Black and White, Young and Old

An elderly black lady approached my cash register one day. Caught in my routine of “customer service”, I robotically processed the transaction. Then my manager walked past me and commented on my customer’s tshirt.

“I like your Michael Jackson tshirt.”

My ears perked, my eyes removed their focus from her purchases, and my mind went sharp. It wasn’t a tshirt I would buy, but it made me very happy to see someone wearing a Michael Jackson tshirt. My manager and customer exchanged comments about the tshirt and Michael’s passing (and his recent death anniversary), and it broke my heart when the old lady said she “got all sad again” when the 25th rolled around. I didn’t say anything the entire time, and my mind was all over the place. I wanted to throw my hands in the air and scream “I LOVE MICHAEL JACKSON TOO! WE BOTH LOVE HIM. CAN I GIVE YOU A HUG?!” But, of course, I didn’t.

My roomate likes to surprise people — or me, at least. On my 20th birthday, he told me had a wonderful gift for me. He had it wrapped and it sat in our dorm room for about a week before I could open it. I’m not too fond of birthday gifts, so I really gave no bother to what it was. Honestly, I was more interested in hoping that my sister would show up with a copy of This Is It on Bluray. But, of course, that didn’t happen.

Then I was allowed to open the gift, and it was a wonderful gift — possibly the most wonderful gift a friend has ever given me. It was a framed copy of Thriller in vinyl. The record was his mother’s, and my roomie found it while cleaning out his family’s attic. I was shocked that his mother was willing to give it to me. I was even more shocked that I had it. I had it, the record that sent Michael into orbit (not that Off The Wall didn’t, but nothing will ever match Thriller). It was like history and power behind glass, and it was mine to gaze at forever. I told my roomie how fantastic I thought the gift was. I’m horrible at conveying my emotions, and I don’t think I’ve ever fully expressed how grateful I am for the vinyl. It’s a material possession I will treasure forever.

These are two examples where I’ve encountered Michael Jackson in the real world. For as large as a celebrity as Michael is, I’ve had very minimal interaction with his fans in real life. In fact, I only have maybe two or three friends who are legitimate Michael Jackson fans. I treasure those encounters because they love Michael Jackson, and I do too. I love to share my love for Michael. To see him embraced by my customer, an elderly black woman, and my roomate’s mother, a younger white woman, was very precious. It reminded me that Michael’s influence and art spanned across race and class. His art and life broke social barriers. He didn’t accomplish these social feats alone, but he certainly expedited them. I wouldn’t liken him to Dr. Martin Luther King, but it would be remiss to remember Michael Jackson only for his music.

The first black artist to be prominently featured on the dominantly white MTV was a loud shout to an America emerging from racial strife: I AM YOUNG AND BLACK AND I CAN BE THE FACE OF MAINSTREAM AMERICA.

Michael, along with many other important social activists and artists, paved the way for me, an Asian American, to be in America today. I’m eternally grateful for these giants.

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