I’ve been following comments all day concerning Jessie William’s speech and Justin Timberlake’s response to Black Twitter on his comments to a black tweet.
What has transpired between these two interrelated events is in how white folks have responded to William’s speech by calling him racist while white folks have responded to Justin Timberlake’s Twitter response.
Background: Jessie Williams made an astounding and breathtaking speech about how our lives, BLACK LIVES MATTER. Justin Timberlake viewed the speech and tweeted:
However, Ernest Owens responded to Justin’s tweet:
So does this mean you’re going to stop appropriating our music and culture? And apologize to Janet too. #BETAwards
This is Justin’s reply to Ernest:
Oh, you sweet soul. The more you realize that we are the same, the more we can have a conversation. Bye.
First, I want to respond to Justin’s response, and then, the comments that many have been making all day about both situations.
What I found problematic in what Justin said is how he responded to Ernest. Justin exercised his white privilege, pulling a “white power play” on Ernest. Ernest asked him a question, “So does this mean you’re going to stop appropriating our music and culture?” What is appropriation? Appropriation means to take ownership of someone else’s work without giving them due credit for it. Yes, Justin has cited his musical influences: Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. However, Blacks have a right to question Whites who are very successful when they make music that is black influenced music…are you giving a right amount of credit to black musicians? Ernest is calling out to Justin Timberlake for a response. Owens also directly calls to Timberlake in apologizing to Janet as well. This is directly at the Super Bowl 2004 Halftime show where Timberlake ripped Jackson’s bra, and her breast was shown on national television. Instead of sticking up for her and standing by her side, he took the road that was expected and didn’t agree with what happened during the time it was happening, but he did not take more action to further stick up for Jackson, either. Jackson was blamed and victimized while Timberlake didn’t nearly get harassed and villainized as Jackson.
Instead of addressing Owens head on with what he’s questioned and stated, Timberlake uses his white privilege to patronize and over power what Owens says in a colorblind racist statement:
“Oh, you sweet soul. The more you realize that we are the same, the more we can have a conversation. Bye.”
When I read this, I was infuriated. Maybe, just maybe Timberlake didn’t mean to come off as patronizing, but his statement did come off as patronizing. He avoids addressing black culture, cultural appropriation done to blacks, and not addressing how he used his white privilege card to not take the heat for what he did Janet Jackson in 2004. Instead of having a real, genuine conversation about race, Timberlake dismisses Owens by directly lumping in Owens as being the same as Timberlake…and Timberlake issuing silence because Timberlake cannot have a conversation with Owens until they realize that they are the same.
This is why we have colorblind racism. What Timberlake exposes is that I cannot talk to you if we aren’t on the same level. I will not talk to you until you, as black person, can identify with we have in common. This is a huge contradiction two-folded: The first folded contradiction is that if Timberlake was truly inspired by Jessie Williams speech, he would have taken a social justice action in having a conversation with Owens about the question he asked. The second folded contradiction is that Timberlake didn’t take anything from Williams’s speech to resonate with what Owens was asking. Owens is Black. Timberlake is White. From Owens’s perspective, Timberlake has made money off Black folks’ music. If Timberlake didn’t see it that way, he would have engaged in a conversation with Owens about why his music is heavily black influenced. Instead, Timberlake addressed Owens by being arrogant in exerting that Owens should understand where Timberlake is coming from by identifying that Owens is similar than Timberlake. This is Justin Timberlake’s biggest mistake. His biggest mistake is asking a person of color to get down to his level. In racial terms, for us, people of color, especially black folks in this country, many of us are and have gotten down on Timberlake’s level. Many of us have taken on white characteristics to get beyond the ghetto or the projects. I used Whiteness to pave a way as passing to “better myself from my Black welfare family.” However, while doing that, I silenced my blackness from emerging because I self-loathe myself thinking that Whiteness was my ticket to getting a better life.
Financially speaking, I do have it better than my mom and “stepfather,” but historically, I sacrificed my existing and emerging Blackness because I was told by my country, my community, my society, and Black and White culture that Whiteness was superior, and if you want to have anything, you must adopt White characteristics. I understand what Owens is doing, and I understand what Timberlake is doing. Owens is offended that Timberlake has made money off our music. Timberlake is offended that Owens questioned him.
For Timberlake to truly understand Jessie Williams’s speech would have been for Timberlake to open up a dialogue and ask Owens why he thinks that he is appropriating black music and culture…and to talk about his experience with what he did to Janet Jackson twelve years ago. By Timberlake using his white privilege, he also contributes to white supremacy by taking the heat off himself and placing it on…but we all are the same…and I won’t have a conversation with you until you bend will.
And this is what I see with most of the white folks’ comments on Facebook concerning Jessie Williams. All who are offended have similar responses like Timberlake expect that Timberlake wasn’t more explicit to Owens about being offended by Owens’s comments about race.
I’ve seen throughout the day some white folks responding to Jessie Williams’s speech as being racist against Whites. I’ve read some whites folks write that if white folks were in the same place as Williams and said that about black folks, they would be called racists. What these white folks in their comments don’t realize is that their comments are racist. Their comments are racist because they simply don’t get that black folks continue to experience racial oppression on so many levels in this country that it hinders them from actually being free. People of color suffer from having to be put on a watch list—all of us. If you aren’t “acting White,” you are a ghetto ass nigger, and you deserve to be abused in so many ways because you don’t follow the laws of the land. Well, those very laws are WHITE LAWS. That’s right. If you read Cheryl Harris’s Whiteness in Property, many of our existing laws are “white laws” that were made up from many white men who were wealthy and had slaves to increase their wealth. These laws have terrorize black people, and the enforcers of these laws are usually many white folks who exercise white supremacy.
To say that Williams is racist is using white privilege to not hear his message. Williams’s message was about how black people are in a racist systematic country where we are unable to truly be free in regards to how we contribute to American society. We cannot be free to be ourselves. We have always been second class citizens to Whiteness. Many of us have used Whiteness to have a better life, but many of us (including me) have silenced our Blackness and not embracing how different that we are.
Because now I understand it. We aren’t the same. We shouldn’t be the same. Being different is beyond acceptable. It is supposed to be our greatest quality in our American society. We are a melting pot, but we don’t act like it. Some white folks on Facebook said that Blacks continued to harp on race. They keep living in the past. We keep living in the past because the past has never resolved itself. We have never treated those wounds. So, we just keep ignoring them…we keep putting cream on them…thinking it is treating the infection, but the infection is only at bay, and it rages when we ignore it, thinking that it is healing, but the reality is that we are keeping it at bay.
I like Justin Timberlake, and I am a fan of his music. I believe he is quite talented, and he has done a lot for folks being a musician. However, I hope that the inspiration that he felt for Williams’s speech prompts aspiration in that it results in to action in learning more about Black history and black people. To learn more about Whiteness and how his white privilege hurts people. If he takes that action on being educated, then, I hope this inspiration from Williams’s speech takes on new meaning for him, and he actually uses his white privilege as social justice action to help educate other white people and have them realize that their white privilege and white supremacy harms people of color.
As for the racist comments on Facebook, yes, commenters are entitled to their opinions, but realize that other commenters are entitled to their opinions as well. As I told someone I love who is white, I am not trying to make you feel guilty about being White. You can’t change your skin color like I can’t change mines. You should be proud of being who you are. However, don’t exercise your race as means to hide behind what is really there. What is really there is this:
You are benefiting off the system of Whiteness that was set up for you over three hundred years ago. One way you are benefiting from it is not trying to empathize with Williams’s speech or with black folks’ stories. We aren’t complaining and whining. We are the oppressed group, and we have to deal with being mistreated due to you having your white privilege which contributes to white supremacy. The reason why you are saying that we are whining or bitching because you have never had to worry about whether your hands are on the steering wheel. You have never had to worry about running around your neighborhood while your white neighbor stares at you like you don’t belong in the same neighborhood. You never had to worry about being called a nigger. You certainly didn’t have to worry about if you were passed over a promotion because of your skin colored when you’ve worked your ass off every weekday.
Williams’s speech was inspirational because he was telling his people…we will make it through stronger and better. We always have.