Yes, A Different World Is a Moment in Black History

My Black History: History is alive, and that means the events of yesterday and today are part of the black-history spectrum. In this series, our writers tell us what historical events they have experienced in their lifetimes.

Kadeem Hardison, Jasmine Guy and Cree Summer from A Different World
Kadeem Hardison, Jasmine Guy and Cree Summer from A Different World IMDb

Editor’s note: During Black History Month the focus is usually on historical figures who loomed larger than life, paving the way for the progress we experience today. But black history isn’t just about telling stories of our past. History is being made every day and has been made throughout our lives; it’s not just in books. It walks among us. So this month The Root is asking a group of writers to tell us about the personal and pivotal events from their own lifetimes in a series we call My Black History. Writer Danielle C. Belton is 37 years old.

Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ Video: Dec. 2, 1983

I’ve always felt sorry for people who discovered Michael Jackson only after he was older and scandal-prone. Since I was born in the 1970s, I got to enjoy the King of Pop in his prime, falling in love with him just like nearly everyone in the world after his best-selling album Thriller dropped. My sisters and I copied all his dances. I went through not one, but two Michael Jackson dolls. A giant poster of Jackson in a brown leather jacket hung on our bedroom door. But it was the premiere of the “Thriller” video, which we watched over and over, on MTV that stuck with me the longest because I was utterly terrified of it.

I loved the song and dance immensely but would hide whenever the long-form horror-film version of the video would come on, and it came on a lot, since MTV would just rotate “Thriller” again and again, to my horror and my older sister’s delight. I still kind of don’t like the long-form video (even though it’s more funny than scary to me these days), but this album solidified how black American music would come to dominate the pop scene for years, continuing to influence it greatly today.

Jesse Jackson’s Presidential Campaigns: 1984, 1988

Another person who, sadly, only got more complicated with time and embarrassing indiscretions, Jesse Jackson wasn’t always “messy Jesse.” In fact, when I was a child the rhyming preacher was a charismatic political figure who embarked on two failed but historic presidential runs. Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition—the idea of bringing together different ethnic minorities, the poor and working class, gays and lesbians, and white progressives—to create a progressive power base was an idea that stuck. You can still see it in what consists of the Democratic Party’s base and in the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina. Jackson, obviously, didn’t become our first black president, but he created a path and a coalition that would eventually make that possible.

Denise Huxtable Goes to College: TV’s A Different World, Sept. 24, 1987