Chris Brown’s Michael Jackson Tribute: Truth and Forgiveness in Black America.
A familiar silhouette emerged from a thinly veiled sheet as Black America sat in front of their television screens and saw an image of themselves. They saw a person who was once loved, who had made many questionable decisions, and who they only learned to forgive and embrace in his death. The silhouette was of Michael Jackson, a man who left an indelible mark on the souls of Black folk despite the love/hate relationship he had with them. Michael was Black America. Innovative, talented beyond belief, exploited for his talents, robbed of his innocence, and consequently, transcended into a tailspin of bad decisions that for many people, were unforgiveable.
Last night, as we sat glued to our television screens, eager to soak in another tribute to Michael Jackson because it eases our collective sorrow for how we treated him when he was alive, the veil in front of the all too familiar silhouette of Michael Jackson dropped, and the body behind the veil was Chris Brown…a young man who over the last year or so, has been experiencing the same type of love/hate relationship that Michael Jackson did all his life.
During his performance, Chris Brown dove deeply into the persona of Michael Jackson. He swam into our memories of Michael’s Motown 25 performance, ignited our seemingly forgotten excitement to see Michael perform, pushed against the still waters of our abilities to forgive, and splashed a dose of reality into our inability to see that we have continually taken pleasure in burying our own.
After dazzling us with song and dance, and paying homage to Michael Jackson -an obvious inspiration to Chris Brown who he was denied an opportunity to pay homage to a year ago, Chris Brown broke down on stage. With tear filled eyes, and humility drenched gait, he stopped performing, and gave us truth. This part of the tribute was dazzling. Not because of the intricacies of the dance steps or the melody of the voice, but because there seemed to be no performance. Before us stood a young man, who like Michael Jackson had been catapulted to fame. A person who had become a worldwide phenomenon as a teenager, who once packed arenas with his talents, and who had done something unforgivable, bared his soul. He took on Michael Jackson’s song “Man in the Mirror, and soul searched on stage. He bore his soul to the world, and without saying it, asked for an opportunity for redemption.
Both Michael Jackson and Chris Brown’s stories are mirrors of each other, and on some level, are a metaphor for the Black American experience in the United States. Raw talent is too often mined by opportunists, exploited and abused, made visible for the world to see, and then… when it finally cracks under the pressure of its visibility, its ugliness is glorified. Michael Jackson’s childhood was robbed so his song and dance could be exploited, Chris Brown’s innocence was robbed when he watched his mother being abused as he propelled to stardom, and the blood, sweat and tears of Black slaves were robbed so that the United States could be the economic power it is today. Seemingly separate people, issues, and events related to the Black experience in America are connected by the thread of abuse and exploitation.
My goal here is not to advocate for Chris Browns forgiveness, nor is it to justify or make light of domestic abuse. It is not to sweep the accusations that plagued the last few years of Michael Jackson’s career under the rug, nor is it to wax on poetically about an amazing performance. It is to point to our forgiveness of Michael Jackson because of his greatness as an artist, and the way he represents the way a lost soul was treated by a vicious music industry, while we vilify a young man who has done what Michael, despite his greatness never did. Confront his mistakes, plead for forgiveness, publicly denounce his acts, and through his story, provide an opportunity to see how abuse replicates itself.
Chris Brown’s performance yesterday shows that there is something powerful about truth, and while he should not be exonerated for his actions, there is something to be said for forgiveness.