the wrath of conservatives like Bill Clinton did (his wife was a frequent target of conservative ire as well). George W.  Bush infuriated a number of groups, including liberals for what they saw as his embracing of anti-intellectualism as well as many traditional conservatives due to his rejection of a mainstream conservatism in favor of neo-conservatism.

However, there was no one (at least that I recall) posting incessantly on political blogs, carrying signs, contacting congressmen, disrupting town hall meetings demanding to know whether the president was a legitimate American citizen! Note to all the doubting Thomases out there – HE WAS BORN IN AMERICA! He was born in Honolulu, Hawaii on August 4, 1961.

To me, such intense resistance and resentment has a racial nexus to it.
From the first Latina being confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court, to the son of a Black Kenyan immigrant and White Kansas mother occupying the most powerful office in the nation and the world for that matter and other milestones, the fact is that a number of people (certainly not all or perhaps even most) cannot fully accept the fact that the “Leave it to Beaver”, Norman Rockwell , “Happy Days,” “Laverne and Shirley,” “Pleasantville” early post-World War II suburban America, male dominant WASP culture has suddenly included non-Whites (and for sexists, White women) in the top echelons of power in the U.S.  The America that that these people knew where non-Whited were frequently marginalized, occasionally seen but not heard and certainly had little, if any voice, have managed to secure Supreme Court seats and live in the White House. This fact is driving a number of them mad with PARANOIA!

There are some conservatives who have denounced the tactics of some of their more extreme brethren, but these are the individuals who seem to be voices in the wilderness as opposed to being taken seriously as rational voices of reason. When this current madness will end is anyone’s guess. To be sure calmer voices will prevail as they always eventually do. Nonetheless, Republicans and other conservatives may want to do some real soul searching about what is happening in their party. As of right now, the right wing lunatics are running the asylum.

Dr. Elwood Watson is a full professor of History and African American Studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of several award-winning academic articles, several anthologies and is the author of the book Outsiders Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown v. Board  (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Spring 2008)

Get and Give All You Can: Advice for New Graduate Students

By Dr. Marybeth Gasman

gasman2009It’s that time of year — new graduate students are setting foot on campuses across the nation hoping to gain knowledge and have new experiences that will help them progress in their careers.  As a professor and adviser, I get really excited about new graduate students.  They are usually wide-eyed, excited, and eager to get started.  However, after a semester, I often sense their frustration with the academy.  So, I thought I’d offer a bit of advice for getting (and giving) the most out of your graduate experience.

1.   Keep an open mind.  Don’t let the students who have been around for a few years color your experience.  Make your experience your own experience and enjoy it.  This is one of the most wonderful times in your life — oh to be able to just think!

2.  Get to know the faculty members in your program.  Make appointments with them a few months into the semester.  This is especially important if you are enrolled in a master’s program and you want to enroll in Ph.D. programs in the future.  Most master’s programs are short and you need to get yourself on the radar screen of faculty members right away so that they are willing to write letters of recommendation for you.  Getting to know faculty members and having good intellectual conversations and debates will stimulate your thinking.

3.  Ask faculty members if you can help them conduct research and write articles.  You can do this in one of three ways: serve as a research assistant for a faculty member and learn the ways of writing and research in an apprentice-like way; ask to be a partner in a current research project (making sure to negotiate co-authorship if there are publications involved); or bring one of your own ideas to a faculty member and ask them to partner with you and serve as a co-author (with your name as first author).  One of the best ways of learning in graduate school is through collaboration around ideas.

4.  If you truly enjoy a class that you are taking and you do well when grades are given at the end of the semester, ask the professor if you can serve as a teaching assistant (paid or unpaid) for the class the next time it’s offered.  As a teaching assistant, you can gain experience grading, facilitating class discussions, lecturing, and designing a syllabus. 

5.  Most universities have many different cultural events, speakers, and organizational activities.  Frequent these.  The relationships that you establish across disciplines can be wonderfully beneficial and long lasting.  In addition, interacting with people outside your program or discipline keeps you on your toes and intellectually stimulated.

6.  Read, read, read.  Although there is typically more reading assigned than can possibly be digested in graduate school, do it or as much of it as you can!  Being well read is essential in life, especially if you plan on being a professor.  In addition, reading makes for better writing.  Study the way people write, keep track of smart phrases and uses of language and pull them out later when you are writing.  Read all kinds of things — fiction, magazines, newspapers, journals, blogs — reading non-academic works keeps you in touch with the rest of the world and stimulates creative thinking.

7.  Attend conferences even if it means rooming with lots of other students.  Sometimes graduate students make the mistake of only operating within their own institutions or only listening to the perspectives of their program’s faculty members — don’t do that!  Get out there and gain many different perspectives.

8.  Get in the habit of writing every day.  There is a great deal of research that shows that if you write every day, you will be a better writer, a more productive writer, and that writing will come more easily to you.  Writing becomes natural instead of feeling forced.  Even an hour a day can keep you motivated.

9. Stay focused on ideas and not academic politics.  Asa Hilliard, my wonderful mentor, gave me the best advice when I was a new faculty member.  He said, “live for ideas not academic politics” — such sound advice.  I have faltered a few times, but once my head clears, I let the politics go and get back to the work.  The work is what is important to making change and making a difference in the lives of others.

10.  Make sure that you give as much as you get.  Find something about which you feel immense passion and give as much as you can to whatever it is.  The only way to sustain an academic career, or any career for that matter, is to pursue something that makes you want to get up each day and go at it. 

Good luck new students!

An associate professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Gasman is the author of Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) and lead editor of Understanding Minority Serving Institutions (SUNY Press, 2008).

 

Navigating the Racial Highway in America

By James Ewers

jewers1If you want to have a good debate or scare people away, then start talking about race.  The ‘race’ word is a powerful one in America’s lexicon and seems to bring out passionate feelings in us. It is a catalyst for both change and status quo. It is my thinking that the word race has brought into context words such as diversity, multiculturalism and inclusion, just to name a few. Many in this country would say that we are simply hung up on race. However, I think our racial healing, or hemorrhaging, is generational. Finally, it seems, young people are not as race-conscious as previous generations, although some may disagree with this statement. What makes the color of a person’s skin the object of so much attention and speculation? Why do some of us base our perceptions about a person solely on their skin color? As we all know, a person’s ability is not based on their skin color but on their competence and cognition. Yet, unfortunately, there are those who will go to their grave thinking otherwise. The uneasiness about race is felt on both sides. Many of our positions and mores about race come from our own experiences. Some of these feelings about race cannot be altered or changed regardless of how many diversity training programs we attend.

Some of our differences as black and white people are quite striking, most notably our responses to race.  I have both black and white friends, and my life is better because of it. But there have been incidents in this country involving race that have elicited such divergent responses I sometimes wonder, “are we looking at the same thing?” So we see things through different lens. There is also an extreme view held by each side about race relations. Some blacks and whites see their own race as the good guys and the other race as the bad guys. I disagree with this view, yet you would be naïve to think that it doesn’t exist.

Race is a slippery slope. Racial attitudes and positions seem to always follow us. Race never takes a break and is like the famous convenience store; it is always open. If you recall just a month ago now a white woman in Pennsylvania alleged that a black man had kidnapped her. We later found out that she was at Disney World. More recently a group of black children were asked to leave a swimming pool for reasons shrouded in race. Both incidents involved race and bad behavior.

So now just a few weeks ago, there was the incident involving Henry Louis Gates, Jr. the Harvard professor. Reports said that Professor Gates, who is black, had trouble getting into his house. He did get into his house yet by this time the Cambridge, Mass., police had arrived because of a 911 call placed by a local citizen. The police tape of the call never mentioned race, however the police report did. Officer James Crowley, who is white, and Professor Gates had a heated exchange even after Gates showed he was the owner of the home. Professor Gates was taken to the police station in handcuffs. However, throughout all of this we cannot forget that the police are there to protect and to serve whether it is in Cambridge or any other part of the country. Yet I wonder why the police could not have left Gates’ home once proper identity had been established. Because race is so explosive an issue, President Obama having a news conference on health care and other important matters was asked about the incident. President Obama, in my opinion and later by his own admission, used inappropriate language in responding to the reporter’s question. The three men, President Obama, Officer Crowley and Professor Gates met recently at the White House to hash out their differences and hopefully bring some constructive focus to the issue of race.

A lot of Americans are waiting to see if there is a blue print on how to talk about race. Fortunately, many communities have already started the conversation. It is my opinion that the rules of engagement ought to center around honesty, forthrightness and recognition of the need to get it out in the open.

Race and all of its complexities will not go away. If we want our communities to become better then we must be proactive in talking about our differences. Communities that understand each other better will prosper. Those that don’t won’t.

 James B. Ewers, Jr. Ed.D is a higher education consultant and the author of Perspectives From Where I Sit: Essays on Education, Parenting and Teen Issues.

 

White Privilege: What if Henry Louis Gates had been White?

By Dr. Marybeth Gasman

gasman2009By now, most enlightened people have heard about the incident involving Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates and the Cambridge, Mass., police.  As a recap, the Cambridge police arrested the eminent scholar in front of his home.  Just having returned from filming a PBS special in China, Gates, along with his Black taxi driver, were trying to loosen the lock on the front door of his home.  A concerned woman called the police noting that “two black men” were forcing their way into a house in her neighborhood.  Although Gates was already in the house making a phone call to the real estate company that manages his home, the police arrested him. 

Gates’ arrest made me wonder what would have happened in this situation if he had been White.  It seems to me that whenever I am questioned by the police, they give me the benefit of the doubt.  Why? (of course I know why) Let me offer a recent example in which I thought to myself — ‘Hmmm what would have happened had I been African American?’ 

A few months ago, I was driving a friend home who lives in an area of Philadelphia that is considered “dangerous.”  The area is typically heavy with police officers as many people cruise the streets looking for drugs at night.  I dropped off my friend and started to drive home.  As I am not great with directions and it was dark, I got a bit disoriented and accidentally made an illegal right hand turn.  Within minutes the police were behind me, pulling me over.  They began asking me what I was doing in the neighborhood (most likely assuming that I was trying to purchase drugs) and where I was going.  I responded, “I just dropped off a friend after having dinner.  I’m trying to get home.”  Sensing that the officers didn’t quite believe me ,  I said, “I’m a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. I just need to get to West Philadelphia where I live.”  The officers let me go immediately and, in fact, they helped guide me back to the main road that would take me home. They also apologized for suspecting me of anything but the traffic violation.

I was pretty shaken after this incident as any interaction with the police makes my pulse quicken.  As I drove home, I wondered what would have happened had I been African American.  Would my “I’m a Penn professor” plea have worked?  Unfortunately, based on the experiences of so many of my African American friends who have been stopped by the police for merely walking/driving/sitting while Black, I know what would have happened.  I now have a definitive answer in Henry Louis Gates’ encounter with the Cambridge police. 

Gates was in his doorway.  I was in my car, far from my home.  I was given a pass immediately by the police.  I can’t help but think my “Whiteness” was a benefit.  Unfortunately, most White Americans do not realize that they walk around with the immense privilege of being given the benefit of the doubt in most situations.  Post-racial America?  Where is this America? 

Let’s hope that people realize that racism is alive and well in America — that they own up to it, take ownership of it.  Better yet, let’s work as hard as possible to counter and confront these racist incidents, to educate those around us, and to fulfill the vision of our current president. 

I think President Obama said it best during his inaugural address:  “The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.”

An associate professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Gasman is the author of Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) and lead editor of Understanding Minority Serving Institutions (SUNY Press, 2008).

Michael Jackson: A Transformative Human Being

By Elwood Watson

Okay. I will confess that I was a huge Michael Jackson fan! From the time I was a teenager, I rabidly purchased all of his albums. To me, he was one of the greatest entertainerelwoodwatsons to live. To this very day, I still harbor that assessment. In fact, on the very evening of his passing I received a call from one of my sisters asking me how I was feeling. She knew how much I admired the king of pop. Truth be told, I was very saddened to hear of his death. As I saw it, he was so young, so vibrant and still had so much more to accomplish. Granted, his life history was far from serene, yet it certainly was nowhere near as “tragic” as some media pundits and entertainment correspondents argued.

I had followed the late Mr. Jackson from his days as a member of the Jackson Five when I was in elementary school (my older siblings were also huge fans as well) to his solo efforts with his superb albums “Off The Wall” and “Thriller.” By the time “Thriller” was released, I was in high school. If his record sales were an indication, I was obviously not alone in my fascination with Michael Jackson. “Off The Wall” went multiplatinum and made Jackson the first artist to have four songs in the top 10 FROM THE SAME ALBUM at one time! As if this was not significant enough, his “Thriller” album produced six No. 1 songs, sold 40 million copies, earned seven American music awards, eight Grammy awards and stayed on the charts for more than three years!

In addition in 1983, Jackson was credited for SINGLEHANDEDLY reviving the music industry! Think about it. Even if no other artist had released any album that year, Michael Jackson alone would have revived an industry which up until that time was in an economic funk! Such a record is phenomenal. No one, not even The Beatles accomplished such a feat.

It was because of Michael Jackson that MTV, which up until this time catered to a predominantly 18- to 30-year old White audience, slowly but surely began to give considerable airtime to Black artists like Prince, Tina Turner, Whitney Houston and others. By the early 1990s, MTV was playing Black artists with frantic frequency, even going so far as to have a daily show entitled MTV Raps. Most of us have heard the story of how MTV was initially resistant to playing Jackson’s videos but relented due to pressure from Walter Yetnikoff, then-president of CBS records who threatened to pull all of his artists from the music channel if they refused to comply with his demand. Whether such a narrative is valid or the stuff of urban legend, no one can dispute the fact that such a decision was a wise and lucrative one, both financially and globally for MTV.

In my opinion “Billie Jean” and “Beat It” and needless to say “Thriller,” were among the most innovative videos ever aired. Jackson’s famous moonwalk and phenomenal dancing prowess alone prompted mid-20th century dancing legend Fred Astaire to praise Jackson for his hoofing abilities. Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, such racial inclusion and transformation of a White dominated industry was largely due to Michael Jackson.

Unfortunately, rather than focuses on such positive accomplishments such as his donating millions of dollars to various charities and altruistic efforts, there are those – mostly detractors – who seem more content to ruminate on what they see as the negative aspects of Jackson’s life. These are the playa haters who take perverse comfort in espousing everything that was suspect or controversial about Jackson. Examples of such retrograde allegations were:

– he was a self-hating Black man
– he was probably a pedophile
– he was a drug addict
– his marriages were a sham
– he was financially broke
and the list goes on and on.

For the record, to paraphrase USA TODAY columnist De Wayne Wickham, unlike many Black entertainers (and some White ones for that matter) who are very influential and have substantial multiracial followings, Jackson did not hesitate to confront the issue of race. This was evident in such songs as “Black or White” and “Heal the World.” This is stark contrast to many of his supposedly “pro super Black” critics who have no problem doing a number on Whites in private, but whose militant, rhetorically racially conscious backbones become spineless marshmallows when in the presence of certain Whites. The same can be said for many of Jackson’s White and other non-Black critics who would often turn a blind eye or even wink at the deviant, in some cases, pathological behavior of celebrities of their own ethnic group, but had no problems in denouncing Jackson as some “freak of nature.”

While Jackson did settle out of court a lawsuit alleging (I stress the word allege) child molestation, he did not admit to guilt. In his 2005 trial, he was acquitted of all charges by an all-White jury. Despite recent news accounts, all throughout his illustrious career, there was no hard evidence that Michael Jackson was a habitual user of drugs. In fact, it was because of his image as a drug free celebrity (which was almost an oxymoron in Hollywood during the 1980s and mid-1990s) that he was invited to the White House in 1984 by then-president Ronald Reagan to receive an award and to serve as a spokesperson for former first lady Nancy Reagan’s “just say no” to drugs campaign.

There were others who argued that in spite of his immense talents, his love life was non-existent and fraudulent as was evident in his divorces. It was very peculiar that such “know it alls” supposedly seemed to know more about the intimate details of Jackson’s private life than he did. Moreover, given a nation where the divorce rate is more than 50 percent (among Hollywood celebrities the percentage is much higher) Jackson was hardly an aberration. In fact, he was pretty consistent.

We were constantly induced with stories of financial incompetence and constant rumors of Jackson bordering on the brink of bankruptcy. Such stories became so commonplace that his accountants eventually decided to release press statements refuting such intense rumors. His purchase of the Beatles Catalog in the mid-1980s coupled with his merger with Sony music a few years ago no doubt nullified any debt he had. The amount that many fans all over the world ( I was one) spent purchasing CDs, videos, magazines and other Jackson merchandise over the past few weeks probably took care of any lingering “supposedly financial troubles” he had.

Could Michael Jackson have handled some of his public relations better than he did? Certainly. I do not think too many people would argue about this. To be sure, like a number of people, Michael Jackson was eccentric. However, being non-conformist is not a crime nor does it mean that he was all the retrograde things that many of his opponents made him out to be. Love him or hate him, there is no doubt that Michael Jackson was one of the most talented entertainers the world has ever seen and it will be a long time, perhaps never, that we may see the likes of him again. As the Rev. Al Sharpton said a few weeks ago at his memorial “Thank you, Michael.” I say rest in peace brother Jackson.

Dr. Elwood Watson is a full professor of History and African American Studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of several award-winning academic articles, several anthologies and is the author of the book Outsiders Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown v. Board  (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Spring 2008)