Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Black or White and Adinah

Three weeks ago, we were all falling asleep in a hotel room in Santa Maria Navarese, Sardinia, when CNN reported that a website was reporting that Michael Jackson was dead.

The next morning, Adinah and I woke up early, and went down to the lobby. I changed the channel on the TV there to see if it was true. Then I started trying to explain Michael Jackson to my six-year-old daughter. I’m still trying.

Actually, now Adinah is explaining Michael Jackson to me. Her favorite music video in the whole world this week is Jackson’s “Black or White.” [Ed. note: This clip is an eleven minute epic directed by John Landis, and ends with a nearly five minute segment depicting a black panther, which turns into Jackson, then back again, after a long solo dance-scream-and-smash-stuff interlude.] My wife, who introduced her Cultural Studies lecture class last week with a discussion of Jackson, found the “Bass Amplify” version of the video on YouTube and showed it to Deano. Now her favorite part is where Jackson walks through fire!

She also likes the bit where the actor John Goodman, sitting in a La-Z Boy recliner, makes a crash landing at Jackson’s feet. “I would like to come down next to Michael Jackson,” Deanie says.

“Why?” I ask.

Adinah looks at me like I’ve got cheddar for brains.

“So I could watch him dance.”

When we watch the video together, I’ve noticed that my girl sings along the loudest during the scene where Michael Jackson is perched on the torch of the Statue of Liberty. “If you're thinkin' of being my bay-bee, “ she talk-raps,”It don't matter if you're black or white!”

I wonder what those words mean to her.

Yesterday, as we were sitting at the pool watching her little sister play, Deanie asked me, “Would you think V. is black or white?”

“Hmmm, well, that’s a good question,” I answered. “V.'s first mother is white and her first father is black. That’s like Obama. His mother is white and his father is black. Do you think Obama is black?”

She thought about that for a second.

Then I said, “Maybe it’s like Michael Jackson says in the song. ‘It doesn’t matter.’ ”

I thought about that for a longer second. Then I asked Adinah, “Why did you ask that question about V.?”

“Because I was thinking that if V. is black,” Adinah said, “Then we have two black people and two white people in our family.”

So, as I interpret Adinah interpreting Michael Jackson (and the rest of the world), I guess she’s saying it does matter.

And, of course, she’s right.

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