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Martin Luther King was the man who expressed his vision in the famous speech "I Have a Dream" that he dreamed of a land of peace and harmony, a place where people were not judged by their skin color, a country where children of different races could play together, a nation where all people were equal. The phrase "all men are created equal" didn't apply to blacks in that time. The end of the Civil War finally brought freedom to the slaves in 1865, but this freedom which blacks received had just turned out to be a different form of slavery, which called racial discrimination from that time until nowadays. For a long time, black people were treated in a terrible manner and were discriminated against in a very bad way just because they have a different color of skin in American. Blacks still had a lower position in society.
Following the death of Michael Jackson on June 25, 2009, media flocked to report the widely varied responses of fans and detractors of the "King of Pop", speculating on the circumstances of his death and reflecting on his professional and personal life. While there is no doubt that Jackson's personal issues were serious and disturbing, many rumors were surrounding him: abnormal person, homosexual, sexual harassment to the kids, facial plastic surgeries, change the skin color and so on. But there is also no doubt that his music had an enormous positive impact on pop culture and the popular imagination. His distinctive musical sound and vocal style influenced hip hop, pop and contemporary rhythm and blues across several generations, and his videos are often seen as making a major contribution to the success of MTV. Michael Jackson used his whole life to appeal to racial equality, world peace, good care children, and protection of the earth. He uses his singing, dance, film, benevolence, soul and all efforts to purify this world, but his sincerity and efforts were in vain, but made himself sank into the misunderstanding and derision in America world. He is a typical sacrifice of racial discrimination. As a musician, Michael Jackson showed his great disaffection to racial discrimination and desired equality in his creations.
The first video of "They don't Really Care about Us" was prohibited broadcasting for a long time, because it directly perceived the racial problem in America society through the senses. Disease, starvation, violence and death flooded the whole short film. At last, Michael has no choice but do another video instead the prohibited one. Michael Jackson commented on this song like this: "I know it caused a great controversy, but the only thing that I want to comfort these pitiful people who are oppressed, discriminated against and the victim of racism, racial segregation. I want to help them to find confidence to live and make them reinvigorate and struggle with the bad influence, of course, I will stand beside them and fight together." (http://www.mjdb.cn/)
We can not say that the theme of "Beat It" is about racial problem, but is a music works against the social violence. Michael used this hard rock song to express by his own voice that not all problems can be solved by fist and violence and most of times it only hurts yourself but not others. In order to avoid the unnecessary harm, we need to "beat it" which means keep away from. It's a song to give proposal to the younger generation in American. President Reagan treated it as a propaganda song to caution the younger generation and awarded a prize to Michael as "the World Outstanding Youth" and "the Special Contribution Award". The song was warmly welcomed by public and later it was sung by numerous domestic and foreign singers.
The inspiration of "Beat It" is from his own experience. When Michael Jackson was young, he went by a store on the way grandmother home, the shop owner, a white man, vilified him as a thief and kicked him vigorously. And on the court the police set the keeper free with verdict of "not guilty", even though two witnesses could prove his innocence but Michael lost this lawsuit because of the race factor and his black skin.
From the above, it becomes obvious that the racial problem is the common point of the three music works. In the following parts the current situation of racial issue in USA will be shown from four points: Politics, Education, Employment and Justices.
3 The Current Situation of the Racial Issue in USA
The United States was regarded as a "Melting Pot" or "Mosaic".(æ¥æ-¹å®‰, 2004:209) It meant that immigrants from different regions and cultures come to live in the United States, their old ways of life would melt away and they would become part of the American culture. The USA is one of three big immigration countries (the USA, Canada, Australia) in the world. Hundreds of thousands legal or illegal new immigrates come to the country from the world every year. America is described as a "land of opportunity", as American poet claims "heaven and earth have never agreed better to frame a place for man's habitation."(æ¥æ-¹å®‰, 2004:143), but in those earlier days in the 20th century, the racial problem was only between black and white. Today, the face of racism has become multi-colored and multicultural in America and the conflicts between black and white are the most obvious. Racial disparities in the filed of politics, education, employment and justice is persist. (éšæ-°æ°‘, 1998:2)
Black Americans never give up striving for the equal rights in history from 1963 when Martin Luther made his historical lecture "I Have a Dream" till now. The Civil Rights Act passed in 1964 by the US Congress, protected the black people's right to vote, make full use of public facilities and enjoy the same education rights as white people. A first black governor in the American history emerged in Virginia in 1989. Afterward, the black people's political status had a big enhancement, such as: there were had 484 mayors and 38 members of national assembly in 2001, and Barack Obama entered the White House as president in 2009. But the black officials of local governments have difficulty jumping to statewide office, only 38 African American congressional representatives in 2007. African Americans still have not received an equal share of the political pie. (http://www.usa.gov/)
The increasing political status has not changed the black people's discriminated destiny. In the song, Michael Jackson sings that "they don't really care about us, and tell me what has become of my rights." From the words "what" and "rights", we can see there is no right for black Americans or there is no real power for them. The black Americans lose their trust to American government, just like the words "I can't believe this is the land from which I came" from "They don't Really Care about Us". (http://www.mjdb.cn/)
The black people may think that the racial problem become the American history when Barack Obama was elected as the first American black president in 2009 and the racial equality welcomes to a new epoch. But we should know that Barack Obama cannot change the rooted consciousness of racial discrimination in America immediately. In a word, the disparity between blacks and whites in politics still exists.
As we are known that educations play a very important role in all countries, it represents the future of the nation. Black American knew that knowledge hold the keys to freedom and the desire to learn to read was the paramount in their lives and firmly believed that literacy wad the tool and symbol of liberation and equality in White society. After the Civil War, black people got the rights to equal education. So many schools for African American were flourished, and African Americans quickly moved to educate themselves and their children. But the racial segregation in public schools was serious, continued United States racial segregation in school harms black students directly. The lower funded schools, with the ensuing reduced access to resource, leads directly to a lower rate of high school completion. But now the current situation of black Americans is much better than before. In 2000, black males aged 26-30 had on average 0.72 fewer years of education than white males and the gap for females was 0.62. In 2005, of the black male population, 22 percent are high school dropouts and the corresponding figure for white males is 14 percent. The graduation rate for African American male students as a whole in 2006 was only 47 percent. (http://www.usa.gov/) The low education opportunity of black people is a most important factor of unemployment and poverty, and then people have no money to get a better education and low-skills to find jobs. The racial employment gap widened for low-skill persons, from 72.1 percent in 1960 to 42.1 percent in 2000, as compared to an 18 percentage point drop for white high school dropouts, from 82.7 to 64.3 percent. (George J. Borjas, Jeffrey Grogger, Gordon H. Hanson, 2006: 3) At last, "the Vicious Circle" between education and poverty has formed. (è’‹å»ºåŽ, 2009:2)
Unemployment is always a big problem to black people because of the job discrimination and the "last hired, first fired" method by employer in the United States. The employment rate of African American men---defined as the fraction of weeks worked during a calendar year by the typical black male---fell from 74.9 percent in 1960 to 67.9 percent in 2000. This drop stands in sharp contract to the slight decline observed among white men during that period, from 87.0 to 85.2 percent. (George J. Borjas, et al, 2006:3) After the economic crisis in 2009, unemployment has reached catastrophic levels in Black communities. The numbers are staggering. According to Labor Department: the number of African American unemployment was 15.6 percent in November 2009, compared to an overall national rate 10 percent.(http://www.eeoc.gov/) And those statistics leave out workers who have been forced into part-time jobs because they couldn't find full-time work. Officially, the nation's highest unemployment rate is in Detroit, which is 83 percent Black-joblessness is a staggering 28 percent. (http://www.bls.gov/) According to the 2007 American Community Survey, the black male unemployment rate in Massachusetts was already 12.7 percent before the recession, compared with the overall unemployment rate of only 6.1 percent for the state as a whole. However, between November 2007 and March 2009, the national decline in the number of black men with jobs was 660,000, accounting for 82 percent of the job losses among all black workers. Nearly 9 percent of black men lost jobs over this period, the highest rate of job loss by far among any gender or race-ethnic group.¼ˆhttp://www.census.gov/acs/www/¼‰Even if the black people are employed, do the same work and get different reward is a common phenomenon. Black people with lower income can not buy enough food to eat and bigger house to live. From another song "Man in the Mirror" singing by Michael Jackson we can know that: "I see the kids in the street, with not enough to eat. They follow each other on, the wind yaw knows, because they got nowhere to go". (http://www.mjdb.cn/) So compared to the whites, black people are suffering even more pain from the recession and face the economic crisis and the jobs crisis at the same time.
Racial inequality in the criminal justice system is a topic that has become increasingly more relevant with the rising penal population in the United States. Race inequalities in the criminal justice system have a strong effect of many realms of society, and people should pay more attention. African-American males are being imprisoned at an alarming and unprecedented rate. Out of the 10.4 million black adult males in the U.S, nearly 1.5 million are in prisons and jails with another 3.5 million more on probation or parole or who have previously been on probation or parole. Black males make up nearly 75 percent of the total prison population, the federal death penalty data released by the Department of Justice between 1995 and 2000, 682 defendants were charged with death-eligible crimes. Out of those 682 defendants, the defendant was black 48 percent of the cases, Hispanic in 29 percent of the cases, and white in only 20 percent of the cases. (Coker, Donna. 2003:827) Racial disparities in the amount of money required for bail is also obvious. For example: North Carolina found that African Americans had bail set 18 percent higher than whites charged with similar crimes. (Coker, Donna. 2003:879) Black is the most socially disfranchised group of American citizens in the country today. (çŸ³æ¯…, 2008:3) Why are so many black men in prison? According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report, we can see that Whites are dealt with more leniently than Blacks at the time of investigation, arrest, indictment, conviction, sentencing, incarceration, or parole. It can find the evidence from the inspiration of "Beat It" which is talking in the former chapter.
Research suggests that black people are more likely to have poor health than other American populations. (Double Jeopardy, 2002:1) The Blacks bear a disproportionate burden of disease, injury, death, and disability. In 2002, the Blacks who died from HIV disease had approximately 11 times as many age-adjusted years of potential life lost before age 75 years per 100,000 populations as the whites. The Blacks also had substantially more years of potential life lost than the Whites for homicide (nine times as many), stroke (three times as many), and diabetes (three times as many).(http://www.cdc.gov/) Cancer is the second leading cause of death for both the Blacks and the Whites. However, in 2001, the age-adjusted incidence per 100,000 population was substantially higher for black females than for white females for certain cancers, including colon (54.0 versus 43.3), pancreatic (13.0 versus 8.9), and stomach (9.0 versus 4.5) cancers.
Multiple factors contribute to racial health disparities, including socioeconomic factors (e.g., education, employment, and income), lifestyle behaviors (e.g., physical activity and alcohol intake), social environment (e.g., educational and economic opportunities, and neighborhood and work conditions), and access to preventive health-care services (e.g., cancer screening and vaccination). (Williams DR, Neighbors HW, Jackson JS.2003:93) but racial discrimination is an inevitable factor. For the Blacks in the United States, health disparities can mean earlier deaths, decreased quality of life, loss of economic opportunities, and perceptions of injustice. For society, these disparities translate into less than optimal productivity, higher health-care costs, and social inequity.
4 The Reasons for the Racial Issue
America is a country of multi-nationality and racial discrimination is a serious and complex problem in America. It has existed since the county founded, and it is now woven into many facets of society. And discrimination particularly towards the Blacks has been rooted in the whole society for a long time. Why it happened? The reasons for racial issue in America can be divided into two parts as below.
4.1 The historical reason
Michael Jackson's victimized life in the 21st century should be traced from his ancestors' were being shipped to North American as early as the seventeen century.
In 1619, just a decade after the founding of England's first successful colony in America, a number of black Africans were put ashore from a ship at Jamestown. The laconic diary merely noted without comment that "there came in a Dutch man-of-war that sold us 20 Negroes." American slavery had begun, countless African tribesmen were stridden across the Atlantic, and it was a trickle and quickly become a torrent. By 1860, Abraham Lincoln compelled to declaim that almost one sixth of African who living in the so-called "land of free" were in fact slaves. (Richard Wright, 1978:714)
Life was miserable for Negroes under the slavery system. The Negroes were treated not only as inferior human laborers, but also as pieces of property. They were sold away in public auction; rented out, borrowed, traded for a mule or cow, insured for loss; willed to the master's relatives; seized as payment for debts; put up as collateral for loans, or simply lost by one's owner in a card game. Their social status was even under zero. They were whipped for "fun", raped or made to fight one another, like gladiators. Such brutality had inevitably imbued great fear in Negro's psyche. The Negro under slavery was utterly powerless.
American slavery was the beginning of racial discrimination. As time went into the 21st century, the ugly shade of that dehumanized system still shadow American social life, especially white-black relation. The bad effects of that system had already permeated into every inch of the promising land. The emotional intensity of the victimized Negro, the fear, anger and alienation, was becoming more and more strained.
4.2 The present reasons
Racial problem, together with American society, entered into 21st century. This problem has already existed for hundreds years, along with the development of social economy. But why did the racial problem not being solving?
4.2.1 Racial Hegemony
The United States is famous for its "American hegemony" in the world. The hegemony in military is the common seen in Cuba, Iran and Iraq, but another kind of hegemony can be frequently seen in Hollywood film, which is called as "Racial Hegemony". (Gramsci Antonio, 1971:170) The fact that television and film are central to popular culture is crucial because Gramsci says particular attention should be given to "everyday" routine structures and "common sense" values in trying to locate mechanisms of domination (Gitlin Todd, 1994:517). Many of the clearly racist images we can see from American screens and it be easily explained in hegemonic terms, particularly in relation to colonialism and white supremacy. Thus, it is unsurprising that racism, though perhaps more covertly, still pervades American society.
Hall outlines three base images of the "grammar of race" employed in movies. (Hall Stuart, 1995:45) The first is the "slave figure" which underlying message is understood by whites like that: the slave is someone who is willing to serve their master; their devotion allows a white audience to displace any guilt about their history of colonialism and slavery. The consequence of such messages is no wrong to racial discrimination. The second of Hall's base images "the native" (Hall Stuart, 1995: 45-46) Black people's primitive nature means they are cheating, cunning, savage and barbarian. The last of Hall's variants is that of the "clown or entertainer", implying an "innate" humor in the black man.(Hall Stuart, 1995:47) Interestingly, the distinction is never made as to whether we are laughing with or at the clown; overt racism is rare in the media rather, says Hall, it is "inferential". (Hall Stuart, 1995:50) No one in TV shouts racist abuse at black people, no one in TV or film physically assaults black people, but they simply feed us on a diet of "Blacks are the problem" (Freeth Tony, 1985:26-27).
4.2.2 Illegal Immigration
We are known that Americans are proud of their multicultural social status and boast their country as a melting pot. It is no secret that USA is an immigration country, and people come from all kinds of culture backgrounds. But living in America as an immigrant, whether legal or illegal, is a difficult task. Even well-educated and successful immigrants are constantly reminded of their dissimilar appearance and beliefs. Many "native" citizens apt to harass, intimidate, and blame immigrants for their own problems.
Recent years, third World immigration has become popular, particular from Africa. Africa immigration into the United States of America has boosted poverty levels, put millions of Americans out of work, contributed over 25 percent of the federal prison population, brought some contagious diseases into the United States and placed a tax burden of billions of dollars on the US taxpayer. According to the US Census Bureau, Current Population Survey in March 2001, almost 22.1 percent of Blacks were under the official poverty line. (http://www.census.gov/acs/www/). So the attitude of white people to black immigrates is bad and detest and discrimination.
5 Suggestion of Helping Release Racial Contradiction Tension
After analyzed the current situation of black people in different field and the reasons of racial problem, the following recommendations and suggestions to eliminate racial discrimination from the United States society can be summed up as below:
5.1 Legislation against racial discrimination
Law plays a significant role in the successful operation of society. Law regulate social behavior, which providing rules of conduct, measures to enforce those rules, a means for setting disputes and brings out justice in society. So there is a need to legislate against racial discrimination in United States, it can prevent and combat all forms of racial discrimination, establish norms and standards in race relations, promote racial equality and communal harmony, and promote equal opportunities for all ethnic groups.
5.2 Advancement at rights to equal education
Education is so important to everybody. It gives us the knowledge that is the only thing that no one can take away from us. Education is important for the economic growth of a nation, and it is an essential path leading people to wipes out all the wrong beliefs in their minds like racial discrimination. History has proven that there is a direct link between education, poverty and crime. Blacks have a higher chance of going to prison especially if they dropout of high school. The importance of getting a high school education is the difference between going to prison and functioning as a good citizen in society. If a Black male drops out of high school they have a 32.4 percent chance of going to prison while their White and Hispanic counterparts have a 6.7 percent and 6 percent chance respectively.(Ayers, Ian, Joel Waldfogel, 2003) Education is the best long-term solution to poverty and crime in the world. Having Equal right to receives education¼Œblack Americans can break the cycle of poverty and reduce the rate of crime.( (è’‹å»ºåŽ, 2009:2)
5.3 Providing employment opportunities
The job gap between blacks and whites is still a chasm after decades. There is a job crisis for black men after the recession in 2009. US government should create more job opportunities not only for Whites but also for Blacks to help them out of poverty and starvation, protection the right of employment, to enhance their employment skills. Adopt policies that can help reduce inequities and promote equal opportunity of black people in the labor market are given as below:
(1) Combat racial discrimination in employment. To promote equal opportunity for job seekers, active protections must be in place. Anti-Discrimination laws protecting people have the equal right in employment.
(2) Modernize the Unemployment Insurance system. Policymakers should ensure that unemployment benefits can continue while workers are in appropriate education and workforce training programs and extend benefits to allow for completing such programs.
(3) Support the Employee Free Choice Act. The Employee Free Choice Act gives workers the choice to organize unions, raises penalties when the law is violated, and promotes good-faith bargaining so that employees can negotiate a first contract. Strong unions promote income equality and raise wages for all workers. (Alexandra Cawthorne, 2009.8)
(4) Improve education and early links to the labor market. A broad set of community-based youth development and mentoring efforts targeting teens and young adults, in addition to high school-based programs that lead more young people to college or directly into the labor market would improve the work outcomes for young black men. (Alexandra Cawthorne, 2009.8)
(5) Support the creation of "green jobs" in low-income communities. (Alexandra Cawthorne, 2009:8) It is imperative that black men have access to meaningful employment opportunities in thriving and sustainable industries. Many jobs in the renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, and green building fields are middle-skill jobs that require more than a high-school education but less than a four-year degree. And these jobs are well within reach for lower-skill and low-income workers as long as they have access to effective workforce training and support programs. Green jobs also pay decent wages and can provide opportunities for advancement and high-level skill development.
(6) Providing transitional jobs for the formerly incarcerated. Many of the black formerly incarcerated have low levels of formal education and little work experience. They need transitional jobs programs to allow them to develop their hard and soft skills and increase their work experience. (Algernon Austin, 2009:10)
To sum up, the United States is a country of multi-nationality, whose racial problem has existed since the nation established, and it is now woven into many facets of society. And discrimination towards the Blacks is the most obvious in American society for a long time. Michael Jackson's tragedy is not a single black man's tragedy. His problem is not a single black man's problem, either. Through analysis the works of Michael Jackson, his own experience, and the reasons of racial problem, the paper puts forward three proposals to alleviate the racial problem in United States. But if we want to eliminate the racial problem completely, there is a long way to go. Finally, the paper reaffirms that any form of prejudice or discrimination is wrong. No person in the world should be discriminated. All discrimination must be opposed. The effect to overcome racism has become widely anchored in the human conscience, when everybody stands up against the racial discrimination. I believe the dream of black people expressed by Martin Luther King " that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last!"(Arthur M.Schlesinger, Nancy Hugh Cole, 2009:80) will come true.