The king of pop might have acquired tremendous fame and unprecedented popularity owing to his gigantic contribution in the realm of music and breakthrough, legendary performances, but tragically, this unattainable global stardom was marred by endless controversies and accusations. This is the point where popularity and besmirching reputation join hands paving way for a legion of speculations and theories that occasionally pop up across your screen as a juicy gossip piece.
Michael Jackson is unanimously recognized and regarded as a pop culture icon who broke various records, trespassed the boundaries of racial stigma, and changed the traditional approach to musical performances through his jaw-dropping energetic dance moves (for example, the iconic crotch-grabbing and moonwalking Billie Jean performance that has people emulating the moves to date). However, the pop megastar had a rocky and shaky personal life, some of which found its way to media powerhouses. One of the scandals revolves around the racial identity of his children.
Why did Jackson turn white?
A major portion of the controversies surrounding Jackson’s personal life are related to his skin color. The pop star, during the phase of this physical transformation, was at the peak of his career and gained a lion’s share of public attention. So, it would not come across as either bewildering or amusing if the topic of physical transformation is tweaked and replaced with a rather interesting narrative of racial transformation.
The framing of the questions (rhetorical or literal) after that echoed the tune of the narrative. “Why did Michael Jackson become white?” was no longer the trending question, it was outweighed by the endless speculations that led people and fans to wonder if he had embraced the idea to be Caucasian (or whiteness) due to the shame that he attached to his racial identity. Comments were made regarding this drastic transformation, fueling the speculations. Many high-profile figures came forward and explicitly stated that the pop star bleached his skin to even out his skin tone. This includes celebrity biographer J. Randy Taraborelli, who said that Jackson used cosmetic products for lightening his skin. Others, such as John Landis assured of having seen Jackson’s bleached chest. The advent of the journey from physical transformation to racial transition is evident here.
Of course, Jackson had his own side of the story to narrate and he was not reticent about the issue. The loss of dark complexion was attributed to vitiligo, a disease which expedites the process of lightening skin and whitening patches of skin. The subject of his skin color was covered in detail in his interview with Oprah Winfrey in 1993 when the controversies surrounding the subject were at their zenith. “He kept getting whiter and whiter and whiter and, nobody understood why”, was the comment by Winfrey regarding the matter.
However, Jackson defended himself and took a stand by associating his situation with the congenital nature of the skin disorder that destroyed the pigmentation of his skin. “It is something I cannot help. When people make up stories that I don’t want to be who I am, it hurts me”, he said in the interview, finally addressing the ceaseless suppositions and conjectures on the matter. The veracity of his claims was proved in his autopsy reports. After examining his body at Ronald Reagan Medical Center in Los Angeles, Dr. Christopher Rogers found certain areas of his skin to appear light and others dark, consistent with vitiligo. Thus, 13 years after his death, we found ourselves agreeing with the justifications that our favorite pop star was forced to give.
So why are his kids white?
Unfortunately, the narrative of race transformation was not limited to Jackson but was extended to the next generation. Only this time, the reigning question was, “Why are his kids white?” Questions have been raised concerning the possibility of an otherwise African-American singer stamping out the elements of his non-white roots from his children’s features. The reality that three of his children are caucasian is held in absolute unlikelihood.
Two of his children, Michael Joseph Jackson Jr. — known as Prince — and Paris Jackson were born to his Caucasian wife Debbie Rowe. Despite his efforts in establishing the paternal bond with his children following his divorce from Rowe in 1999, and the pop star taking their sole custody, doubts were sustained concerning the true identity of their biological father despite his insistence stating otherwise.
The rumors did not just end with the theories and were steered into a new direction when actor Mark Lester claimed his status as the biological father and went as far as to mention the possession of the DNA test to prove his claim. Lester was Jackson’s friend for nearly 3 decades and apparently donated his sperm for his first child. He said in 2013, “My 18-year-old daughter Olivia looks like Paris. People have also pointed out similarities between myself when I was younger and Prince Michael”.
The incidents fueled the ongoing rumors about the rather complicated racial identity of Jackson’s children that were addressed by his daughter Paris years later. In one of the interviews, she defended her father and didn’t shy away from addressing the rising conjectures about the identity of her father by saying, “I consider myself black”, to Rolling Stone, alluding to acquired teachings of staying true to her roots.
The comment was severely criticized by the Talk Show host Wendy Williams who said that being black has more to do with one’s physical features, especially in a social system where hierarchies are prominent on racial grounds and being a non-white is enough to place someone at the receiving end of persecutions or even death. Biracial or not, the children were raised in an African-American household and possess values that have tied them to their roots.