Manipal, India — Given the many allegations that he endured, as well as the fall in stage appearances in the past few years, pop star Michael Jackson may have been surprised by the emotion caused by his death. Admirers in every continent gave voice to their feelings, making it impossible for traducers to attempt one final stab at Jackson’s reputation.
The legacy of the singer includes a geopolitical factor; he provided the proof that while prejudice may exist on the surface, deeper inside each person is the recognition of a common humanity. He represented the need for unity in a world where communications and travel have melted boundaries.
Many, if not most, of Jackson's mourners were of European ethnicity, the group that has led the world for close to six centuries, till the middle of the last century. This success has created resentment in some other groups, of which pronounced manifestations can be seen in leaders such as Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The first has bankrupted his country by launching a war that is in significant ways racial; the other seems to be following the same path, though hopefully will reconsider before his country becomes another Zimbabwe.
Both leaders have made an error common in post-colonial societies, which is to ascribe all current ills to the single factor of external rule, avoiding internal factors that may have contributed to social disintegration even before colonization or even facilitated the original takeover of the nation.
The hatred and negativism of a Mugabe or a Chavez need to be countered by other lives that demonstrate the ability of people across the planet to work together. Jackson has been faulted for, apparently, wanting a tan less deep than those of his parents, and this was used to label him as an individual who looked down on his origins. This charge was absurd, as shown by the affectionate relationship that the singer had with his family, and with the fact that the team around him reflected diversity rather than a monochrome quality.
Michael Jackson did not hate those with a lesser tan. His geopolitical legacy was to help create and exemplify a truth, convenient for the world, that prejudice in any form has the potential to retard progress overall.
India’s independence leader Mahatma Gandhi – for all his quirky "solutions" to India's problems and the zigzags he imposed on the Congress Party in its battle against British rule – never allowed hate to enter his mind or his tactics. Some of his most devoted followers were of an ethnicity different from himself, including his South African Jewish secretary Sonja Schlesin, Christian missionary C.F. Andrews and British devotee Madeleine Slade.
It was not simply his renown in India that gave the colonial authorities pause in dealing with the Mahatma, but the admiration that came from such eminent people as Romain Rolland and even Albert Einstein. During his stays in London, in the poorer parts of the city, he won the affectionate attention of the local people – which could serve as a lesson to the practitioners of hatred such as Robert Mugabe.
The fact that the very influential segment in British political life that wanted to hold on to India in perpetuity lost to those pushing for independence for an ancient people was due to the far greater numbers of the latter. Ultimately, the British diehards were seen as tiresomely out of date by their own colleagues, who presided over the dismantling of the greatest empire the world has ever witnessed – a process that in the case of the British Empire was almost entirely peaceful.
Should there be ugly custody battles over the two delightful Jackson children – although hopefully these may be avoided and the children remain in the care of those who have looked after them for so long – even this will not sully the Michael Jackson legacy, which is to demonstrate a worldview in which hatred of the "other" is replaced with love.
The history of humankind has shown the dangers of sectarian logic and assertions of dominance related to either nationality or religion. In a world where climate changes caused by centuries of neglect must be reversed in order to sustain – and not simply to exploit – the planet, there is a growing awareness of the need for united action.
Vestiges of past attitudes may remain, but the universal nature of the grief that has followed Michael Jackson's death has shown that the psyche of the human race is healthy enough not to be overpowered by those who seek to freeze into eternity past attitudes, and carry such poisons forward into the present.
-(Professor M.D. Nalapat is vice-chair of the Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair, and professor of geopolitics at Manipal University. ©Copyright M.D. Nalapat.)