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What becomes of Michael Jackson’s children?

Prior to the revelation of a will, Kathryn and Joe Jackson filed for custody of Michael Jacksons three children. When the will was filed, it was discovered that Michael Jackson directed his mother Kathryn to take custody of his children. The will further stated that were she to predecease him or be unable to fulfill the role of guardian, that he wished his children to be raised by his lifelong friend Diana Ross. Despite being one of nine children, it is particularly telling that he made no such endorsement of either his siblings or his father Joe Jackson.

The Jacksons were the little family from Indiana that rose from obscurity under the steel will of Joe Jackson. Today we are in the awe of the musical legacy left behind by their greatest star – Michael. In this time of mourning we are left to consider the cost of the gift that he left us with.

Michael paid for celebrity by sacrificing his childhood. He put his feelings to music in the song “Childhood”:

People say I’m not okay
‘Cause I love such elementary things…
It’s been my fate to compensate,
for the Childhood
I’ve never known…

Have you seen my Childhood?
I’m searching for that wonder in my youth
Like pirates in adventurous dreams,
Of conquest and kings on the throne…

Before you judge me, try hard to love me,
Look within your heart then ask,
Have you seen my Childhood?

The loss of his childhood would haunt Michel to his dying day. It was a sacrifice that his father Joe Jackson felt was necessary. Joe has enjoyed the role of patriarch and the second-hand fame he has achieved through his children. When BET held a tribute to Michael, Joe was the only family member in attendance.

Joe Jackson has taken every opportunity to raise his public status. When asked what the next step was by Don Lemon of CNN on the red carpet, he immediately began to speak about a record label he was attempting to promote, rather than discussing funeral plans for his son or the future of his grandchildren. He claims that he took the opportunity to promote his record company because that is what Michael would have wanted him to do. He further stated that he was crying on the inside. Each person deals with grief differently; however, it is quite incomprehensible that a loving parent would so easily cast aside the death of a child to promote a business venture.

Michael was a success in spite of Joe and not because of him. When one examines the life that Michael led, it is clear that it was filled with issues stemming from a very troubled childhood. What is ‘Neverland” but a palace dedicated to loss and suffering in the guise of play and whimsy? If Joe’s so-called methods were great, why did Michael feel the need to dedicate millions of dollars to attempting to escape his father? Why did Michael state that even as an adult the sight of Joe was enough to make him vomit?

Michael and LaToya have both spoken of being beaten with belts as children. Beating a child with a belt is not a form of discipline, it is abuse. Though Barry Gordie, the head of Motown records, claimed to have no knowledge of the violence in the Jackson family, it is hard to believe that such a terrible secret was not more widely known – and summarily ignored for the sake of profit.

In 2001 Joe went on the record to defend his behaviour in the German-language publication Daily News:

“There wouldn’t be so much crime these days if parents were prepared to punish their kids a little and take care that they stay on the right track.”

When Joe Jackson expresses a desire to be the legal guardian to his grandchildren, one cannot help but wonder if he has already begun to count the potential economic advantages that guardianship could entail. Forty percent of the trust will go directly to Katherine to revert to his children after her death and forty percent is to go directly to his children. Joe is a man that is clearly used to having his will obeyed and any objection on the children’s part may lead to a repeat of the experiences that their uncles and aunts survived.

Today, as Joe publicly claims to love these children and professes a desire to see that they get an education, one must ponder how much of this is posturing for the benefit of the cameras. At the peak of the Jackson 5’s fame, the family was regularly portrayed as happy and close even though their home was filled with violence. How many people would have bought their records, if they knew that behind the charming smile of their lead singer Michael there was a lonely, terrified, and abused child? Joe, like most abusers, made sure that his behaviour remained a dark family secret.

Children are defenceless and depend upon adults to advocate on their behalf. Placing the Jackson children with anyone who has a history of abuse would be a mistake.

Just because someone is related to you by blood, does not mean that they will have your best interests at heart. For Joe Jackson, his children were a meal ticket and a passport that whisked him away from brutal labour in a factory. It did not matter what the cost was; for Joe, any penalty was justified, if it equalled economic advancement.

Children are not the equivalent of property and therefore one cannot simply assign them in a will. It will be up to a court to decide whether or not to uphold Michael’s decision to place them with his mother. Though Kathryn and Joe have lived separately for years, they still occasionally share the same abode and Joe’s influence is still very much apparent in family affairs. Kathryn was unable to protect her children from his violence and therefore it is plausible to suggest that she may fail her grandchildren in the same manner.

Joe was never formally charged with abuse and therefore it is questionable whether his past actions will be taken into account; furthermore, if no one stands up to contest the placement of the children with Kathryn and Joe, it is doubtful whether a full fledged inquiry will be launched. In their father’s death, Prince, Paris and Blanket may gain a legacy that was his worst nightmare.


Renee Martin

Renee Martin lives in Canada and writes the famous Womanist Musings blog. She is as interested in socio-political issues as she is in television.

10 thoughts on “What becomes of Michael Jackson’s children?

  1. From the legal perspective, note that Kathryn can’t apply for the ‘custody’ of the children – she can only become a ‘guardian’.

    Custody is a term reserved from biological parents. Meanwhile, any adult can become a guardian.

  2. Great post. The only issue I have is with the line about the abuse being “ignored for the sake of profit.” 20-30 years ago, child abuse was ignored for much less than the sake of profit. It was ignored for the same reasons as male/female domestic violence – it was a family matter, and polite company did not comment on or interfere with such family matters.

    As a criminal defense lawyer I see a lot of parents in court who were subjected to abuse as children, and no one stood up to protect them. They are now being held criminally responsible for punishing their children as they were punished.

    None of this takes issue with denying custody of Michael’s children to his abusive father. Or that Joe Jackson was obsessed with profit to his children’s detriment. I just don’t think that profit was necessarily the primary reason that others close enough to the Jackson family to know what was going on didn’t say anything/intervene. And Kathryn in particular might act differently in today’s environment than she did before (in terms of protecting the children from violence).

  3. i’m more than a little disturbed that more people aren’t asking this question: taking into consideration Joe’s violence against his children, what are the odds that he will use violence against these children as well?

    as any social worker with experience in child protection and you’re gonna get a pretty grim picture painted for you.

    please someone make sure those children are safe because Katherine cannot do it.

  4. Beating a child with a belt is not a form of discipline, it is abuse.

    I disagree. Not all spanking with a belt is abuse. It obviously can be abuse, but not every instance of spanking with a belt is abuse.

  5. When BET held a tribute to Michael, Joe was the only family member in attendance.

    Janet was there, too — I read somewhere (LA Times, maybe?) that Joe left before she even went onstage at the end, one would guess because at that point he would no longer be the focal point of the show. That man is so unbelievably vile — I can’t believe anyone thinks it’s okay to let him have anything to do with any children, ever.

  6. Beating a child with a belt is not a form of discipline, it is abuse.

    I disagree. Not all spanking with a belt is abuse. It obviously can be abuse, but not every instance of spanking with a belt is abuse.

    Wow. I am incredibly disgusted with your comment. Spanking a child is a form of sanctioned abuse. It is abuse. How is it somehow acceptable to hit a child, yet it’s considered an act of violence to hit an adult in any situation? Spanking, with any object, is abuse. Scaring a child, teaching him/her something is punishable with violence or fear is never acceptable.

  7. Opinions on spanking, with or without belt, vary widely in our country. There is no consensus on whether it is abuse or appropriate discipline (although I think there is a sense among everyone that there is a point where it crosses the line into abuse – just not a consensus on where that line is).

    We don’t do anyone any favors when legal actors take a hard-line approach that all hitting is abuse, separate parents and children, and charge parents with crimes for disciplining their children in the way that they were disciplined by their own parents.

    I respect the opinion that all spanking is violence and that violence against children is not an appropriate discipline tool. But it’s an opinion. One of many. Don’t call people abusers who are doing their best and disciplining their children the way they themselves were disciplined as a child. (I am not suggesting that Renee did so, but more responding to Jen).

    I worry about the impact that the “Jen” point of view has on families. Because when social workers and other members of the child welfare/judicial system take that attitude, they start taking children away from loving parents (which, hello, causes a hell of a lot of psychological damage in and of itself) and putting criminal records on adults who are trying to do the best by their kids.

  8. I agree with Renee and Jen that beating with a belt is abuse. This doesn’t in itself state that kids should be taken away from parents because of one instance of this, but I think if there is are repeated instances after a warning, then there needs to be some kind of strong deterrent, which could include removal of the children.

    My (adopted) sister still has scarring from someone “disciplining their children the way they themselves were disciplined as a child.” It’s not “an option.” It is abuse.

  9. I do not have the experience of growing up as a fan, or even knowing his music until recently, but I do want to comment here. There is hope, some of the abuse was documented, and the risk itself being documented, even if not through legal sanction may be enough to protect these children.

    As far as abuse being sanctioned, just because it happened to you doesn’t make it right, it is a form of privilege to presume you have the right to frighten, scar, or punish someone with violence. Spanking also often causes mental confusion. Why is it okay to spank but not to hit? When i was teaching this was a huge crux of a lot of arguments with the children.

    Also the Spanking issue is moot at this point, the risk of there being more than a spanking is too great for these young children, these INNOCENT BABIES to be put in jeopardy.

  10. Parent who are so devoid of knowledge and creativity that they cannot think of better ways to teach or even punish children than resort to hitting, especially with implements such as belts, abuse the right to be a parent. Shame on them. And shame anyone who would place Jackson children with these grandparents: an abuser and someone who sat by silently and watched and allowed the abuse.

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