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A Lesson for Mothers of All Black Boys

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What the Michael Jackson memorial meant to one mom.

Mother hugging her son

Kimberly Seals Allers: Today I cried watching the Michael Jackson memorial. I cried for a little black boy who felt the world didn't understand him. I cried for a little black boy who spent his adulthood chasing his childhood. And I thought about all the young black boys out there who may feel that the world doesn't understand them, too. The ones who feel that the world does not understand their baggy jeans, their swagger, their music, their anger, their struggles, their fears, or the chips on their shoulders. I worry that my son may too one day feel lonely in a wide, wide world.

I cried for the young children of all colors who may live their life feeling like a misfit, feeling like no one understands their perspective, or their soul. What a burden to carry. 

As a mother, I cried for Katherine Jackson because no mother should ever bury a child. And I think about all the pain, tears, and sleepless nights that she must have endured seeing her baby boy in pain, seeing him struggle with his self-esteem and his insecurities, and to know he often felt unloved even while the world loved him. How does it feel to think that the unconditional love we give as mothers just isn't enough to make our children feel whole? I wonder if she still suffers thinking, "What more could I have done?" Even moms of music legends aren't immune to mommy guilt, I suppose.

When Rev. Al Sharpton (who always delivers one hell of a funeral speech) said to Michael's children, "Your daddy was not strange ... It was strange what he had to deal with," I thought of all the "strange" things of the world that my children will have to deal with. Better yet, the things I hope they won't ever have to deal with anymore. And as a mother raising a young black boy, I feel recommitted and yet a little confused as to how to make sure my son is sure enough within himself to take on the world. Especially a strange one. To love himself enough to know that even when the world doesn't understand you, tries to force you into its mold, or treats you unkindly, you are still beautiful, strong, and Black.

Today, I am taking back "childhood" as an inalienable right for every little one. In a world that makes children into mini-adults long before their time, I'm reclaiming the playful, innocent, run-around-outside childhood as the key ingredient in raising confident adults. Second, I will not rest until my little black boy knows that his broad nose is beautiful, his chocolately brown skin is beautiful, and his thick hair is beautiful. And nothing or no one can ever take that away from him.


next: I Was at the Jackson Memorial
19 comments so far | Post a comment now
Booth V July 7, 2009, 8:33 PM

While I appreciate your comments, especially given the emotion in which I’m sure they were written, I do have to take exception as I feel the lionization of Michael Jackson has moved in to an unhealthy realm.

You mention that you worry about the youngsters who may feel lonely in a wide, wide world. Well, that’s life. And it’s not limited to children of color. Practically all of us, of every race, creed and color feel these feelings at one time or another. And while I understand your desire to soothe those that may be hurting I feel that condoning the ‘anger’ you mention with sympathy is the worst possible course of action.

The more we coddle the selfishness of individuals the more harm is done. Case in point is Michael Jackson who by most all accounts was the “Emperor with no clothes” for most of his adult life.

Now while this may not be the most opportune day to mention this but as I didn’t personally know Michael Jackson I can say that my perception of him was quite different than Al Sharpton’s. Michael Jackson WAS strange. He was the product of not having anyone to rein in his desires. I fully believe he acted inappropriately in many circumstances throughout his life but given his celebrity status was somehow elevated beyond societal norms.

Differences should be supported, individuality and respect for others encouraged and self-acceptance nurtured. But selfishness,arrogance and ego-fueled demands should not.

Perhaps we’ve gotten too far away from the word “No” when dealing with our children…and some adults.

Alexcia July 8, 2009, 1:04 AM

Booth, well said. I can appreciate both your thoughts and those of the author. My husband and I will raise our son not as a black man, but as a man in every sense of the word. The way the world views him will not dictate how he views himself.

jemison July 8, 2009, 1:26 AM

I disagree with Booth V. While every race and every child will have a unique set of life hurdles, black children face even more polarizing issues: we are the only race with hair that would stand up and salute the sun and skin so luminously dark after all. In America it is the black man who is the first to be suspected on the evening news, the first to be marginalized as a stereotypical entertainer, the first to be charged with negligent parenting. History has not been kind to black men, and while it is easy to focus only the present- because, yes, the president is black- a short look back proves that some hurts are legitimate and linger through the generations. I believe what the author is trying to promote is a first response of sorts to raising strong black men: we no longer have to beat our kids to prepare for them for a harsh world, but we can shore up their views and feelings about themselves so that when the world takes shots at them, they are impenetrable. Michael Jackson was not a strange man- Al Sharpton was correct when he said that what Michael dealt with was strange. As private citizens, we don’t realize or understand the magnifying glass of fame or its effects, and should not judge a person for the methods with which they cope. Michael was acquitted of all charges, and thus never hurt anyone with his lifestyle;he was a giver: of his money,time, and energy. He was not a selfish man by any accounts. If anything his celebrity status compounded negative labels: people felt comfortable slinging dirt on someone at a distance instead of focusing on themselves. I’ll close by asking for more respect; you may not have been a fan of his work, but he was still a man. Now that he has passed, I hope people will at least respect that he lived.

Jemison July 8, 2009, 1:27 AM

I disagree with Booth V. While every race and every child will have a unique set of life hurdles, black children face even more polarizing issues: we are the only race with hair that would stand up and salute the sun and skin so luminously dark after all. In America it is the black man who is the first to be suspected on the evening news, the first to be marginalized as a stereotypical entertainer, the first to be charged with negligent parenting. History has not been kind to black men, and while it is easy to focus only the present- because, yes, the president is black- a short look back proves that some hurts are legitimate and linger through the generations. I believe what the author is trying to promote is a first response of sorts to raising strong black men: we no longer have to beat our kids to prepare for them for a harsh world, but we can shore up their views and feelings about themselves so that when the world takes shots at them, they are impenetrable. Michael Jackson was not a strange man- Al Sharpton was correct when he said that what Michael dealt with was strange. As private citizens, we don’t realize or understand the magnifying glass of fame or its effects, and should not judge a person for the methods with which they cope. Michael was acquitted of all charges, and thus never hurt anyone with his lifestyle;he was a giver: of his money,time, and energy. He was not a selfish man by any accounts. If anything his celebrity status compounded negative labels: people felt comfortable slinging dirt on someone at a distance instead of focusing on themselves. I’ll close by asking for more respect; you may not have been a fan of his work, but he was still a man. Now that he has passed, I hope people will at least respect that he lived.

edith July 8, 2009, 2:26 AM

I’m a black Mother of a black Son, and he and I have been through Hell, and some at the hands of the white man, and woman. And my son has suffered at the hands of his own black father as well.

I won’t tell you what all we have gone through or I will have everyone crying for me and my son, and I won’t do that.

But I just pray that God deliver us black folks from the evl’s of the white people who seek to destroy us every day.

Jane July 8, 2009, 6:08 AM

Just when I think that maybe folks are getting to the point where their first response to someone is not about the color of their skin (brown, yellow, red, olive, or white) I read these tributes to a hugely successful and rich music legend and it’s all about the guy’s blackness.
So Al Sharpton tells everyone that Micheal wasn’t strange, just misunderstood and we buy it? You’re serious?
Sharpton himself is the perfect example of a race card playing celebrity. Sharpton’s whole career and his fame has been made on RACE. Remember his public outrage many years ago over Twana Brawley? That’s what first thrust him into the national spotlight. Now he’s outraged that millions of people think Michael was strange in his personal life? With all due respect, Jackson bleached his skin, slept in the bed with boys (according to what he said), and paid a white surrogate and white sperm donor to give him three white children (or at least two of them, the third child no one seems to know.) And he had mutiple surgeries on his nose because his own father made fun of it, not white folks. Those are the facts. I love MJ’s music, he’s an icon but not a hero.


ashley July 8, 2009, 8:32 AM

Ditto Jane!! As my mom said , It’s idol worship, the way people are acting about Micheal. And that’s crazy.

m July 8, 2009, 11:34 AM

Why does it always come to race? When are we going to get over this crap? Not all white people are bad. I grew up in a black neighborhood and now as I am growing I see racism hit me. I just don’t get it. We have a black president now…what else do we need? I think that is a big hurdle jumped over successfully.

Rachel July 8, 2009, 4:25 PM

I, too, worry for your son. The world is lonely to someone who grows up with a chip on their shoulder because their parents continue to point out how the world is cold and cruel when you’re .

Anonymous July 9, 2009, 11:34 AM

re: ‘Today, I am taking back “childhood” as an inalienable right for every little one. In a world that makes children into mini-adults long before their time, I’m reclaiming the playful, innocent, run-around-outside childhood as the key ingredient in raising confident adults. Second, I will not rest until my little black boy knows that his broad nose is beautiful, his chocolately brown skin is beautiful, and his thick hair is beautiful. And nothing or no one can ever take that away from him.’

Anonymous July 9, 2009, 11:44 AM

RE:LAST POST (author’s last paragraph)This is exactly what was stolen from jackson, and exactly what he tried to keep hidden. These simple, God-given rights, these things that shouldn’t even be topic for discussion, things that are just natural and beautiful - are the very things his ‘father’ stripped from him (if one believes his words and the words of so many around him) Therein lies the key - sometimes the reason why a mother’s love seems not enough, is because what’s also imperative,(although, today, you’d never know it) is A POSITIVE MALE ROLE MODEL; PREFERABLY, A GOOD HUSBAND, AND PRESENT, COMMITTED FATHER. It’s usually the absence of this most fundamental right that causes the most insecurities, anger, lack of self-esteem and self-love. The mother has a responsibility to give that to her children, so that they have a complete foundation of love, support, and understanding, and not necessarily have to go to such extremes, for love and attention - like jackson seemed to have to do…

sue July 9, 2009, 11:48 AM

To Jemison and Edith - Now, more than ever before, you are whatever you make yourself. Strive to be the best you can be, without being tempted to point fingers, or blame anyone for your insufficiencies, problems, or failures. Take responsibility for who you are. Only then will you rise above. PS to Jane: What a beautiful statement and sentiment you wrote! It’s parents like you whi will raise strong, effective, proud and beautiful humans!

Anonymous July 10, 2009, 3:23 AM

Michael Jackson could have adopted black children; there are so many children of color in foster care. Instead he chose to pay to have white babies. He married two white women. Most of his many “best friends” and celebrity friends were white. He obliterated his black features. He was raised by a driven, black man who abused him. President Obama’s black father abandoned him. Each of them succeeded through hard work, humbleness, immense talents and keen intellects.

wow July 10, 2009, 1:03 PM

‘Michael Jackson could have adopted black children; there are so many children of color in foster care.’ Absolutely brilliant point (that I can’t believe no one has ever before brought up). THAT would have been more worthy of ‘HUMANITARIAN’status,and much more worthy of a resolution, than what he did, IMO.

cg July 16, 2009, 9:41 PM

Jane, i tend to agree w/ you. for certain mj was a very tragic figure who sought heal himself w/ the physical things that do not last. unfortunatley he was someone that comforted himself w/ false reasoning: riches/fame will make me happy. i can create my own world and become someone else. all these things did not serve to make him happy but isolated him from his loved ones and ultimatley an existence where he could have lived till he was old and satified w/ days just being a regular joe. talented to the tenth power, yes but as the old sayin’ goes ” if you want to be a star in satan’s world, you’re gonna have to forfeit something”. guess what he choose?

Sandra July 22, 2010, 7:23 AM

Wow!!!!
There is so much I’d like to address but honestly don’t know where to begin.
Kim, thank you so much for such an informative and honest post. I am a mother of 3 beautiful black boys and must say that I share your concern daily. Every single black mother I know and have discussed this related topic with (friends, relatives and colleagues do also) Why? Because we and only we KNOW and have experienced the wrath racism in America brings. It is overtly still alive and well and in some circles, covertly. Although I am an educated, respectful and productive member of society, I have been followed in stores, treated rudely by police, had my greetings ignored by neighbors when I “dared” to purchase in a white suburban neighborhood and also have had my 3 year old child ignored when he introduced himself to a neighbor. Were my experiences isolated? Did I channel the negativity by being “overly sensitive?” Was it imagined? Black America says “no” in fact our very own president and Attorney General have been profiled and discriminated against simply because of their black skin. Apparently my Masters degrees and the content of my character weren’t enough to set me in a different category. I am reminded of my own childhood brushes with racism and wonder how many other children succumb to the type of “misguidance” I received from my HS guidance counselor. He kept insisting I take easier math classes and not bother with Chemistry. “Take Earth Science… Take Business math instead… You don’t need it. ” he’d say. And when it came time for me to apply to college he suggested I apply to the community college instead of a 4 year institution even though my grades were EXCELLENT! Thank God I ignored him. My 7th and 8th grade math teacher felt it necessary to constantly antagonize me by mentioning that “ethnically”, blacks were incapable of grasping mathematical concepts. I’m not making this up folks!!! As the only black girl/ child in my parochial school class I felt extremely isolated and was often called a few choice words… Well one word in particular. I grew up to be well adjusted and able to interact with people of all races and standings and treat them equally, thank God, but how else could I have been adversely affected by those experiences? How many children end up not reaching their full potential or believing they are inferior, incapable of greatness, ignorant, violent, criminal… BAD? It all starts with a seed… A word spoken irresponsibly or purposely. So black mothers, be vigillent, be guarded and ever prepared to combat the racism of this world. Teach optimism
and all great values but let us also teach our black boys the realities of living life in their beautiful black skin in the hope of keeping them alive, grounded and thriving!

Sandra July 22, 2010, 8:35 AM

Wow!!!!
There is so much I’d like to address but honestly don’t know where to begin.
Kim, thank you so much for such an informative and honest post. I am a mother of 3 beautiful black boys and must say that I share your concern daily. Every single black mother I know and have discussed this related topic with (friends, relatives and colleagues do also) Why? Because we and only we KNOW and have experienced the wrath racism in America brings. It is overtly still alive and well and in some circles, covertly. Although I am an educated, respectful and productive member of society, I have been followed in stores, treated rudely by police, had my greetings ignored by neighbors when I “dared” to purchase in a white suburban neighborhood and also have had my 3 year old child ignored when he introduced himself to a neighbor. Were my experiences isolated? Did I channel the negativity by being “overly sensitive?” Was it imagined? Black America says “no” in fact our very own president and Attorney General have been profiled and discriminated against simply because of their black skin. Apparently my Masters degrees and the content of my character weren’t enough to set me in a different category. I am reminded of my own childhood brushes with racism and wonder how many other children succumb to the type of “misguidance” I received from my HS guidance counselor. He kept insisting I take easier math classes and not bother with Chemistry. “Take Earth Science… Take Business math instead… You don’t need it. ” he’d say. And when it came time for me to apply to college he suggested I apply to the community college instead of a 4 year institution even though my grades were EXCELLENT! Thank God I ignored him. My 7th and 8th grade math teacher felt it necessary to constantly antagonize me by mentioning that “ethnically”, blacks were incapable of grasping mathematical concepts. I’m not making this up folks!!! As the only black girl/ child in my parochial school class I felt extremely isolated and was often called a few choice words… Well one word in particular. I grew up to be well adjusted and able to interact with people of all races and standings and treat them equally, thank God, but how else could I have been adversely affected by those experiences? How many children end up not reaching their full potential or believing they are inferior, incapable of greatness, ignorant, violent, criminal… BAD? It all starts with a seed… A word spoken irresponsibly or purposely. So black mothers, be vigillent, be guarded and ever prepared to combat the racism of this world. Teach optimism
and all great values but let us also teach our black boys the realities of living life in their beautiful black skin in the hope of keeping them alive, grounded and thriving!

Melanie October 23, 2010, 5:37 PM

You know, I am white but I totally understand what you are saying. I love my neighborhood because there are people of all colors, but I have heard some ignorant things said and there are a lot of excellent, driven, teenage boys in this neighborhood that get suspicious looks just for walking up and down the sidewalks of their own neighborhood. And it is because of their skin color. Michael probably had a lot of things going against him beyond the color of his skin, but I think the bigger point is right on - this country does not do well by its black men.

Felecia May 25, 2011, 9:19 AM

Well stated!


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