08/08/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Is O'Reilly Right?

My stomach churns at writing the headline above but there is some truth to O'Reilly's statements about Michael Jackson and the black community's response to his death. Of course the whole truth is complicated and right now it is fitting to focus on the family's grief and the undeniable power of his lifetime making music.

However sometime soon it would be nice if we in the black community would more closely examine the tragedy of the most famous black man in the world burning off his blackness and hacking off his African nose. Of course he's not the first black person to try to pass for white but he is the first dark-skinned one to take it to such Frankenstein extremes. His pathology was existential.

*** UPDATE *** My father had vitiligo and didn't believe Michael's claims for a second. Part of Michael Jackson was absolutely convinced that he was a young, white boy. He felt compelled to surgically deracinate himself, altering his nose, his lips, his hair. When he chose to become a father he used white surrogates. Someone close to the production of the Jacksons's miniseries told me that he suggested that the filmmakers cast, as a young Michael, a boy who was blue-eyed and blond.

The black community's closing ranks around Michael right now is both understandable and compassionate. As crazy and as tragic as he became, he's certainly still family. That's why we call him by his first name. As a kid four years younger than him, I often pretended I was the sixth Jackson. I never missed the cartoon, wore my afro big under my brown velour apple jack hat and begged my parents for a snake. Later, despite his jheri curl and nose jobs, his albums were the soundtrack of my college years.

I don't know when exactly he convinced himself that he was a perpetually twelve-year-old white boy. However, I grieve knowing that some combination of his upbringing and a racist society convinced him that you couldn't be both black and excellent.

Compare Michael with our president, a man who actually is bi-racial but chose to identify as black. Obama seems supremely at peace inside his own mixed skin while Michael was so tortured he tortured his own body, and traveled with a personal anesthesiologist to take away the pain.

I guess the world is changing for the better. Obama and Michael are only three years apart but evidently Michael came of age too soon.