Black people: “No. You can’t take that line, too.”
June 28th, 2016 – Justin Timberlake had to borrow from Justin Bieber’s catalogue with his own version of “Sorry” after the singer tweeted about Jesse Williams’ acceptance speech at the 2016 BET Awards. The “Can’t Stop the Feeling” singer has now taken down his original post of “@iJesseWilliams tho…#Inspired #BET2016” which he posted Sunday evening after watching Williams receive the Humanitarian Award.
Williams, an actor most well known for his work on Grey’s Anatomy, gave an impactful acceptance speech that has since gone viral. For those not following the award show in real time, the trending of “Jesse Williams” might have lead them to believe he was the only recipient of the night. His speech dug hard into equality, race relations, police brutality and black cultural appropriation.
“We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, yo. 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. The thing is though, that just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.” –Williams
Timberlake was criticized for latching onto black pride that night and for latching onto black culture during his career. He immediately received backlash in the forms of tweets, Facebook posts and, of course, funny pictures.
“We are the same.”
Many people have pointed out that Timberlake may very well have been inspired and didn’t make the remark with intentional appropriation. But his ignorance and misunderstanding of what Williams was highlighting is the problem itself.
He continued down the path of celebrity torn apart on Twitter and issued an apology, although it added a little more fuel to the fire.
New York Daily News writer Shaun King points out the importance of context when people on the outside of a community choose a precise time to join in celebration with said community.
“Timberlake’s tweet, if it had no context or history attached to it, would indeed be harmless, but millions of people feel that he is actually guilty of many of the exact aspects of cultural appropriation that Jesse Williams was talking about,” he wrote. “The BET Awards themselves were created, in part, so that black artists could be given the due credit they deserve.”
King also pointed out that while Williams “found one hundred beautiful ways to say ‘Black Lives Matter,'” Timberlake re-charged the battery to the counter movement of “All Lives Matter.”
“Of course we are all human beings. That’s obvious. Jesse’s entire speech was about how black human beings are habitually mistreated and abused and how the treasurers of black people are first demeaned, then stolen and adjusted and profited off of,” King stated.