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Not about black or white

Forget race: Jackson's lifestyle is the real issue for the jury

Now we have 12 jurors picked for Michael Jackson's trial. The big upset for the pop star's defense team, if you do a quick take on the numbers, would be that no one in the jury box will be African-American.

The singer's fate will be decided by eight women and four men; seven are white, four are thought to be Hispanic and one is Asian.

Honestly, how big a shock is that?

Simply by the numbers, Jackson's chosen home of Santa Barbara County largely determined the jury makeup. More than 70 percent of residents are white; just over a third identify as Hispanic or Latino and about 4 percent are Asian. As of the 2000 census, just 2.3 percent are black.

Neverland's location in the Santa Barbara hills made it unlikely the court would find many black jurors, and only a handful made it into the jury pool. One potential African-American juror pretty well ensured her dismissal by complaining about just that.

Critics of the O.J. Simpson civil suit complained that the largely white jury, while reflective of the Santa Monica, Calif., venue, was tilted against the one-time football great. (We'll ignore the fact that Santa Monica and Brentwood have near the exact same black-white breakdown.)

The presumption all along has been that lead defense lawyer Thomas Mesereau Jr. and his team similarly hoped to make race a factor in this trial, that skepticism could be cast over the child molestation accusations against Jackson by framing him as the latest black celebrity to be targeted by a flawed justice system.

The only problem is that Michael Jackson plays in a different racial universe than Kobe Bryant and O.J. Simpson. Yes, his fame is hinged on his original R&B success, but his pop legacy has long since transcended black music/white music definitions.

Similarly, it's hard to find him universally revered as an icon of black American success. Race is not his defining characteristic (except when it's convenient).

MSNBC contributor and Jackson confidant Stacy Brown made a similar point late Wednesday, arguing that his pal endures few of the rigors that continue to dog even the most famous African-American celebrities. And, yes, even in his own lyrics Jackson likes to play down racial divides.

What have they been reading?No, the real shock about the Jackson jurors is that only five of 12 claim to know anything about the 1993 molestation allegations against the singer, and all claim to have absorbed little or no news about the current charges against their most famous of neighbors.

Assuming they all answered honestly, I'd wager most of them had better things to do than trade in the icky details of his problematic reputation. All but one has spent at least some time in college. They're not your typical tabloid readers — and thus likely to be less than impressed with MJ's typical antics.

At least a couple had nice things to say about Jackson (a “small man with big energy,” said one 50-year-old horse trainer) and most had unflattering things to say about the media, including its treatment of the pop star.

Two — both women — said they or someone close to them had been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior; one said her sister was raped at age 12 and her brother-in-law molested his nieces.

Eight have kids.

In short, it's hard to believe this is a panel viewing Jackson through the lens of race. And despite Jackson's sometime reliance on the Nation of Islam, and the occasional grainy '70s photo, it's hard to believe the average citizen defines him by race.

Far more crucial is how the jurors feel about children telling the truth — since, as we've seen in recent days, Jackson's accuser is going to be seriously questioned about his truth-telling. Most of the panel believes kids can be manipulated and influenced — but can also speak true.

Last April, as he pleaded not guilty, Jackson praised the locals in Santa Maria, Calif., saying, “I will always love this community from the bottom of my heart. That is why I moved here.”

Now a cross-section of that community will pass judgment. Their decision is likely to rest on how they perceive the inner workings of a very famous man's very private, and very quirky, moments — and whether they can accept an innocent version of events.

That has a lot to do with trying to understand a lifestyle they'll never live. Not so much an issue of black or white.