Justin Timberlake is relevant today because he said some pretty weak shit on Twitter following the Spirit Bomb of Blackness that was Jesse Williams’s incredible speech at the 2016 BET Awards. You’ve seen it. I’ve seen it. Let’s talk about it.
Look man, I like the homie’s music, and I like his Southern Hospitality restaurant, but I’ve never been one to “claim” him, or give him a Black Card. I haven’t done that with anyone, simply because I don’t believe that Blackness should be handed out to anyone who shows a fondness towards it. Blackness isn’t a uniform that anyone can just put on.
I called out Justin Timberlake’s appropriating ass back in high school, when “appropriation” wasn’t as common a word. We were still riding with Rocafella, Ruff Riders, and Bad Boy. We didn’t have time to focus on Justin and his weak cornrow game. There was so much Positive Blackness readily available that anyone appropriating it wasn’t a threat to it. Fast forward to the hashtag era, where Positive Blackness is not only more scarce, but polarized when it’s expressed. We have a conscious effort to protect it.
I’m not all the way mad at Justin Timberlake. He got caught by a Twitter Troll, and exposed himself as *gasp* a privileged White Man! However, if the kid does yet another (ironically loved by Yaaassss-ing Black Twitter) “History of Rap” with Jimmy Fallon aka He-Ellen, I’ll be all for it. Unlike much of Black Twitter, I don’t castigate someone’s entire existence based on a 140-character-limit statement made in the heat of the moment.
Was the “we’re all one human race” a good look? No. Has Justin Timberlake benefited greatly from appropriation and target marketing? Absolutely. Did he Matrix dodge the fuck out of #NippleGate? Yes, yes, 100 times yes. Justin Timberlake has absolutely built himself up with Black Dollars, Black Labor, and Black Ideas. That doesn’t mean that he’s not talented, nor does that mean that he gets any usage rights to Shea Moisture products.
It seems like Black Twitter was building up to this Justin Timberlake dragging for years, and unleashed a Level 3 Hyper Combo Finish of Shade and Slander upon him the first chance they got. Immediately following the Blackest Pep Rally Speech of the 21st Century, Black Twitter was inspired. Yet, so was JT, and he let it be known. His “inspired” tweet was totally harmless. Woke Twitter started to troll him for it, as if they expected him to go from Abigail Fisher to Bette Midler in a Drake Minute. Maybe he felt inspired to donate to the family of Freddie Gray. Maybe he was going to summon Timbaland and cop some fresh Ficky Ficky beats. He never got a chance to act on his inspiration, and any attempts at it now will seem insincere.
His follow-up tweets were ill-advised at best. He fell for the Twitter Troll Bait and went the “one human race” route in his reply. That’s what got Raven-Symone and her raisin-filled tuna and quinoa casserole bringing ass kicked out of The Great Cookout for good. She’s been placed on waivers and no one wants to claim her. “One Human Race” is the ultimate “I’m unaffected by oppression” statement that an ally can make, and that’s pretty much what the Honorable Jesse Williams was getting at. In that moment, Justin Timberlake’s Tweets, Jesse Williams’s Speech, and Black Twitter’s lack of chill created the Perfect Storm of Wokeness. A Hotep Hurricane, if you will.
All of his transgressions, from the cornrows, to #NippleGate, to the 20/20 Experience (which I liked, fight me) was laid out and beaten to death. Justin Timberlake tried to panic tweet out of it, but he was already Crying MJ Faced to death. I’m sure he just turned his phone off and cried a river into the bosom of Jessica Biel for the rest of the night.
Ultimately, JT didn’t need to reply with the All Lives Matter-esque tweet. Timberlake’s “inspired” tweet was nothing. The only people coming for him at that time were trolls who already weren’t feeling him. Had he not replied, we wouldn’t be here. Except that he did reply, in the worst way possible, and he went down like the Hindenburg. It exposed his fragility, his ignorance, and his tone-deafness. It also uncovered a problem that both sides of the coin have yet to resolve:
What are our allies supposed to do?
We have The Great Cookout, and we give invitations to various people whom we deem as “down”. Eminem, Stephen Colbert, Gary Owen, Tommy from Power, and others have seats, yet if they ever make one misstep…
Instead of talking with them and explaining what they did wrong, we tend to completely wash our hands of them. I’m not saying to coddle potential offenders, and I’m not advocating for infinite chances. I’m just not for the immediate tar and feathering treatment. Rules for Black Allies are nuanced and complicated. They read like assembly instructions for IKEA furniture. Not everyone is going to get it with the first or second try.
After hearing Jesse Williams’ speech, Justin Timberlake felt the same thing that many of us felt. It was an incredibly powerful and necessary speech that Jesse Williams delivered. Allies want to be able to help, but sometimes we’re moving around too fast that we don’t tell them what to do. It’s not fair for us to write them off because their level of wokeness is insufficient. Just like we yearn to build ourselves up, we also have to build up our allies. They’re the ones who often have the power and the platform to access areas that we may not be able to because of their privilege.
Eh, who knows, maybe Justin Timberlake is more Iggy and less Bette after all.
But I’m still gonna buy his albums, tho.