A Real Shame: BET Did Nobody Justice

I was really looking forward to BET’s tribute to Michael Jackson’s life and legacy. Maybe I bought into the notion that we can honor our own. I was at the Hollywood Bowl in August 1971 on the second row when the Jackson 5 sang all their hits from ABC. I stood up when Michael said show […]

Last Updated: June 29, 2009 @ 6:03 PM

I was really looking forward to BET’s tribute to Michael Jackson’s life and legacy. Maybe I bought into the notion that we can honor our own.

I was at the Hollywood Bowl in August 1971 on the second row when the Jackson 5 sang all their hits from ABC.

I stood up when Michael said show me what you can do. I shook it and shook it, baby, in my turquoise terry cloth zip-up hot pantsuit. I kissed his photo torn from Teen Beat magazine that hung above my bed. I loved him even when his face turned lighter and his nose got pointy.

I never believed that he’d molested those kids, holding to the belief that he was craving closeness and like all children — he sought it out in ways that kids do.

Playing touchy feely or doctor.

I forgave him for turning to prescription drugs to medicate himself when he was low and misunderstood. So even though I TiVo’d the show, I decided to stay home and watch in real time since we get the east coast feed.

What I saw didn’t make me sad for Michael. It made me sad for me. For all of us who labor in a largely white world and do everything we can to fit in. To be loved. To work. To hear the laughter and applause that says “You’re ok. You’re alright.”

From the moment the faux Jackson 5 tried to emulate what cannot be duplicated I knew we were in trouble. There was Jamie dressed like some sort of Urkel Michael in his too short pants and 80’s red leather jacket shamelessly plugging his upcoming concert tour when the night was supposed to be about the man who made it all possible for the rest of us.

Certainly Michael couldn’t have been smiling when a huge bottle of bubbly accompanied the alcohol song. Even Tyra stood up and blamed it on Patron. Beyonce tried to bring in the angels in her bathing suit and Glinda-the-good-witch costume by singing "Ave Maria," but that couldn’t erase the plethora of acts featuring loose fitted jeans sliding off rumps or tonally deaf vocals that tried to pass for singing.

Why do we constantly succeed at perpetuating stereotypes about black people even as we strive to rise above them? I’m not saying that the folks at BET rushed to create a tribute solely for ratings. I’m sure the intention behind the scramble was noble.

But couldn’t they have opted for a succinct medley featuring gifted performers like Alicia, Usher and Justin? Even a quiet moment of reflection while a well-cut montage celebrated his accomplishments would have played better than what transpired last night.

When Jamie showed us the fake trailer for his “new” film with Martin Lawrence featuring both men dressed as loud, rude, ugly obnoxious female criminals, I realized I didn’t have to stay home and witness this debacle up close.

Instead I used a movie pass I’d received from giving blood on the First Lady’s service day and went to the theater to see "The Hangover." I felt sleazy afterwards, like I’d had one martini too many. But nothing like I felt after watching the rest of the BET Tribute Show.

Doesn’t Michael deserve better? Don’t we all?