michael, may you now be at peace: a reflection (no. 106)


“Being able to say that one is a survivor is an accomplishment. For many, the power is in the name itself. And yet comes a time in the individuation process when the threat or trauma is significantly past. Then is the time to go to the next stage after survivorship, to healing and thriving. … One can take so much pride in being a survivor that it becomes a hazard to further creative development. … Once the threat is past, there is a potential trap in calling ourselves by names taken on during the most terrible time of our lives. It creates a mind-set that is potentially limiting. It is not good to base the soul identity solely on the feats and losses and victories of the bad times.”- (clarissa pinkola estés)

now that i’ve had a few days to regroup and think, here we are again…  it’s something i needed, inevitably.

looking at photos of you when you were younger tends to be a way for me to regroup.  it’s quite humbling.  this may sound odd, but as we grew up with similar childhoods, i look at you and think to myself, ‘what if i had access to as much money?’  admittedly internalizing much of what my mother said and did to me as a child- saying i was stupid, worthless, and that my features were undesirable (even to the point that bleaching cream was put on my sister and i)- i do wonder if i personally would have regretted dramatically altering my looks in any way.  the truth is, had i been financially successful, i would have found a way to alter my FULL physical self- not just specific features. if i could have done anything to disappear, i would have done it.  i’ve already discussed this before, how too many people observe the notion of race in simplistic ways when it comes to trauma.  if indeed, people look at you as ‘wanting to be white’ because you chose to alter your features in order to ‘please your father’; wouldn’t that mean there are issues of so-called ‘self-hatred’ in your father- the man who religiously opined that your features were undesirable?  wouldn’t the ‘self-hatred’ of you reflect upon the ‘self-hatred’ of both your parents and a majority of your siblings, who ALSO altered their features and hair?

and wouldn’t this mean that as a culture, we refuse to acknowledge that abuse/trauma exists, when we narrow it down to something as conditioned as race?

i digress…

i still struggle with the internalization, but i’m glad i am able to live through it, without having to change who i am in any way.


“i was the one that would fight back when i was little.  he’d try to beat me and stuff like that, because i sang the wrong- i didn’t do something right, or i did the wrong dance… the wrong move.  and i would argue back and i would fight back.  and i’d run like HELL, and he couldn’t catch me, you know?

my brothers used to say i was crazy.  and i was little.  and i would always fight joseph back, and  i would always get my ass beat.  and then i used to run, and i threw a shoe at him…  and he knocked me down on the floor one time, because we were rehearsing in our living room.  i did something wrong.  he knocked the mess outta me.  and we were supposed to perform somewhere the next day.  and he knocked me down so hard, i lost my wind…  i was just little!  so i got up, i was so furious.  they talk about me being conceited, you know?  i got up, and i was crying and stuff.  and i said, ‘joseph, if you hit me again, I’M NOT PERFORMING!’ he’s like ‘what the F*** did you say?’ …i wasn’t even nine years old…  i was probably just about seven.  i said, ‘joseph, if you hit me again’- and i was crying my eyes out- i said, ‘if you hit me again, i am NOT performing…’  he left me alone.  i said ‘i’m not doin’ the show!’  he said, ‘don’t you know i will kick your m.f. ass’ and all this and that; i got up- the wind was knocked outta me.  i said ‘you hit me again and i won’t perform.’  and he knew i was the star performer.  and he didn’t hit me.”

i listen to you saying this and it reminds me of the things my mother would say about her childhood- that fighting back from her familial abuser(s).  the cadence you spoke in- that dazed, almost monotone gesture- reminds me of one of my aunts.  whenever i’d call her she’d say “who’s your favourite aunt?” really…  listening to you was like speaking with my aunt.  it’s as if there is a common set of tones amongst people who’ve grown up with childhood trauma, when speaking about the trauma.

i absolutely respect and admire your courage to fight back as a child.  i am a proponent of children respecting their parents and not unnecessarily mouthing off; but really, there is a point where children SHOULD have an inherent right to fight off their abusers, even if they are parents.  beating a kid because they take a wrong dance step (amongst other things) is senseless.  using your talent as leverage to prevent one type of abuse was indeed helpful for you, but ultimately after he stopped beating you the effects of emotional abuse became prominent.

you virtually being alone in fighting your father back (as the brothers looked on in fear) makes sense of you being alone in a lot of ways as an adult.  clearly i don’t know everything you’ve been through- in basing everything i’ve heard you say and looking at your art in relation to my own experiences, it IS easy to see though, how people COULD consider you to be conceited when they do not recognize or want to acknowledge the affects of abuse within you; as well as the defense mechanisms you’ve created for yourself, for better or worse.

“Do not cringe and make yourself small if you are called the black sheep, the maverick, the lone wolf. Those with slow seeing say a nonconformist is a blight on society. But it has been proven over the centuries, that being different means standing at the edge, means one is practically guaranteed to make an original contribution, a useful and stunning contribution to her culture.”- (clarissa pinkola estés)

there’s only a certain point where you want to keep fighting.  if you continue to live in a toxic environment, you begin to resign yourself to it.

When a creature is exposed to violence, it will tend to adapt to that disturbance, so that when the violence ceases or the creature is allowed its freedom, the healthy instinct to flee is hugely diminished, and the creature stays put instead. -(clarissa pinkola estés)

as a person who has lived through trauma, i am certainly glad to not be working in the industry you worked in, where it is essentially impossible to do any true work of healing.


i look closely at photos of you, at those sad eyes, and i’ll say it again- it upsets me to no end how ANYONE uses the lowering of self-esteem as a means of control.  people talk about the ‘bullying’ phenomenon when it comes to younger people, and choose to remain silent on the issue when it comes to parenting, opting to focus on physical/sexual abuse.  ALL forms of abuse are interconnected.  how could ANYONE look at someone as beautiful as you- with those sweet eyes, those beautiful coils of strength flowering from your scalp, that shy smile, that nose which was a symbol of the motherland and her travels, that caring demeanor, that confidence… and not see beauty?  i still marvel at how ANYONE, ESPECIALLY your own FATHER- the man whose genes you share- could try to control his own SON by making him feel so low.  in some of the photos there is such a hollowness in your eyes, i could only imagine the events leading up to the time the photo was taken.


“i’ve seen my brothers…  when we were traveling and stuff and doing the circuit and all that.  joseph would be in another room messing with a girl and it was obvious they were having sex… i didn’t wanna tell mother; marlon and i didn’t wanna tell, but…  all my brothers kind of just… did the same thing.

i remember… marlon and i had to share a room with jermaine…  i felt so guilty when we used to come home from the circuit… i felt so guilty and i just cried, and joseph choked me, almost broke my arm one day.  but he was proud of it.  it’s like, ‘oh, this is what you should do, boy.’  i mean, he wouldn’t say that, but he was screwin’ women in the other room and stuff.”

and after your features were altered, besides your times with children, the hollowness never faded…  it only increased.  your father was replaced with record executives, lawyers and court dates…  until the point where the only time you looked truly at peace was in your autopsy photo.

i keep all of this in mind and am truly thankful, even though i struggle with internalization, that i looked into enough of myself to remove myself from some detrimental situations, be it familial or otherwise. with you, i recognized that the light you had never dimmed, but you chose to remain in such toxic environments it was a lot less easy to recognize the light if you were not already familiar with it.


your ethnicity and status were intertwined in so many ways, it ultimately entrapped you in those toxic environments.  people focused so much on the success of ‘thriller’, of you being a member of ‘black royalty’; of all of your supposed quirks…  yet there was no attempt of an understanding of you as a person, and why you MAY have wanted to not associate yourself with your blood relatives at any given point.

“…my father called and asked me for half a million dollars… on father’s day.  joseph called me with some sob story, and he said ‘i’ve been trying to get a hold of you for three weeks.’  i’m like, ‘yeah, well what do you want?’  and he’s like, ‘your number’s changed.’  i said, ‘yeah, anyway, what do you want?’  …he had to go through four different people to get a hold of me.  i said okay fine, put his call through.  he wanted to borrow half a million dollars.  i’m like, ‘…what did you do now?  why are you in debt this time, joseph?’ you know, he laid this crap on me about ‘oh well, you know, you my son, you know…  i’ll pay it back and you know, we can come up with a contract.’

…when he had joe jackson productions…  he was real good in the beginning, you know, with us; when we were little, but…  he’s not a very good businessman…  he wanted to borrow money before and then he had to go through mother to get it… they want me to give joseph money and stuff like that.  so i say okay, well, i’m not gonna give it to joseph-  i’ll give it to mother, so he doesn’t just throw all the money away and stuff like that.

‘you know, if it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t be where you are today.’  he’d always tell us that, when we were little.  ‘well you know, if it wasn’t for me you wouldn’t be where you are.  if it wasn’t for me you wouldn’t be michael jackson’ and stuff…

and i told him before, ‘cos we got into a big fight.  i said, ‘that’s halfway true.’  i said, ‘but you know what?  i grew up in this business and i learned a lot.  you had a lot to do with it in the beginning and i thank you for that, but i can’t pay you back for the rest of my life…  i know the business better than you do.’ and i said, ‘you can’t keep throwing that in my face…  because it took you to get me started.’  i said, ‘but then after that, i was my own business man.'”

the contradicting responses/actions are enough to cause depression.  is one supposed to love a parent simply because they are a parent, even if the parent is not willing to contribute anything positive to a relationship?  it’s one thing to love your family; but to always be expected to answer to everything in positive ways (particularly when your experiences have not been positive) is unrealistic, and it should not happen to anyone simply because of the connections between class and race in this nation.  no family or person is perfect.  in other words, just because you are the jackson family, you should not have to pretend the facade of togetherness.  instead of pretending, there should be discussions within the family on how to pro-actively deal with each other.


in 2003, when louis theroux asked your father about the ‘regurgitations’ whenever you’d see him, his response was that you “can regurgitate all the way to the bank.”  a charge of childhood trauma is serious, and for mr. jackson to make such a callous remark clearly disregards your need to feel heard.  he also mentioned a few moments later that he did not care about the illness you felt when he was around you.

“you know, it’s like, the jackson family, they’re so wholesome and we all took pictures together back in the jackson 5 days with motown and stuff like that.  we were all so close and joseph was, you know, papa joe.  and then toya told the truth.  they portray everything, you know, because of publicity.  ‘the jackson family.  they lived in a ghetto in gary, indiana and they made it and they’re so tight knit.’  tight knit my ass.”

as we can see, there are still rifts within the family structure, just with the recent so-called ‘tribute concert’ in wales.  when a structure is driven by the illusion of money (or the illusions of status or power, as opposed to light or love energy) you are always going to have these rifts.

as your sister la toya once said, “you can’t live your life with this in your system.”


i am still learning this too (in relation to the relationship with my own mother and my internalization)- it’s imperative we learn from the past, in order to be informed about what to do in the future.  from my vantage point, you were definitely learning from the past- it fueled your work ethic into the future…  in a lot of ways though, you were hindered by it, because it drove how you lived your life.  so much of what you did was driven by how your father (in particular) treated you.  the music you made, your performance, even some of the speeches you gave, were driven by the broken relationship with your father.

was it indeed therapeutic to you, or did it simply fuel your art?  on another end, it’s pretty clear that children fueled your art as well.  i consider both your father and children to be on different ends of the same spectrum, as they are interrelated to your trauma.  your art was so contradictory (from playful and idealistic to violent) i can’t help but think this is the case.

as unintentional as it may appear, throughout all of this i’ve unearthed another major teaching. quoting you here in relation to your family runs the risk of being exploitative; however, it’s important to acknowledge the lessons in our imperfections, in order to strive towards healing.  with that, the question i have is, is an exposed relationship between father and son any more exploitative than any other relationship we see and hear about- or, is it our perception of how YOUR family is supposed to be?


when we watch ‘the masters at work’, i don’t believe for one second it’s limited to how they are presented by media.  the true lessons are beyond the illusions, the facade…  the true work is in finding the interconnectedness of all things.

here are some words you said- to me, it is a lesson regarding not only reaching your goals, but in rising above your traumas.  sometimes- well, A LOT of times i feel discouraged, and i return to this teaching:

“no matter what, the most powerful thing in the world is the human mind.  and prayer.  and belief in yourself.  and confidence.  and perseverance.  no matter how many times you do it, you do it again, until it’s right.  and always believe in yourself, and no matter who’s around you that’s being negative or thrusting negative energy at you, totally block it off.  ‘cos whatever you believe, you become.”

regardless of whatever difficulties you’ve had within yourself, your family and others; i really do think you took this lesson to heart in many ways.  you would not have been in the position you were had you not taken it to heart.

the mind is so powerful that sometimes it is frightening.

i mean, what if we all internalized love for ourselves, but with humility?  to me, the key to this is looking at the interconnectedness of all things; to recognize that great teaching of you, with all parts (good and not so good) being ‘another part of me’.

“well you see, the people have a voice inside of them, that talk to them, you know?  that is the voice that these people must listen to.  because in everything you go and do, there is a wrong way, and a right way.  and if you listen good you will know the right way.  you know?  because there is a voice inside, talking to everyone.  seen?  seen.”- (robert nesta marley)


love, jamilah


About jamilah

i think about a lot of things, and sometimes i write about them.
This entry was posted in africa, childhood, children, freedom, life, michael jackson, parenting, transcendence, trauma. Bookmark the permalink.

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