Apparently Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” was released in 1992, which means I was 10 when I watched the video with my mother. I don’t remember much anticipation, except my mom spent a lot of time lamenting Jackson’s obvious body dysmorphia. The viewing was no exception to every single thing I’ve ever watched with my mother—we talked on and off, all the way through it. The only quiet stretch was the middle of the video, when the guitar and music peter out and leave way to Jackson, on his knees in a wet ally way screaming. Loudly. He proceeds to get up and do a dance-y fit, breaking car windshields with a crow bar as the sky rumbles overhead, reflecting his anger.
I didn’t get the throw to racism and how mad it made him. I was ten, and frankly, he didn’t look black enough at that point to be bothered by it much. But I did pick up on the hate, the quiet and deepness of the anger. Like most people, I sat, stunned and uncomfortable, watching my mother shake her head and cover her mouth. She probably said it was “powerful” or something like that, because that’s what you say. Like when Langston Hughes starts his happy go luck be-boppy-rhymes that end so rough and ragged you can hardly believe the little letters gave way to form such nasty things.