Sometimes, even Queens make mistakes. On March 23 singer Diana Ross sent the Twitter-sphere into a frenzy when she sent out a divisive midday tweet in support of her long-time friend and frequent collaborator, the late singer Michael Jackson. Jackson, who has been top of mind for many since the release of HBO’s Leaving Neverland in early March, was accused in the documentary of sexual assault by two men—Wade Robson and James Safechuck—who say the pop star abused them for years when they were little boys. Their accusations are the latest in a long history of allegations against Jackson.
“This is what’s on my heart this morning,” Ross tweeted. “I believe and trust that Michael Jackson was and is A magnificent incredible force to me and to many others. STOP IN THE NAME OF LOVE,” she concluded, referencing her hit ’60s song with The Supremes.
This is what’s on my heart this morning. I believe and trust that Michael Jackson was and is A magnificent incredible force to me and to many others.
STOP IN THE NAME OF LOVE
— Ms. Ross (@DianaRoss) March 23, 2019
Needless to say, people were not happy, especially as Ross’s comments came a day after Broadway icon Barbra Streisand made similar questionable comments in an interview with The Times. Speaking to the British outlet, Babs said that she “absolutely” believed the allegations made by Robson and Safechuk, but: “His sexual needs were his sexual needs, coming from whatever childhood he has or whatever DNA he has.” Streisand said of Jackson. “You can say ‘molested’, but those children [Robson and Safechuck], as you heard say they were thrilled to be there. They both married and they both have children, so it didn’t kill them.”
It’s a shocking statement, to say the least. It was a big weekend for problematic icons.
While the Queen of Motown and Soul asked fans to stop vilifying the musician—we’re just telling her to stop. Because, while Ross may have thought she was fine to uninhibitedly air her thoughts, her tweet was seriously misguided and incredibly harmful to not only Jackson’s accusers, but sexual assault survivors everywhere.
In Canada, we’ve seen the harm these statements can cause before
In November 2016, literary icon Margaret Atwood came under fire for a similar reason, after The Handmaid’s Tale author signed an open letter in support of Canadian novelist Steven Galloway, who had been fired by the University of British Columbia after allegations of sexual misconduct by a former student. The letter, which Atwood signed alongside other Canadian authors, called for the findings of UBC’s investigation into Galloway to be published and referred to the “allegations” against him with pointed quotation marks, downplaying the severity and questioning the validity of the student’s claims. In a Globe and Mail article published in the same month, Chelsea Rooney, one of the complainants, spoke to what she says the letter was really saying: “The letter reads like a high-minded manifesto calling for due process,” Rooney said. “To the complainants, however, who have been going through this investigation for a year, it reads like Canada’s most powerful authors saying ‘Be quiet, we don’t believe you. And we don’t care.'”
And in much the same way, so do Ross—and Streisand’s—comments. By airing her support of Jackson as a “magnificent incredible force,” Ross not only shuts down any productive discussion about Jackson, his actions and the nuance—and difficulty—of having a good friend who does very bad things, but the Queen of Soul is contributing to a space where survivors already feel unsafe sharing their experiences.
it can be true that he was a magnificent incredible force to you and many others, and also an abuser to some others. These things aren't mutually exclusive.
— Tevye West (@telushk) March 23, 2019
A glance in to the comments on Ross’s tweet show, alongside Twitter users chastising the singer for her harmful words, others applauding her for defending Jackson and “having his back”, with MJ stan accounts hashtagging #MJInnocent and #FactsDontLiePeopleDo.
— LoveMJJAlways (@LoveMJJAlways) March 24, 2019
And this isn’t new. Since Leaving Neverland debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January, there has been controversy around the film, with fans of the musician speaking out against alleged victims Robson and Safechuck as liars, and threatening them with violence.
Like Atwood, Streisand and the bevy of A-list actors who continue to work with director Woody Allen, whether she likes it or not, Ross has a platform and a responsibility as a celebrity to if not contribute to and further tough conversations, to at least do no harm. Instead, she in essence made it about herself, her feelings and her perception of others attacking someone who *she* sees as good—failing to account at all for others who may have had a different experience with Jackson and been harmed by someone she saw as a friend.
And, FYI, just because you feel it in your heart, doesn’t mean you have to say it. Sometimes, there’s a social good in not saying anything at all. No one is questioning the weight of Jackson’s legacy as a performer. There’s no disputing that he had an immeasurable effect on music, pop culture and countless people who grew up watching him moonwalk. He *is* an incredible force, but he’s an incredibly problematic force. It’s the man behind the music that we’re questioning, and that takes more than just a full stop tweet to dig in to.
Another person who Ross’s comments don’t help? Jackson himself. The singer has been dead since June 2009; none of this conversation changes that. If the issue remains around these allegations tarnishing his legacy, TBH Jackson has *already* done that with his actions in life.
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