What I Learned About Style from Michael Jackson’s “Black or White”

Given that Rachel Dolezal threw American pigmentocracy through a loop we thought it timely to assess this gem from the vault. Sup MJ!

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Jun 23 2015, 6:16pm

Last week Rachel Dolezal threw American pigmentocracy through a loop gurl, and I am still gagging. When I learned about the massive contributions Dolezal had made to the NAACP and African American community, however, I admittedly asked myself: does it matter if she's black or white? While recently surfaced details about Dolezal's life indicate that it probably does in fact matter, I've got to give mama a fist bump for being way more down for the cause than most people are, race notwithstanding.

As someone with a white father and black mother, I have experienced the fluidity of my own racial associations all my life. At times, I may feel "whiter" or "blacker" depending on how I'm dressed, what music I may be listening to, who I'm with, where I am, etc. It's a luxury that I am afforded because I am both races. Because such mundane factors as these so easily influence my racial identity, I can't see it being that difficult for them to influence the racial identity of someone with one less black parent than I have. Especially when that person probably knows as much (if not more) about my black parent's heritage as she or I do.

But I, like most, don't even know that lady, so let me get back in my lane to minimize the risk of death threat-cum-Facebook comments. The question of Dolezal's race obviously brought to mind Michael Jackson's 1991 hit "Black or White." Like Dolezal's track record, the video (directed by "Thriller's" John Landis) contains some questionable portrayals of certain cultures, and some questionable hair choices. Do they get cut any slack for their kumbaya intentions, or do they get the side eye for being offensive and a little tacky?

Let's take a look.

P.S. Sorry for the quality of some of these screengrabs. The highest res MJ's people saw fit to upload was 480. Amateurs.

The video begins with a young boy (played by Macaulay Culkin) rocking out to heavy metal in his bedroom. His father (George Wendt) comes in like a wrecking ball and screams at Culkin to turn the music off and go to bed. Culkin, however, does not take that kind of tone from anybody. So he sets up colossal speakers in the living room where is parents are couch potato-ing, plugs in, and turns the volume all the way up to "ARE YOU NUTS?!" After accessorizing with a single fingerless glove (duh) and a pair of shades, Culkin plays his guitar, sending soundwaves out of the speakers so powerful that they launch Dad and his armchair across the world, where he lands in Africa. Obviously.

THE FETISHISM IS REAL

The video wastes no time in bringing the drama with the initial dance sequence, in which a group of what the song's Wikipedia page generalizes as "African" hunters are stalking lions. Not to be that bitch, but I just took a class on African performance and fine arts, and I don't recognize any of this anachronistic ass garb or face paint. I definitely don't remember seeing any African hunters with hair as layed as homeboy's on the left. MJ arises from the dust and he and the hunters do "West African" choreography (thanks Wikipedia o__0).

OWN YOUR FETISH

If you're going to fetishize continents to get a point across, you might as well keep your look consistent with the brand: MJ's intense leg armor and wrist guard are evocative of fetish gear. See what they did there? (Aside: could this wrist guard have been the beginning of #healthgoth?) The King of Pop wasn't about to be running through the sticks with his woes about race without any protection. Let this be a lesson to us all about the importance of accessorizing.

KNOW BETTER



The American Indian homage in this video is a reminder of things you "just don't do," which this fell under even in 1991. MJ appears dancing on a platform with Plains Indians in traditional dress, while a horde of Plains men ride around the platform on horseback shooting off rifles for no reason. Why is every other cultural group referenced in this video shown executing choreography, but the American Indians just get to half-assedly hop around shooting guns? MAJOR don't! Between the awkward stage, the feathers and earth tones, the dudes committing senseless acts of buffoonery all around, and the generally disrespectful vibes, this segment caused me to experience acute Gov Ball flashbacks and all of the "don'ts" I witnessed there: floorlength suede fringe vests; a girl on her boyfriend's shoulders in front of me during Drake; Lana Del Rey not performing on the main stage. People, music festivals are a joke but they are no joke. Respect the music by thinking twice about your etiquette and, most importantly, your outfit, instead of desecrating it with feather headdresses and moccasin booties like this director did to American Indians.

ACT CASUAL

Homegirl is so unbothered by the fact that they have her doing Indian dance in the middle of the freeway, and I'm living for it. When your sari is on fleek and you're about to get paid, you can twerk anywhere you want and still keep your cool. MJ takes the nonchalance to another level by pretending to read a newspaper, while dancing in time with homegirl, on the freeway. I never thought I'd see the day when doing the most became a lesson in effortless chic.

DO YOU

Then MJ emerges out of a burning cross with his arms outstretched crucifixion style. There is really something to be said for this egalitarian approach to offending people. It doesn't matter if you're black or white, this video will piss you off at least once. That's probably partly why this is the part where MJ is singing, "I ain't scared of nobody." But the real reason he ain't scared is because, even though there is a scorching crucifix and Klansman behind him, ain't no way that riff raff is catching up with MJ thanks to the gale force fan blowing his texturized locks back. You might recall the heavy use of wind machines on Beyoncé's visual album… I'm starting to think the title of the song "Blow" was a lowkey nod to MJ's luxurious use of wind. She's a huge fan. Of both MJ and fans.

ALWAYS SERVE LEWKS

Do you know how hard it was for me to capture the split-second face these babies all served during the stoop rap segment? I would kill to be able to jump into this caliber of smize from my resting bitch face in under a second like these child prodigies did. Judging from the graphic print mixing, snapback skewed just-so, suspenders, oversized shades, and retro trainers, these kids are regulars on The Blogs. That might also be because Anna Wintour is part of the clique.

The Blogs will love a 90s moment for at least six more months. NYU undergrads, take notes. Make the most out of your summer jobs!

MORE IS MORE

Sometimes, when I'm feeling unclear about the attire of the place I'm going, or just depressed, I just pile on as many bougie designer clothes as I can without looking too crazy to make myself feel better. I feel like that's what this shot is doing, only with cultural monuments instead of labels. Structures such as the Parthenon, Eiffel Tower, Hagia Sophia, and Giza Sphinx surround MJ and Lady Liberty like designer handbags—a mélange of humanity's "status symbols" that has mass appeal. Gauche, yet diplomatic.

QUIT WHILE YOU'RE AHEAD


And now for an attempt at mass appeal that gave me indigestion. Similarly to the monument shot, they smooshed all the races, genders and body types into one gross shapeshifter! I know the technology was new and cool and in Terminator 2, but how do these images make you feel in 2015? This face-morphing bit is a reminder that no matter how cute you are, you will definitely look disgusting at some point.

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