Michael Jackson’s death: A continuing african tragedy

Before you read between the lines, Michael Jackson (MJ) was not an African. Whoopi Goldberg put it aptly when she said that she may be an African American but she was not an African; so I believe was MJ.

Before you read between the lines, Michael Jackson (MJ) was not an African. Whoopi Goldberg put it aptly when she said that she may be an African American but she was not an African; so I believe was MJ.

About his nose he broke it in 1979 during a complex dance routine; so ensuing surgeries were about his health and not appearance. His changed skin was a result of Vitiligo a skin condition that affects the colour of one’s skin.

The child abuse charges in which he settled the case out of court for a whooping $22 million, the accuser Jordan Chandler regretted that Michael had died before he could ask for forgiveness because he had been pushed by his father for the money.

The “blindingly gifted vocalist” inspired generations of musicians of all races the world over and will continue even after his death.

His musical talent was attested to by the numerous awards, honours and sales he accumulated.

MJ’s grandfather Samuel Jackson was a grandson of a freed slave. Significant trade in Africans to the Americas, which had started in 1502 with a batch of slaves to Hispaniola (now Haiti and Dominican Republic) or even earlier, was outlawed over 300 years later.

Of course slavery and slave trade was buoyed on by the catholic pope Nicholas V’s papal Bull Romanus Pontifex of 1454 which encouraged enslaving of non Christian Africans.

One example may illustrate the effects of slave trade on those that survived the ordeal and Africa as a whole: in 1592 slave trader Gomez Royal imported 38,250 slaves but 1:5 had died during the voyage.

It is estimated that of the unknown number of slaves that reached the Americas (conservative estimates put it at 17 million) between 15%-20% others died on board the slave ships, 33% died at “seasoning camps” where their spirits and resistance were broken through torture enroute to the slave markets, 30% died during the capture and others died due to harsh conditions particularly forced labour.

By the 17th century a quarter of ships that left Liverpool were slave ships.

From  1807, when Britain outlawed slave trade, and 1860 the 25  British navy vessels policing the impossibly wide Atlantic ocean for slave ships, seized a paltry 55 ships and freed  150 000 Africans though many ships evaded the seizure or drowned their human cargo into the dark waters of the ocean. How many would-be MJs were lost?

The last traded African slave on record to reach the US was Cudjo Lewis (who died 1935) aboard the ship Coltilde which docked at Mobile, Alabama in 1859. 

The abolition of slave trade and slavery in US was followed by racial segregation against African Americans. Legislation ensured institutionalized segregation against African Americans particularly the infamous Jim Crow laws which emphasized “equal but separate” status or the 1800-1860 black codes which restricted the rights of coloured people. It is these legislations that may have inspired the apartheid laws in South Africa later.

Slaves and freed slaves escaping the notorious south of the US to the north were hunted and punished, for example, a woman known for assisting blacks to escape was Harriet Taubman over whom police put a $40 000 reward for her capture.

As recently as 1955 an African American woman, Rosa Parks, was charged in a court of law for refusing to stand up when passengers and the bus driver ordered her to cede her seat to a  nonblack passenger as required by law.

She was fined 10$ and ordered to pay her own costs of suit because of the colour of her skin. The number of slaves whose grandsons and daughters would be as talented as MJs but died during the slave trading and segregation will never be known.

The effect of slavery and segregation persists among African Americans in form of unstable families, low levels of education, crime rates, poverty and diseases, and it shows.

In the state of Arkansas where MJ’s father was born, there was a population of 111 115 African Americans in 1860 making 25% of the population but in 2005-2007 according to the US census bureau, African Americans made 15% of the population.

In 1790 African Americans made up 19% of the population of the US but in 2000 they made up 12% with 36 419 434.
In 2000 there were more African American males in jails than in college: 791,600 in jail compared to 603,032 in Colleges, according to Justice Policy Institute in Washington. Black Americans are 10 times likely to be imprisoned for illegal drug offences than whites, all large counties showed disparities  along racial lines in the sentencing of drug offenders and half of  the 175 000 drug related prison sentences were blacks.

According to New York City Department Health and Hygiene 46% of all new HIV/AIDS infections were African Americans. The jobless rate for blacks was 10.6%, twice that of whites in Nov.2008.

In a Feb. 2008 report Human Rights Watch reported that African American youth arrested for murder are three times more likely than their white peers to receive life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

The New York Times reported that although most drug offenders are white, 54% of offenders sent to prison are blacks.

In 16 states African Americans are sent to prison for drug offences at a rate 10 to 42 times more than the rate for whites.

A study in 34 states indicate that a black man is 11.8 times more likely than a white to be sent to prison for a drug offence than a white man in the US while black women are 4.8 times more than  white women .

Homicide is the leading cause of death among African American men and much of it is directed towards fellow blacks as the feud between Notorious BIG and Tupac Shakur may show.

How many would-be MJs have had their talents destroyed by the racially oppressive legal regime, identity crisis, broken families, drugs, gang violence and racism in the US?
Before you make conclusions about the cross Atlantic slave trade in Africans and the US system remember it gave Jackson an opportunity to develop his talent, accepted his music and made him rich.

Had his ancestors been impounded on slave ships by the British anti-slave trading navy he might have ended up in Liberia or Sierra Leone and who knows he might have ended up in Charles Taylor’s gang fighting against el Hajj Kromer’s gang or in Cpl.

Foday Sankoh’s RUF fighting against the Kamajol tribal militia. In comparison to the Arab/Islamic slave trade the western slave trade pales fast.

Although trade and enslavement of Africans by Arabs is as old as history, their cruel treatment and lack of regard for the lives of the latter is undisputed.

It is on record that the first person killed in battle for Islam was a black man called Mihidja. The first Muezzin (a Muslim who calls other Muslims for prayers) Bilal ibn Ribah “the third of the faith”, with his roots in present day Ethiopia was bought from his owner Ummayah ibn Khalaf and turned into a respected warrior adored by prophet Muhammad (PBUH, who had said that, according to Haddith, “there is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab and for a non-Arab over an Arab, nor for a white over the black nor for black over white except in piety).

For centuries Muslims and Arabs combined to hunt and trade in Africans: it is estimated that between 14 and 20 million Africans died as a result of Arab slave trade and only 14 million survived the ordeal to the Arab, Persian, Indian, Turkish and Chinese world.

After surviving the journey they would be turned in Eunuchs (which involved removal of the scrotum and the penis so they could not reproduce) and in some places when they showed signs of aging or weakness they would be- sure like day and night- cooked and eaten!

In some desert lands when the going got tough blacks would be eaten instead of the precious camels. That is why you will not find a community of African Zenj in the Arab world or the Seng Chi in China.

Today a sizable percentage of the population of Mauritania and Sudan are slaves. 28th is UN day to commemorate the victims of slave trade and slavery, will you make a point to remember the victims?

Do not mourn the demise of MJ, celebrate his success! There are billions of other would-be MJs who might have made the world better through their talents but their lives were nipped in the bud.

E-mail: ekaba2002@yahoo.com