- The Washington Times - Monday, December 1, 2003

NEW YORK — His once broad nose has been surgically whittled to the size of a pencil. His formerly brown skin is now off-white. His Afro has been replaced by a sleek, straightened hairdo.

Michael Jackson’s physical transformation and his two marriages to white women have led to questions about his standing in the black community. But since his arrest on charges of sexually molesting a child, some blacks have reacted as if a family member were in handcuffs.

Even though Mr. Jackson and some other black stars “seem like they hang around with white folks all the time, even though they distance themselves from us seemingly, at the end of the day, we still claim them,” says Jamie Foster Brown, publisher of the celebrity monthly magazine Sister 2 Sister. “Because when black people get in trouble, white people tend to look at the whole race anyway.”

Mr. Jackson has many black detractors as well as white supporters, the most prominent being his friend Elizabeth Taylor. But judging by the response to his arrest from chat rooms, radio broadcasts and man-on-the-street conversations, there is more willingness in the black community to give Mr. Jackson, 45, who says he likes to sleep with children, the benefit of the doubt.

“I did a vigil,” said Audrey Martin, a 58-year-old retired home care attendant from Fairfield, Calif. “He can’t change that he’s black. He’s black whether or not he wanted to get rid of the black nose.”

“African-Americans have had an extremely negative experience with the criminal justice system,” says Roland Martin, founder and editor of the Web site BlackAmericaToday.com “We more than anybody else believe in innocent until proven guilty.”

There has been a tinge of suspicion that the accusations against Mr. Jackson are about more than child abuse. Jermaine Jackson likened his brother’s arrest to a “lynching.”

It’s a sentiment similar to when O.J. Simpson was charged with murder, Mike Tyson was convicted of rape, and even as Kobe Bryant’s rape case proceeds through the courts.

“That’s the first thing [blacks] say — the same thing with O.J. — they’re trying to bring down a black man,” Miss Brown says. “There is a reason for that, because there’s always been lynching, be it physical or otherwise, since slavery.”

Fueling such beliefs are factors such as Mr. Jackson’s home being raided on the same day his greatest hits album “Number Ones” was released, and the jovial demeanor of Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon as he announced the charges. Mr. Sneddon later apologized.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson said the arrest was so “impeccably timed that it leads to even more suspicions. … It seems aimed to destroy this media mogul.”

Black people defending Mr. Jackson admit he may seem bizarre to some, given his appearance and actions. Although Mr. Jackson blames his skin-lightening on vitiligo, a disease that causes pigment loss, he has been viewed as so far removed from his race that some people joke he’s no longer a member.

A recent commentary by Newsday columnist Sheryl McCarthy, who is black, described Mr. Jackson as “the first celebrity to physically transform himself from a black person to a Caucasian, or a facsimile of one.”

But it seems that black folks can always come home again. “Has Michael lived a black existence? The answer is no. [But] look at O.J.,” Mr. Martin said. “O.J. Simpson had less a relationship with the black community than Michael Jackson, but you still saw a kind of ‘circle the wagons.’”

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