“White privilege is an absence of the consequences of racism. An absence of structural discrimination, an absence of your race being viewed as a problem first and foremost.”
― Reni Eddo-Lodge, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race
This is truly a watershed moment, Black people. We’ve got Tina Fey’s overrated ass finally apologizing for all the racist shit she’s written over the years. The owner/creator of CrossFit just got the Papa John’s pink slip for talking shit about George Floyd. Hell, even Gone with the Wind – White America’s favorite racist “classic” (which has always been defended with the bullshit excuse of “At least it’s not Birth of a Nation“) – got briefly pulled from rotation before returning with a disclaimer in front of it. And that’s not even counting all white co-workers (old and new) wanting to apologize to us for shit they may or may not have done on the job.
We’ve got Confederate statues droppin’, Confederate flags rippin’, and everybody asking for Juneteenth to be made into a national holiday. White people haven’t been this apologetic since Roots first aired.
But with so many white folks apologizing like they’re going through the steps of AA, it puts a spotlight on the white folks who haven’t apologized – when they really should. I’m talking about the Peyton Mannings, the Lena Dunhams, the Quentin Tarantinos, and the Mel Gibsons – to name but a few off the top of my head. Each one has exhibited an unforgivable level of racism and faced no repercussions; quite the contrary: most of them have been rewarded for it.
Naturally, this brings us to the music industry’s biggest exemplar of personified white privilege: Justin-fucking-Timberlake.
Not since Elvis Presley has a white boy been as beloved by radio stations as Justin Timberlake. At least Elvis acknowledged an admiration and influence of Black music and culture (even if he failed to give them due credit). Timberlake simply fell back on the old Vanilla Ice excuse: saying his crossover appeal must be due to “pure talent” rather than his Caucasian face being a better sell to middle-America; and he always fell back on the old “Can’t we all just get along?” plea when questioned about anything race-related. The only non-Black entity to be stung by Justin was ex-girlfriend Britney Spears, whom he infamously slut-shamed and bad-mouthed in front of the entire world.
That alone should have put the blue-eyed boy-bander on Black America’s shitlist, but for some reason he kept getting invited the Soul Train and BET award shows. No matter how condescending his comments, Black folks (not me) kept giving him a pass… even for the one incident in which they shouldn’t have.
Do I even have to say it? We all saw it live. Then, we all watched in real time as a white boy ascended to superstardom by throwing a Black woman under the bus.
Janet apologized, pleaded, begged, and did her best to reason with a country that used her bare breast as the avatar for all that a Bush-led US felt was wrong with the world. Not those imaginary WMDs, but a Black woman’s bare breast–exposed to the world because a white boy ripped her dress on live television.
And what did Justin do? First, he joked about it. Then he apologized for it. Then he did the inevitable and blamed it all on Janet. As she got 86’d from the Grammys, he attended the ceremony and spent his red carpet time painting himself the innocent victim of Negro Vodou machinations.
And the world ate it up. Les Moonves, one of the most powerful men in American media, made it his personal mission to destroy Janet’s career because he didn’t think she was contrite enough. That career has never recovered.
Justin’s has not only continued to thrive – including Top 20 hits with Jay-Z and 50 Cent – but they even invited him back to the Super Bowl in 2018. And yes, he played that song. (And let’s be honest: anything good about that song is due to Pharrell’s beats and Pharrell’s beats alone.)
“But wait,” I hear Justin-stans bellow from the corners of the Internet, “he apologized to her and everyone knows they’re cool now!”
That’s what he says. There’s plenty of reason to doubt him. He has only acknowledged that he “could have handled things better”. That is not an apology, that’s the sort of bullshit wordplay Republican politicians use when they’re caught on video having a gay tryst. There’s no evidence from Janet or her camp that she’s ever talked to Timberlake since the incident, let alone gotten to good terms with him. Granted, that’s because Janet now refuses to talk publicly about the incident at all.
And who can blame her? Whenever people interview Justin, it’s about his new movie, song, or non-scientific statement put out by he and his idiot anti-vaxxer wife. Whenever people interview Janet, they want to talk about one thing and one thing only: her nipple. The one Justin exposed to the world. Dear God, I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but… I have to agree with Tyler Perry, who accompanied Janet on the Why Did I Get Married, Too? press tour and famously clapped back at reporters: “Why don’t people ever ask Justin about the Super Bowl incident?!” What is a footnote in Timberlake’s career is now the defining moment of Janet’s.
And whenever the public calls him out on it – usually when he’s trying feign reverence for Black culture – he gets defensive and condescending. Bette Midler put it best:
Since the George Floyd protests began, Timberlake jumped on the bandwagon of posting milquetoast “We Are the World”-esque messages calling for peace and asking for donations. Meanwhile, a lot of his showbiz colleagues are so racked with white guilt that they created one of the most hilariously dumb videos on the Internet right now:
But you know what? As lame as that video is (and it is), at least the folks involved with it had their hearts in the right place. The video came from a place of wanting to do right, even if the execution was lacking. In a time when white people are so apologetic that they’re putting Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben to rest, Timberlake’s silence for his biggest sin against Black America speaks volumes.
He needs to apologize. Whilst he and his anti-vaxxer arm-candy shamelessly take part in “disaster gentrification” to escape COVID-19, he needs to apologize. Not a generic press release like he’s done before – no, he needs to get specific:
- he needs to address the incident (the Super Bowl halftime show) in detail
- he needs to apologize publicly to Janet for putting the blame on her and doing nothing as her career crashed and burned
- he needs to apologize to the fans that called him out on his bullshit before he brushed them away
- he needs to apologize to women the world over for his chronic misogyny (shaming Britney, shaming Janet, the stupid “Take Back the Night” song, to name but a few)
- he needs to apologize to Black America for Janet, for the appropriation, and for taking shots at Prince (no, we haven’t forgotten)
Will this make everything all right? Hell no. Will it put an end to the issue forever? Absolutely not. But it still needs to happen. There is no “silver bullet” solution to racism. But Justin Timberlake is the very sort of white man who needs to acknowledge that he’s part of the problem.
UPDATE: Friday – 12 February 2021
So… as you may or may not know, the recent release of the documentary Framing Britney Spears has gotten a lot of press for not only championing the imprisoned-via-conservatory Spears, but also rightfully placing the blame on those complicit in her downfall… including a certain slut-shaming, anti-vaxxer ex-boyfriend of hers.
Such was the backlash against this victimizer of a well-known white woman (no offense to Spears or her struggles, but re-read this entire post and tell me I’m wrong) that his PR handlers had a bot draft a toothless “apology” to her. And wouldn’tcha know it? He found a way to lump in Janet, just for shits ‘n giggles.
No specifics, deflecting blame to “the industry”, lumping his sins against two different women into one impotent statement about how he promises to do better.
This boilerplate “apology” means jack-shit.
Fuck each and every thing about you, Justin Timberlake.