Should Obama Talk About Michael Jackson?

by on June 26th, 2009

Given the sudden tragic death of Michael Jackson, I’m wondering if it is appropriate for President Obama to issue an official extended statement. I wouldn’t pose such a question of a George W. Bush or even Bill Clinton, but it seems to me that the President’s personal narrative may in fact call for such a statement. In fact in today’s online Guardian, Joseph Harker draws parallels between Jackson and Obama. Some might call this comparison trite, but I certainly would not.

Now I know the leader of the free world isn’t supposed to get misty and wax philosophic over the death of an entertainer. After all, with the turbulence in Iran and Pakistan, there certainly are more pressing things with which to concern himself. But to put this in a better context, let me take you back to the late 1960’s when the first Jackson Five album came out. Before that time images of young, fully expressive black boys did not exist in any serious way in American media. The best we could do was re-runs of the Little Rascals with Stymie, Farina, and Buckwheat. Unlike some black psychologists, I won’t go as far as to say that these images were damaging, but suffice it to say, they were far from inspirational. Then in 1969, the album “Diana Ross Presents The Jackson Five” came out. I can tell you from personal experience, that as a young black boy seeing five boys that looked like me on an album cover, was like walking on air.

Granted President Obama’s biracial background was not the same as mine or my friends’ but that’s why I think the images of Michael Jackson and the Jackson Five may have been even more poignant for him. In his book “Dreams Of My Father”, the President spoke about grappling with the notion of “black identity”. I’m willing to bet that when the President saw that first Jackson Five album cover decades ago, it helped him to feel a sense of pride and allegiance to young black boys with “fros” in every corner of America.

I understand that the President is more about “universalism” than racially specific homilies. Nonetheless I believe if he were to put Michael Jackson and his early life in the context of what it meant to us 30 and 40 something black folks, it would be a story of value to all Americans.

Author, speaker, and entrepreneur Roland Laird is CEO of Posro Media — see

Roland Laird