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Michael Jackson, inheritor of the Minstrels and instigator of a new blackface


The blackface was a street show that later led to the Minstrel, which consisted in seeing whites with blackened faces parodying slave shows, such as those they could give, to earn a few sardines on holidays, at the St. Catherine's market in New York from the 18th century.

It was indeed more "tolerable" to watch white people dancing in costume than black people "au naturel" because the latter were considered subversive. A large part of the black cultural heritage has been sabotaged by the perpetuation of these clichés.

To link the artist Michael Jackson to socio-cultural elements is not to obscure his musical contributions. It is to highlight the vocation that his musical talents had to carry a message not through speeches, but through an artistic character, an image, which, even before acting, from near and far, in the society that surrounds him, questions in depth human nature and its relationship to others.

In the midst of multiple questions that touch on gender, race, time and power, the question of color arises, which, far from being undergone, whether it be the disadvantages of an original black color or those related to a skin disease and depigmenting treatments, has been the bearer and revealer of consciousness.

This same double consciousness that was and still is carried for many generations by African-Americans: that of wearing their particularity with dignity while integrating into society, and the paradoxical one, carried for a long time on stage by African-American artists, of conforming to the clichés inherited from blackface in order to have "a voice on stage", while trying to regain control of their own image and culture.

The confrontation with the other, the dualistic presence of two races embodied by a single man, the phenomenon of simultaneous or successive identification with one or the other of its facets, is a real first that requires us to question the vision carried by Michael Jackson with regard to his African-American peers, his own historical awareness in this matter, and his way of acting, behind the scenes, and of questioning on stage, about this history.

« We perceive the coon show of yesterday as gross folly, regard the coon show of today in purblind innocence. Louis Armstrong singing "Shine" with a smile on his face is one thing. But what is to be made, in a supposedly more enlightened age, of a whitened Michael Jackson declaiming in rhythm, ascowl with dramatic sincerity, that he is "Bad"? They are, these theatrical posings - of our culture, and of our psyche - like a mirror held at different angles to our self, that self which is both white and black: the reflection changes, but what is reflected remains the same. And that which is reflected, no matter how radically its reflection changes, remains as deeply enigmatic today as it was in the minstrelsy. It goes on. Beneath the singer, beneath the song. It goes on. » Nick Tosches (Blackface, Where dead voices gather)

Most books about blackface mention Michael Jackson at one point or another, if not directly in their title.

But, unlike the real or scenic founding characters, such as Teddy Rice or Jim Crow, the name of the one who could be expected to be the object of an emblematic parallel, is generally only touched upon and the link is only established too quickly, through a video clip, a choreographic gesture or a physical appearance that questions.