Jesse Williams gave a speech at the BET Awards while accepting recognition as Humanitarian of the Year. It was a speech that was powerful and maddening in its mix of desperation and hopefulness, resilience and resolve.
If you haven’t watched it. Stop and do it now:
The speech is a lot of things, but provocative is a word that keeps popping into my head. It brought a tear to my eye seeing the proud tears in his mother’s eyes and the hopeful wonderment in the faces in the crowd.
Justin Timberlake was also inspired by the speech. So inspired he jumped on Twitter, with this:
Now, at first read, at face value, from my white guy perspective, I wouldn’t have seen anything wrong with this. I was inspired too. JT is just expressing what I’m feeling also.
But then responses to it started coming in from black folks who took issue with JT’s long history of appropriation of their culture.
Such as this one from @:
@MrErnestOwens said this:
Let’s break it down.
This is a powerful white man talking to a black man on Twitter. Ernest Owens happens to be an award-winning journalist, but I’d bet all the money in my pockets JT didn’t know or care who he was talking to.
“Oh, you sweet soul.” JT started off his tweet by firmly asserting the hierarchy between them. JT gets to judge and dismiss Ernest. That’s the epitome of implicit bias.
“The more you realize we are the same” We. Are. The. Same. This is no different than “All Lives Matter” in that it comes from the same place of white people deciding the narrative instead of listening to what’s being said by people of color about their experience. Justin Timberlake is no more “the same” to black people than a lion is to a gazelle.
“…the more we can have a conversation.” Yet again he asserts his supremacy by dictating the terms of conversation. Essentially, he’s saying, “I’m not going to talk to you unless you agree with me.”
“Bye.” If it wasn’t absolutely clear that JT was using his privilege to shield himself from an acknowledgment of his own racism and implicit bias, the dangerously casual “Bye.” should be all the proof you need. He gets to decide when the conversation is over and that’s that. Even while people die because of that very attitude, he can and will choose to ignore it, and shut people off who challenge his supremacy or his delusion that he’s not racist.
Eventually, in another move to control the narrative, he deleted everything and then tweeted out a couple more things:
“I feel misunderstood.” This makes it clear that he’s not about to own up to anything that he’s done or said. He’s literally projecting it back onto the people calling him out by telling them that they are wrong.
“I responded to a specific tweet that wasn’t meant to be a general response.” Two ways this breaks down: Maybe he’s new to Twitter, and doesn’t have any idea how it works, so he doesn’t know that everybody can see everything he posts and nothing is just a response to a specific tweet but open to public consumption and accountability…or… he just found a clever way to dismiss everyone and tell them to butt out, basically saying, “I wasn’t even talking to you, so mind your own business.”
“I forget this forum sometimes…” Twitter is the problem, not JT’s words and actions.
“All one…A human race” All Lives Matter
In my estimation, Justin Timberlake is the worst kind of white person, because not only does he exhibit classic implicit bias, but uses his own power to protect himself from critique and does absolutely nothing to shine a light on injustice. We have elected officials at every level who do this, and it’s not just a few, it’s the norm. If you live in America, your city council is probably made up of a majority of people like this.
Timberlake goes even further, by appropriating and putting on a show of celebrating a culture while at the same time being a leader within a corporate system that is destroying it. This Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing racism is far more destructive systemically than what we see from a lot of outwardly racist conservatives. They won’t call you racist names, but you’re not getting that job if your name is DeShawn or Imani instead of Connor or Molly. Your local city government might be 100% white males at the department head and above level, but tell you that they just choose the most qualified applicant, so it’s not their fault.
If Justin Timberlake loves black culture as much as he professes – if he truly loves it – he’ll stop the whitewashing and the excuses and he’ll stop shirking his responsibility as a white man in a position of power to be a wedge. He can, with his money, power, and respect, open the door to people of color and give them opportunities to lead, to have their voices heard.
He’ll have to sit down and shut up first though.