Michael Jackson's relationship with the African-American community was as ambiguous as his changing skin color, his androgynous features and the genetic makeup of his children.
By 1991, when the pop icon released his album "Black or White," many asked the same of Jackson's racial identity.
Those who were close to the star said he spent his career distancing himself from African-Americans and used "derogatory names." Some say he only gave lip service to black charities and causes.
But in death, the pop superstar has been brought back into the fold -- from the lovefest at this week's BET Awards to the mourners who gathered at Harlem's Apollo Theater where he got his start at age 9.
"He is one of our heroes," said rap artist and music impresario Sean "Diddy" Combs. "As African-Americans, we are not going to let everybody beat him up."
But even as the Rev. Al Sharpton stood loyally by father Joe Jackson's this week in Encino, Calif., many black Americans say they still feel ambivalent about Jackson's legacy of plastic surgery excesses, drug addiction and superstardom.
And some say the child molestation charges -- which arose in 1993 and again in 2003 -- struck the hardest blow to their religious and cultural core.
"If they'd had a black majority jury, they would have convicted," said Stacy Brown, who co-wrote, with producer Bob Jones, "Michael Jackson: The Man Behind the Mask."
"This is not to say that any other race tolerates that kind of behavior, but within the black community, it's not something that stardom could have swayed," said Brown, a media critic for the Scranton Times-Tribune and longtime Jackson family friend.
"Even if he was not molesting them, he was doing things that were inappropriate," he told ABCNews.com. "There's a mind-set in the black community: Why are all these white boys always hanging around? Michael would have stood no chance with an African-American jury."
But when Jackson was exonerated of those charges, many in the African-American community demonstrated another trait -- forgiveness.
"He's one of ours, whether we like it or not. Once it was over, we greeted him with open arms," said Brown. "He gave us an excuse to reaccept him, even though in the past, Michael Jackson turned to black people only when he was in trouble."
Brown was referring to the first allegations of child molestation that erupted in 1993. Jackson made an appeal to the African-American community, making his first-ever appearance at Bethel AME Church in Los Angeles and appearing on BET and NAACP awards shows.
"He'd never done that," said Brown. "He'd shunned that."
Initially, Jackson was viewed as "little more than a Casper-the-ghost-looking bleached skin, nose job, eye shade, straight hair and gyrating hips ambiguous black man who had made a ton of money and had been lauded, fawned over and adored by whites," according to Earl Ofari Hutchinson of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable.
At the time, he said Jackson's inner circle reported back to the group, "Look, don't believe what you hear. I still identify with the black community. I'm black and that hasn't changed, and I want your support.