Justin Timberlake Basically Told Me All Lives Matter Last Night
Yes, I’m the guy who called out Justin Timberlake on Twitter.
It all started Sunday night. I was watching the BET Awards and was beyond impressed with an acceptance speech by actor/activist (and Temple alum) Jesse Williams, who had just been honored with the Humanitarian Award for being an exceptional entertainer turned social justice activist.
This part of the speech really stood out to me:
We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, and we’re done watching and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us, burying black people out of sight and out of mind while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment, like oil, black gold, ghettoizing and demeaning our creations, then stealing them, gentrifying our genius, and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit.
It was a powerful moment during an awards show that celebrates the contributions of black talent to the entertainment industry. I watched this celebrity, on national television, say what needed to be said about cultural appropriation. It was seriously the most socially conscious acceptance speech I have ever heard in my entire life.
And then Justin Timberlake — the “President of Pop,” the man who betrayed Janet Jackson, who once attacked Prince in a song, and who has benefited from the sounds and vibes of black artists and producers — went too far.
His tweet — which appears to be innocent — intrigued me:
Now you’re “inspired”? After all these years of being silent on black issues while building a career on that very culture, Justin Timberlake was now going to speak up and finally tweet about it — vaguely?
I chose to challenge him on his newfound inspiration by making a few requests I was curious to see if he would be “inspired” to address. I never thought anyone would really read the tweet — I was just expressing my annoyance:
Yes, I really went there. And no, I don’t think what I tweeted was out of pocket.
It was a fair question for a man who has made millions being able to jump in and out of musical styles without being conscious of his privilege in doing so. White rapper Macklemore called himself out in the song “White Privilege II” for generating a level of fame that his black counterparts — such as Kendrick Lamar — had to wait an entire second album to obtain. Justin Timberlake has never really held himself accountable for such actions. While a black superstar like Janet Jackson was booed and banned from ceremonies in the wake of what is now known as “Nipplegate,” Justin Timberlake went on to receive Grammys the next week. It’s a clear sign that the white boy got away with participating in a racy act that led to the public shaming of a black woman.
While Janet’s career had to take a backseat for a few years, Timberlake kept grooving to the sounds that she and her legendary brother help make. And not one time did he ever stop and publicly check his privilege for throwing Janet under the bus. So yes, I was quite curious to see how he now planned to address these issues.
When he did, Twitter went nuts:
My first reaction was, JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE ACTUALLY REPLIED. And then my phone vibrated off the table and I couldn’t compose myself. I reread the response a few times, and then it hit me … WTF is this? The tweet was tone-deaf, condescending, and patronizing. “You sweet soul” … who calls anyone that in 2016? “We are the same” … oh, really? And then he hit me with the “bye.”
All of this was nerve-racking. I was basically being told by one of most prolific white pop artists in music history how to be colorblind and ignore race. In other words, Justin Timberlake was implying that because of his white privilege, because of his ability to live in a world not clouded by racial injustice, we are “the same.” It was the dismissiveness that set me off: Here is this privileged rich white man who has benefited from the support of black fans telling us that we are all the same. It was very obvious that he hadn’t listened to the same Jesse Williams speech that I had.
I clapped back in a series of tweets, and he began trending worldwide:
I went off because it became clear that the world was watching. Here I was with this platform and the internet looking to see what would happen next. Quickly I was in a sea of replies and retweets. While many people were praising me heavily, JT fans were disrespecting me full frontal. Black Twitter, the alert collective of opinionated black social media users, gave me fuel — GIFs, links of past Timberlake interviews, and images of him in cornrows. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine hundreds of strangers cheering me on as I went head to head with a superstar.
And then Timberlake did the unexpected — he apologized, or at least attempted to:
Since then, the internet hasn’t let it go. My phone continues to buzz even as I write this, and I have just learned to let it do its thing. I think Justin Timberlake learned a very important lesson about trying dismiss the voices of the very communities he profits from emulating. I seriously hope that, after this experience, more people begin to question the social impact of the celebrities who exploit their culture.
What Justin did to me on Twitter was attempt to marginalize my voice on a platform where he already has more than 55 million followers. Common sense won the internet, and he got his privileged checked. Overall, one would hope to see social media continue to be used as a tool to address ignorance and inform the masses. Perhaps it’s the one place where we might just be “the same.”