There's a great book about John Kennedy and his relationship to civil rights called 'The Bystander.' The title alone suggests that he did as little as possible, any minimal critical effort, to really facilitate civil rights in the White House.
Light-skinned black people are seen to be closer to white people. The allegiance to lighter-skinned people has operated in a very destructive way that we have internalized ourselves inside black communities. You look at many of the prominent black people in this society who have been able to do well. Many have been lighter-skinned.
But for poor black people and working-class black people, it is a much more difficult way to go. The over-incarceration of black people is just intolerable. When you look at the disparity in terms of education and access to fair schooling, it is horrible. If this would happen to white people in this country, it would not be tolerated.
New Orleans invented the brown paper bag party - usually at a gathering in a home - where anyone darker than the bag attached to the door was denied entrance. The brown bag criterion survives as a metaphor for how the black cultural elite quite literally establishes caste along color lines within black life.
Michael [Jackson] reconstructed his face and deconstructed the African features into a spooky European geography of fleshly possibilities, and yet what we couldn't deny, that even as his face got whiter and whiter his music got Blacker and Blacker. His soul got more deeply rooted in the existential agony and the profound social grief that Black people are heir to.
What I'm talking about is both political and then also extra-political. Because what Donald Trump is doing is not simply to be measured in terms of its political effect. It's the very spiritual uplift of the nation. It's the very tenor and tone, morally speaking, of what this country is about. And so the unleashing of these fierce and ferocious beliefs have a potential impact that is quite deleterious, quite negative, quite destructive. And I think we have to say something.
I think that Michael Jackson, just as an entertainer, as a figure who embodies the contradictions of black identity and the possibilities of R&B music in the '70s and '80s, will continue to be one of the most recognized and formidable human beings that we've ever produced in our tradition.
I think public intellectuals have a responsibility - to be self-critical on the one hand, to do serious, nuanced work rigorously executed; but to also be able to get off those perches and out of those ivory towers and speak to the real people who make decisions; to speak truth to power and the powerless with lucidity and eloquence.