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Friday, June 26, 2009

He Tried to Heal the World: Tribute to the King of Pop

Michael Jackson was more than the most talented entertainer of his generation.
He was more than a musician of genius level- talent and epic accomplishments.
He was more than an innovator, a trail-blazer and a trendsetter
Though certainly most men would settle for being any one of these things.
Still he was more even than all of these things.

He was a change agent.
He was a messenger of love and hope.
In his art, he sought not just to entertain but to change the world, to make it a better place:

"We`re on a mission
In the everlasting light
That shines a revelation...
We`re gonna shake it up and break it up
We`re sharing light brighter than the sun
Hello, good times
We`re here to simulate, eliminate
And congregate, illuminate"
(We Are Here to Change the World)

Like most love warriors, he paid a heavy price for his efforts. He was accused of crimes, robbed of his fortune, and despite being vindicated by a court that ruled  he was "innocent on all counts" suffered for years as a result of recurrent aspersions against his character. He was a tragic character, a victim despite his brilliance, a target despite how much he was loved by people all around the world. He wrote about what was done to him in his History Album:

"Tired of injustice
Tired of the schemes
The lies are disgusting
So what does it mean
Kicking me down"

Despite it all, he continued writing, singing, dancing. He turned his grief into art. In his song, "They Don't Really Care About Us" he turned his personal trials and tribulations into a video about racism, police brutality, and the high levels of incarceration of black and brown men. Even in his despair, he made art that brought people together and educated his fans about racial injustice:

"Beat me, hate me
You can never break me
Will me, thrill me
You can never kill me
Chew me, sue me
Everybody do me
Kick me hit me
Dont you black or
white me! "
(They don't Care About Us)

At five years old, I was dancing with a group of children in the playground at Hull House in Chicago to the the hit song "Rockin Robin." We even had a Rockin' Robin dance.

This amazing human being was far too young and his life, especially in the last few years was far too tragic but the legacy he left behind speaks for itself and no matter what his naysayers say, they cannot undo the magic he spun in the world during his brief incarnation among us.

At seven I recall crying when my mother played "Ben" and thinking about my dad when she played "I'll Be There."

Michael wasn't just a crossover artist, he was the first major artist to break down racial boundaries in music. He integrated MTV back when it was a "whites only" station with his blockbuster,"Thriller." He produced videos like "Remember the Time" which portrayed Egyptians as the Africans they were and not the white people that white American filmmakers have sought to portray them as. His "Bad" video had an anti-violence message.  His "Man in the Mirror" video juxtaposed images of MLK, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, homeless Americans, and starving children in he Third World.

He was a great collaborator and brought artists of different races and cultures together to produce art and was the first American artist to raise millions of dollars for less fortunate people in Eastern Europe and Africa  through his "Heal the World Foundation."

We Could Fly So High
Let Our Spirits Never Die
In My Heart
I Feel You Are All
My Brothers
Create A World With
No Fear
Together We'll Cry
Happy Tears
See The Nations Turn
Their Swords
Into Plowshares
(Heal the World)

When I was in Middle School, my friends and knew all the lyrics to his "Off the Wall" album. We sang the songs while we hung shyly against the wall, too shy to dance with each other at the school-sponsored dances.

He wrote and sang about racial injustice, environmental issues, war, hunger, homelessness, gang violence, genocide, AIDS. He challenged racial categories and anti-black police brutality. He tried with his art, to heal the world:

"We are here to change the world
Gonna change the world, Hee
We are here to change the world
Gonna change the world"
(We Are Here to Change the World/Captain EO)

When I was 17, working at a pre-school in Phoenix, I had a two-year old in my class who could dance and sing just like Michael. He was a Nursery school sensation. He was "bad" and he was white.

Before Native American beliefs about the oneness of al life were popularized by the New Age movement, Michael tried to get us to see our shared humanity:

"We're Sendin' Out
A Major Love
And This Is Our
Message To You
Message To You
The Planets Are Linin' Up
We're Bringin' Brighter Days
They're All In Line
Waitin' For You
Can't You See . . .?
You're Just Another Part Of Me . . "
(Another Part of Me)

I was in College when he wrote the "We are the World" lyrics, providing a positive alternative to Bandaid's subtly racist portrayal of Africa as ignorant and bereft of anything but hunger:

"There comes a time 
When we head a certain call 
When the world must come together as one 
There are people dying 
And it's time to lend a hand to life 
The greatest gift of all 

We can't go on 
Pretneding day by day 
That someone, somewhere will soon make a change 
We are all a part of 
God's great big family 
And the truth, you know love is all we need"
(We Are the World)

He brought an anti-war and pro-environmental message to his music and thus to the millions of people around the world his music reached :

"What have we done to the world
Look what we've done ...
Did you ever stop to notice
All the children dead from war
Did you ever stop to notice
The crying Earth the weeping shores "
(Earth Song)

When I was a graduate student in the 90s, Michael's incredibly moving "Earth Song" video came out and although I did not own a TV at the time, I somehow managed to get an invitation to somebody's house to see it. It made me cry and cry but it also filled me with hope. Michael tried to get us to recognize the kinship we share not only with each other across race and space but also with plants, animals, and the earth. I had never seen any artist in the mainstream make such an important appeal to the human race. Every child in every school should be shown this video every year of grade school until we change out ways:

"Hey, what about yesterday
What about us
What about the seas
What about us
The heavens are falling down
What about us
I can't even breathe
What about us
What about the bleeding Earth
What about us
Can't we feel its wounds
What about us
What about nature's worth
It's our planet's womb
What about us
What about animals
What about it
We've turned kingdoms to dust
What about us
What about elephants
What about us
Have we lost their trust
What about us
What about crying whales
What about us"

(Earth Song)

I remember so clearly seeing the "Black or White" video on TV, where he showed people of different races morphing into each other and talked about transracial love. As a mixed race product of a highly contested interracial union living in racially segregated Chicago, it gave me a glimpse of a future that I could belong to. Perhaps it was this song that inspired the poetry I write about coming together across race and despite racism. I know I owe a debt of gratitude to this amazing artist. His music was the soundtrack of the majority of my young life.

"See, It's Not About Races
Just Places
Where Your Blood
Comes From
Is Where Your Space Is
I've Seen The LIGHT
Get Duller
I'm Not Going To Spend
My Life Being A Color"

(Black or White)

"He say one day you will see
His place in world history"


Thursday, June 25, 2009

When They Take the Professors You Know You are in Trouble

A UK newspaper  reports today that Iran has now arrested 70 professors who met with the  opposition leader, Mousavi, recently. They also report that journalists are going missing in large numbers.

If you weren't already horrified , now is the time  to panic about the state of affairs in Iran. 

This is not just self- interest talking (I am, after all, a professor). This is a reaction based on history. Whenever republics start locking up intellectuals, things are officially spinning out of control in a very very bad way.

Cambodia under the Kmer Rouge
Bosnia under General Krstic
Darfur under al-Bashir
Germany under the Nazis.

When they start locking up professors, especially in a country like Iran where education is so highly esteemed, the world needs to take notice.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Fighting for Democracy in Iran

The color green is associated with the heart chakra, the seat of love, symbolizing protection, harmony. It is also the color that protestors in Iran are wearing as they take to the streets to demand a recount in an election they say has been rigged.

As of today sate-sponsored violence against protestors is said to have resulted in 150 deaths. Foreign embassies throughout Tehran are taking in wounded. Hospitals report 19 killed today. Rumors on Twitter say houses are being raided and people are being dragged from their homes. Protestors claim that acid or liquid tear gas is being dropped on them from helicopters. Iran has blacked out the media.

More women than men have voted in the last few elections and they too are out on the street in large numbers They currently hold  legally defined second class citizenship in Iran and the risks they face in protesting and being arrested are far greater than those faced by male protestors. Yet they take to the streets demanding their right to elect their own leader.

When we Americans had our votes stolen in 2000 we protested but not for long. We let a man- George W. Bush- that we did not elect rule as our president for four years. We think of ourselves as the greatest democracy but we let our election be stolen. Iranians are willing to die rather that have their vote not count. Perhaps we could learn a democracy lesson from these freedom-seeking people, members of one of the oldest civilizations in the world.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mixed Roots Festival In LA Goes Well

Just back from my jaunt across the US to the annual Mixed Roots Festival held in Los Angeles, California. Apart from the loss of my cellphone and a misfortune at the drycleaners, the trip was a big success. My beautiful god-daughters Bailey Rose and Blair Mahya Quinones joined me on the stage for our inaugural performance of intergenerational mixed poetry and I got to hang out with a bevy of talented mixed artists in sunny California. Life is good.

Though there could have been  more attendees, the festival was a good time. The organizers, Mixed Chicks founders, Heidi and Fanshen were dedicated and hospitable as usual and the crowd was homey and ever so nice to look at! Highlights included the Loving Day party Friday night, complete with cake and soul train dancing lines, some tear-jerking films about the tragic mulatto, and some side-splitting comedy by a Black Italian with a bad attitude.

Jason Sublette, an excellent fiction writer, came back this year and created a wonderful display of "worldle word clouds" about the parents of mixed artists in order to visually "express feelings and thoughts of appreciation." The word clouds were beautiful and moving. I know my dad appreciated his. Jason's reading of chapter four of his novel was entertaining. His work is well-crafted if a little sinister. He explained that he was trying to challenge current stereotypes about nice, quiet, nerdy Asian American men by creating a Hapa Asian character who was  athletic, aggressive, and a tad immoral. You did it, Jason-No stereotypes in your story!

Amazing performances were also shared by singer Jason Luckett and comedian Maija DiGiorgio  at the "Mixed Unplugged" event Saturday night.

My god-daughters Bailey and Blair stayed with me in my hotel room, writing poems, laughing and preparing their rock star careers and the time I spent with them was the best time I have had in a long time. I have partied, I have performed, I have met and loved beautiful women, I have been fawned over by fans but none of this compares to quality time spent with these amazing young women. Lets hear it for the Quinones girls! Mixed race and proud. Beautiful and brilliant.