My Design of (More Than) A Decade: How Janet Jackson Shaped My Womanist Self Concept

Laurean D. Robinson, MA

May 17, 2018 5:54 AM EST

In a strange way, I can imagine what it would have been like to grow up as the baby girl Jackson of Gary, Indiana.

BEGINNINGS

My life in so many ways has paralleled yours as a young African American girl trying to figure out her place in the world while still honoring my family legacy and God-given talents.

I see myself feeling a mixture of claustrophobia and embrace by my extensive family of siblings, a homemaker mother and a hardworking steel worker father.

While we would be seen as poor or lower middle class in our neighbors, I wouldn’t have the vocabulary to even recognize that reality as a toddler – all I knew was I was always fed, clothed and slept head-to-foot with one (or two) of my brothers and sisters.

My parents had distinct personalities and disciplinary styles that both built me up with a shaky confidence and sheltered me from the world altogether as I grew up on 2300 Jackson Street.

Nights were spent hearing my older brothers practicing their musical act with used or borrowed instruments or watching our only black and white television to marvel at chocolate entertainers like James Brown, Jackie Wilson, Motown’s Little Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, Diana Ross and the Supremes.

My older brothers would later move from our family home to Los Angeles to become the famous Jackson 5 as children, building an American dynasty before I was even out of my diapers.

The brothers would tour all over the world for years with their music produced by Motown Records, marketing their youthful R&B music to crossover to white audiences as bubblegum pop by the label’s founder Berry Gordy.

All the while, I grew up fairly sheltered by my loving mother and sisters in the Encino, CA compound where I dabbled in acting as young Penny on Good Times and Willis’s love interest as a teenager in Different Strokes.

CONTROL

And then one day, my teen brother (and future collaborator) decides that he no longer wants to be the lead singer of his family’s successful music group. He has more art to give the world as a solo artist and in turn, establishes his independence as a young man the way college-bound students do with their parents every summer and fall.

I watched the ordeal firsthand and quietly internalized this dream of transition from my parents’ control.

But as a young African American teen girl, severing those ties would prove to be more difficult than what my brother experienced.

I knew I needed to do something drastic and unique to breakthrough as a solo artist. Luckily, my father approved for me to meet with former members of The Time and budding producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis in Minneapolis, MN. There we harvested my personal experiences as baby girl Jackson with her own convictions and aspirations.

This project became the album entitled Control where its titular song became my manifesto and (little did I know) for millions of other young women all across the world. My voice resonated with all these little girls who wanted to be loved but didn’t want to compromise their boundaries, demanded respect from their lazy boyfriends and overbearing parents while still wanting to explore their sensual side without stigma.

 

The album gave me the freedom I longed for with international touring and major television performances/interviews. But something was still missing for me. I wanted to be loved and appreciated for all the amazing qualities this album had captured and that my fans embraced so quickly. And so I fell in love and got married . . .

 

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Like the immortal starlets Dorothy Dandridge,  Josephine Baker, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, marriage would be my way to freeing myself from my family’s grasp on my career and personal life.

 

What I didn’t know was how to deal with a spouse and his own demons.

MUSIC AND ME

But music kept me motivated for life and fed emotionally. My dancers, producers, collaborators and fans became my extended family with every music video premiere, every single dropping on the radio and every international tour.

And then I meet someone who I thought loved me for being me, who tried to embrace all of me and gave me a beautiful son.

I had made mistakes in my life but I know that I was not born to be perfect; I was born to live.  My comfort lies in the small face of my son and the millions of wonderful fans who continue to embrace my projects and performances. Thank you for loving me because it is always deeply felt.

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Dear Janet Damita Jo Jackson:

I found my voice as a young African American woman because you and your dynamic catalogue of music from Control to Unbreakable. I found my identity as an artist and a black creative because of your acting roles as Penny and Justice that expanded my concept of what a woman of color can be and demand from the world.

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You have enriched my life in so many ways and you have never met me (I hope that can change). Please know that I will always love you for all that you have given me as a child longing for independence, a preteen navigating hormones and flakey boys (thank you for “If”), and a young woman who didn’t know how much she would love the poetry of Maya Angelou until seeing your film Poetic Justice.

Sincerely,

Laurean Danielle Robinson, MA

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