Justin Timberlake wasn’t wrong. I mean we’re all, technically, humans. Unless we’re really living in a world like They Live!, which the people who think Gucci Mane is a clone will totally tell us. I’m open to that conversation, by the way. But he wasn’t right, either. After tweeting he was “inspired” by Jesse Williams rousing speech at the BET Awards he was jumped on the way out to his Twitter car by several commenters who needed to casually remind him that he appropriates black music and that he left Janet Jackson’s nipple festering out in the nuclear winds of the American conservative media. One of those points is more fair than the other.
Justin Timberlake responded because he’s an emotional soul whose childlike appreciation for things gives him an air of innocence that is preternatural even for white males.. But he shouldn’t have clapped back. Not with, “Oh, you sweet soul. The more you realize that we are the same, the more we can have a conversation. Bye.” You just can’t say things like that after Eric Garner got choked out for some cigarettes and Sandra Bland was left to die in jail like a dog. You can’t. But he did because he forgot, for a moment, that not everyone lives in the world of Justin Timberlake. Not everyone is a musically gifted, overwhelmingly liked white guy with mean dance moves and incredible amounts of fame. We’re not the same. This country has proven that over and over again, and there are many more proofs on the horizon.
History tells us that Janet Jackson was a disgraceful artist who deserved to be blacklisted following the Super Bowl XXXVIII Nipplegate while Timberlake endured a “wardrobe malfunction.”
And it is ironic because that is precisely what the main tenet of Jesse Williams speech was about. You can have money and fame and you can be up there speaking eloquently about inequality at the BET Awards but you are still black. You can still get it. You can, because you are black (and that is all the reason most anyone needs) have your life and your body be taken from you without redress. And that hasn’t changed. Not after the 13th and 14th amendments. Not after Brown v. Board of Education or the Civil Rights Movement. Not after the deaths of MLK Jr. and Malcolm X. Not after racially motivated massacres in St. Louis and Tulsa. Not after George Zimmerman sold the murder weapon to his killing of an unarmed black teen. Or after the New York Time’s claimed Mike Brown, “was no angel.” Neither, still, after Barack Hussein Obama the second became the 44th President Of The United States.
“The more you realize that we are the same…” The arrogance in those words are deafening. That there is something about humanity and America that I don’t understand, although, it is my body that is under siege. And this is the at the crux of the rebound. The idea that we can’t have a conversation until we understand that everything that I’ve seen experienced by people who look like me and experienced with my own body is mistaken is awash in supremacist thinking. And that it’s JT doing the talking is maddening. The backlash was swift and on going. And although I like Justin Timberlake very much, he deserves this power check. He deserves to have his words analyzed for meaning here. He deserves it the same way Post Malone did when a video emerged of him saying the word “nigga.” The same way Slim Jesus did when the origin of his 15 minutes of fame involved tough talk and fake guns over a trap beat. The same way Donald Trump does as he continues to claim that all brown people do are rape and murder and be terrible human beings. Vic Mensa recently doubled down on the sentiment that Timberlake benefits from reverse affirmative action and albeit he’s not exactly his generation’s Wise Intelligent but the statement is loud and clear.
It begs the question, would these artists have been so fascinating, so alluring had they not been considered “foreign” entities in the Hip Hop world? The short answer is no. The majority audience in the United States seems to like their black music just fine, especially when they don’t have to deal with any kind of cognitive dissonance about who’s singing or rapping what.
In Britain, we saw racial prejudice, xenophobia, and nationalism rise to the forefront to bring that nation into an uncertain future sans the EU. Roughly the same thing is occurring with this election cycle. On the one hand we’ve got Hillary “I Get Money” Clinton, and on the other we have a buffoonish android sent from Alpha Centauri to destroy us. In the middle, we’ve got Justin Timberlake, demanding that if we could just put our racial disparities aside, we could all just live in a world where we can talk about one person having slightly more right to be alive than the other.
“I forget this forum sometimes … I was truly inspired by @iJesseWilliams speech because I really do feel that we are all one … A human race. I apologize to anyone that felt I was out of turn. I have nothing but LOVE FOR YOU AND ALL OF US.”
I believe you, Justin. Just do me a favor and lower those requirements a bit.