Do we see Michael Jackson's kids as black or white?
If Michael Jackson were alive, as he should be, there’s no question that the public would not see as much of his kids — Prince Michael, Paris and Prince Michael II, better known as Blanket — as we’ve seen lately. While Michael, especially towards the end, gave us more glimpses of his kids than we were used to, it pales in comparison to all the appearances they’ve made after his death.
On Wednesday’s edition of The X Factor, which turned out to be a tribute to Michael Jackson in addition to a double-elimination round, his mother Katherine Jackson as well as three of his brothers — Tito, Jackie and Marlon — attended the show along with his children.
In the past, ample comments have been made regarding the genetic unlikelihood that these three kids are Michael Jackson’s spawn. Although towards the end of his life, Michael Jackson appeared more white than black. Genetically, there’s no way he could stamp out the lovely brown skin that fueled his God-given good looks early in his career. Yet, his three children came out as white as any kids two Caucasian parents could produce.
After his untimely death, we learned the obvious: Michael Jackson, you are not the biological father of these three kids. His friend/”dermatologist” Arnold Klein was tagged as sire of Prince Michael and Paris but not Blanket and their presumed mother Debbie Rowe was revealed as only the surrogate. Even more bizarre, Blanket got here through an unknown surrogate and sperm donor who was reportedly unaware that she was giving birth to Michael Jackson’s child.
We could speculate as to why Michael Jackson did not use his own sperm. Perhaps he didn’t want the children to look black because it would help resurface the fact that Michael, at one time, used to be brown.
Regardless, Jackson’s kids, especially now, are being raised in a black household with their grandmother Katherine, who was raised in the segregated South and reared most of her children in gritty and black Gary, Indiana. So that begs the question: with this upbringing, how will Prince, Paris and Blanket be identified or even identify? They look white, of course, but, given Katherine Jackson’s life experiences, they are presumably being raised black. If there is one thing that became clear during the media circus surrounding Michael Jackson’s untimely death and the Conrad Murray trial, Michael Jackson was surrounded by more black people than mainstream reports had previously suggested.
The kids’ former nanny Grace Rwaramba, who worked for Michael Jackson nearly two decades, is from Rwanda for example. Al Sharpton, who helped lead Michael’s protests against Tommy Mottola in 2002, remains close to the Jackson family. Longtime black entertainment gossip guru Flo Anthony has received some mainstream face-time because of her ties to the family. As more of Michael Jackson’s personal employees surfaced, many of them were surprisingly of color.
I am of the belief that black is not just the race that the world sees and is able to identify but it’s about cultural identity as well. When I lived in New York, I encountered black people who were raised culturally white as well as white people who were raised culturally black. This does not mean that I met black people who couldn’t dance or didn’t eat fried chicken and watermelon or white people who spoke in hip-hop-ease either. Those are racial stereotypes, not cultural signifiers.
White people who were raised or immersed in a predominantly black environment usually display an instant comfort level in all black settings. There may be a certain inflection in their voice or a “knowingness” in their eyes. On the flip side, black people who were raised in predominantly white environments might be uncomfortable in those same settings.
Scientifically, it is hard to identify but it’s like being a certain age or hailing from a particular region. As someone who has lived in the Midwest, on the East and West Coasts and currently resides in the South, there’s something that can be said about shared cultural and even regional experiences.
When the first white valedictorian of Morehouse College Josh Packwood was interviewed on The View June 2, 2008, he essentially said that, for him, attending Morehouse was not strange because he had been around black people most of his life. An article in the Kansas City Star, where Packwood grew up, cosigned that with the notation that “His mother had married a black man. He had black stepsiblings. Grandview High has been 53 percent black his senior year.”
Prince and Paris won’t have Packwood’s high school experience but neither will President Obama’s Sasha and Malia. So if a white guy immersed in black culture can pick up cultural cues that will make him “culturally black” or, at best, “culturally sensitive,” what does attending exclusive and predominantly white schools do to people who live in predominantly black households? Is the situation compounded for Prince and Paris because they look white and also attend a predominantly white school? And, then to top it off, they are not just celebrity children but Michael Jackson’s children.
Race is becoming an increasingly more complicated issue as evidenced by the election of President Obama. Some people object to the president identifying himself solely as African-American when his mother was white and he was raised largely by his white grandparents in Hawaii at that. Yet, the president’s experiences living on the South Side of Chicago, which is significantly black, seem to play a large role in his sense of identity as well as his marriage to a Chicago native who had no racial ambiguity.
We, of course, don’t know what box Michael Jackson may have checked on the census, if he participated at all. It is also doubtful that we will ever learn how Michael Jackson’s children identify racially. Frankly, there’s so much other stuff to talk about when it comes to their upbringing and their iconic and eccentric father that racial identity will, no doubt, be the least important to anyone who gets to interview them.
The reality is that they will always be Michael Jackson’s children and, as we have learned, mega-celebrity status in the United States definitely eclipses race. So, in reality, Prince, Paris and Blanket are indeed colorless.