The People We Put on Pedestals

Photo by Gabriel Bassino on Unsplash

Unwittingly this week, I had a theme: the people we make our heroes and how those pedestals we erect for them don’t serve anyone well, least of all them. I wrote about Colin Kaepernick and the trouble he’s having getting a clear message across. Marley K. wrote:

Kap is young. I have given up on looking to him to hone and refine his messaging. He worked hard to make it to the league and that thing is something he is going to have to satisfy in his soul. It’s a loss we will have to suck up and take like a good sportsman. It’s very hard to find young socially conscious people today that do more than talk it.

I really don’t want to give up on him where this is concerned, but Lord… The bar is riding the elevator down to the sub-basement. Colin is young, but not so young that someone has to tell him that it’s a bad look for his girlfriend to turn up on KYRC’s social media cheesing and telling people to watch her talk show. They keep crossing the bright line of running straight-up ads on a non-profit’s social media. I don’t know if it’s laziness or incompetence, but there is a fundamental way whoever is running those KYRC accounts doesn’t understand the ethical space they’re in, and it’s not a good look. It makes me wonder how else this is manifesting itself in the organization. You’ve been following me I think since before I started writing about him, so you know I get my receipts. Colin is not a stupid man. That’s why this is all so frustrating to watch. I wish there were a way for me to tackle him through the astral plane and put a stop to the foolishness.

A lot more people feel the way you do than I think they realize. They’re just much quieter about it than I am. They’ve burned through so much of their goodwill with people who were going up so hard for him. Most of the “I bought a shirt!” crowd can’t help him if things take a turn for him again. They’re casuals. The people they turned off pay attention, were willing to dig into the details and put in at least a little bit of work. It takes real thought and effort to keep those people engaged, though. You can’t just go through the motions and crib off Wieden Kennedy’s paper. You have to have a real strategy. All this makes me sad… Especially because so much of this comes down to simple things basic conscientiousness and a goddamned Google search on social media for non-profits could have nipped in the bud…

Colin is a millionaire. He literally just has to throw some money at the problem. In the right direction, though. He’s actually quite good on camera — charming with a watchable quality (something you can’t teach) — if (and it can be a massive “if”) you can get him to let his guard down. All of the pieces are there. It just takes someone who actually knows what they’re doing to put them all together. He’s in NYC, and everyone wants to work with him. He’ll be spoiled for choice. I hope he goes with a dynamic, young, Black woman with original ideas to run things.

Like I said in the piece, he has some large blind spots, so I’m not sure he’ll make the changes. I’ve also learned he has a ruthless streak, though, so, if he does pull the trigger, he might empty the whole clip. Who knows what will happen. Re: those blind spots: I wish there were a way for me to get him to read what I wrote last week about loyalty, how easily it can be performed, and that it’s not a substitute for respect. In addition, respect and sycophancy aren’t remotely the same thing. I strongly suspect these issues stretch much deeper than what we can see on the surface, and he needs to pull the roots out. That includes self-reflection on his part.

Colin does do work in NYC that seems to be well-received, so I think he does “walk it” to at least some extent.

Kap didn’t ask us to follow him. We just did what we do when folks stand up for us. We stand with and guard. We helped him make it through his next phase of life.

I hope one day he will remember us and return the favor. Sometimes that’s just how life works. Still happy for him though. He stood for something, against the nation’s biggest bully -in- chief — and he won! I’m happy for that. His win is our win. I am going to leave it there.

I agree with all of this. When I first started writing about him, it was because I realized we have to protect this man. The forces amassed against him are too powerful, and they will devour him in front of the world to cow Black Americans if enough people don’t stand watch over him. And most of what I wrote was in that vein. I took a closer look and realized I was protecting someone who, for whatever reason, wasn’t even making the effort to get his people to act right on social media to protect himself… He won, and I’m genuinely happy for him. It was horrible what they did to him, and I’m glad he gouged a good sized chunk of money out of them. And I really, really hope he gets signed when free agency starts next week.

I also wrote about Michael Jackson and the allegations made against him in Leaving Neverland. I think the documentary has devastated a lot of people. It’s turned something beautiful that gave them hope into ash.

Vanessa Waters shared:

Yes I loved him fiercely. I’ve told many people he was my first love. I was twelve when “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough” came out. I would have done anything to be the girl he was singing about. At that time he was still intact a beautiful man with a gorgeous smile. He felt so non threatening to me. I am a sexual abuse survivor. I have always defended him. I thought it’s just a white world uncomfortable with a black man who is so succesful. Then when you see the victims speaking and you just know it’s true because you survived too and it’s eerily reflective of your own experience. I’ve been worried about my family’s reaction. I have defended him so staunchly and I was worried they’d say see he fooled you. It’s healing to read your article and now I have the words. He didn’t just groom me, he groomed the world.

I’m so sorry for what happened to you, and I hope you’re doing well. These revelations and this conversation must be so triggering for so many people. The emotional fallout is much, much larger than it seems. Michael and his art were so loved. The betrayal is immeasurable. I’m glad the article found a way to help you express your feelings about all this. He really did mesmerize us all… I hope your family isn’t too hard on you.

Marley K. also chimed in on this one.

Reminds me a lot of R. Kelly. Child stars with talents and stunted growth and development. Something is wrong with that entire family. Makes me think dad did more than beat those kids! Having been abused — there are some things you just know. These people give us so many clues — yet we love our celebs. We’re always looking for a hero. Always searching for a leader. We don’t know how to separate the man and his art/gift. We have this terrible idea we can’t believe people can be bad. People can’t do good things and be bad people. That conditioning allows people to be preyed upon.

I always believed the kids. Especially when they suddenly disappeared after the allegations and investigations. What makes me angry are the kids who pimp their kids and the parents who love fame so much they would put their kids in vulnerable situations with strangers. R. Kelly, MJ…you name it. Parents put fame and money over their kids’ well-being. Most grown sane people are not trying to deal with their own kids. A grown man wanting to keep company with little boys is weird. A man with all the kid trappings is nothing more than a fly trap trying to catch his flies.

We need to wake up and stop being so naive about people. We also need to understand why we have so many mentally ill people walking around repeating this vicious cycle of abuse. It will manifest itself whether you want it to or not. We need to deal with these evils and perversions. No child should be sacrificed to wolves the way we sacrifice kids.

Sorry for what happened to you, as well. This whole thing must be prodding a lot of old wounds for people. I hope you’re doing all right! The whole Jackson family is dysfunctional… A lot of Joe Jackson’s abuse was psychological and emotional — terrorizing everyone into cowering before him. A total malignant narcissist. The Jackson 5 used to play strip clubs when Michael was a kid — six or seven years old, I think. And his brothers would bring groupies back to the room with him there. All of that edges right up next to covert incest. And that’s what we know. I can see Joe Jackson being the type of man who would have bullied his sons into have sex before they were ready, especially if he thought they were “soft” like Michael was. After Michael died, I can’t remember which awards show it was (maybe BET), but Joe Jackson was there, and when he was asked about his dead child, he plugged a Blu-ray project he was working on. It remains one of the most chilling things I’ve ever seen in my life. Joe Jackson was a bad person, and he spawned a bad seed in Michael. It’s so sad, because we all thought Michael was the opposite of Joe. That simplistic thinking is part of what enabled him. Society really did throw those boys to the wolves to hold on to a mirage.

The more I think about Michael’s relationship with his father, the more I wonder how far back you’d have to go to get to the beginning of the cycle of abuse. I don’t know how it’s going to happen, but there really needs to be a massive, global mental health intervention. There are too many damaged people walking around damaging other people who are going to damage other people.

GH wrote:

I feel like I am mourning the loss of the man we all thought Michael Jackson was, because he will never be the same to me again. How will we go forward, what do I do with my Thriller LP? My Jackson 5 double CD set? Will we hear his music anymore at all? It’s all so sad. The fact that he could hurt children and the fact that he his reputation as the celebrated King of Pop has been tarnished forever.

This is the question: What do we do with the art? As individuals, we can put it in the bin, but there is no way to tell the history of pop music, discuss the art form of music videos, or talk about modern entertainment without dedicating a lot of space to Michael Jackson. He’s not a footnote. He’s a pillar. It’s simply not possible to cancel him. His influence was too great.

Thanks for reading!



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Kitanya Harrison

Kitanya Harrison

*squinting in Nanny of the Maroons* | Read my essay collection, DISPOSABLE PEOPLE, DISPOSABLE PLANET: | Rep: Deirdre Mullane