Michael Campanella/Getty Images
If we weren't sure before, we're sure now, TWC is dangerous business.
Tweeting While Celebrity, of course.
Justin Timberlaketweeted last night that he was "#inspired" by Jesse Williams' moving speech at the 2016 BET Awards, as were countless others who appreciated his understandably heated call for justice and awareness, as well as for action to combat the forces that still seem committed to keeping people separate and not equal.
Timberlake's sentiment seemed innocent.
But as we've been learning for years now, and which JT obviously forgot..there are no innocent sentiments on Twitter. Whatever you say can be and often will be seized on when you least expect it, and then anything you say after that will be held against you in the court of public opinion.
The "Cry Me a River" singer was swiftly informed that his white-guy interpretation of Williams' speech was not welcome, nor was it informed, and that he, in fact, was part of the problem.
"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," Williams said in the concluding moment of his speech. "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...the thing is that just because we're magic doesn't mean we're not real."
Justin, who apparently got caught up in the moment, mistakenly engaged.
"So does this mean you're going to stop appropriating our music and culture? And apologize to Janet too. #BETAwards," Ernest Owens tweeted back to Timberlake's initial remark. Timberlake replied, "Oh, you sweet soul. The more you realize that we are the same, the more we can have a conversation. Bye."
There already was a pile-on, Owens' tweet having been joined by a long, long thread of eye rolls in GIF form, pics of Timberlake's 'N Sync-era cornrows and other accusations of cultural misappropriation and missing Williams' point entirely.
But cue the really big pile-on, prompting Timberlake to take another stab at clarification: "I feel misunderstood. I responded to a specific tweet that wasn't meant to be a general response. I shouldn't have responded anyway..."
After which he started to get it, but was still trying to inject what he thought was common sense into the conversation: "I forget this forum sometimes... I was truly inspired by @jessewilliams' speech because I really do feel that we are all one... A human race."
And then, whether it was too late or not to say sorry (Justin Bieber got sucked into this too in absentia), he did: "I apologize to anyone that felt I was out of turn. I have nothing but LOVE FOR YOU AND ALL OF US. --JT"
At this point, tip of the hat to Timberlake for not deleting all of the above, which is usually automatic recourse for most celebs who find themselves caught up in an unwitting Twitter firestorm.
There's really nothing wrong with JT having the courage of his convictions, nor is there anything wrong with his actual sentiment. He didn't deserve to be raked over the coals for saying he was inspired by Williams. Yet at the same time, while I'm a big fan of advising the Internet to CTFD, this is one of those situations where the actual conversation that got started was perfectly valid too, even though JT had no intention of starting it.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Have people been secretly seething about Timberlake's success all these years, ticked off that this white guy from Tennessee has found mega-success as a pop star who incorporates historically black genres of R&B, soul and hip-hop into his music—a lot of which has been produced, written and performed with artists of color?
Or as Owens mentioned, perhaps there is the faction that will never forgive Timberlake for exposing Janet Jackson's breast during the 2004 Super Bowl Halftime Show, and being the one who faced the least fallout.
If we know nothing else, we know there is zero way to get inside someone's head, roam around and truly understand what they're thinking or what they've gone through, either individually or as a people. Those who slammed Timberlake had their reasons, even if he became the poster boy for what's wrong with society because he happened to send the wrong tweet at just the right time to cause mass outrage.
There's the argument that Timberlake "should've known better" than to...Tweet anything at all?
Just two short weeks after social media became a beacon of light in the wake of Orlando, showing its stuff in a time of senseless tragedy as only a conduit for millions seeking a common voice can do, it has since relapsed into what it is 99 percent of the time—a forum for jumping down the throat of the first person you see who just doesn't get it.
"It" being what another person understands to be true. And same as in non-virtual life, there's no winning a battle you'll never truly understand, even if you meant no harm, especially if that battle isn't yours.
But Timberlake wasn't actually suggesting that he understood the black experience, he just noted that he was inspired, so the accusation of being a cultural usurper probably really caught the entertainer by surprise.
Which is not to say that the notion of Timberlake cashing in on a genre after he lucked into being incredibly talented isn't a valid conversation starter.
Cultural appropriation, or misappropriation, isn't the sole provenance of the music industry, but it has been the focus of a 60-plus-year conversation, ever since the emergence of rock 'n' roll.
"@jtimberlake Justin Beiber,Iggy Azalea,Miley Cyrus,Taylor Swift,Zayn Malik also inspired to keep being parasites of Black culture #BETAwards," charged @josephlboston last night.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Fashion (and fashion and music combined) has also been a hotbed of controversy, with white women who sport braids (half of them so young they probably copied them from JT in 'N Sync circa 2000) or Afros being accused of ripping off black culture. Selena Gomezwas slammed for wearing an Indian bindi when she first performed "Come and Get It." Katy Perry was called out for dressing like a geisha for her 2013 American Music Awards performance and tweeting a play on the song "Turning Japanese."
And just today, Vanessa Hudgens, who's also been criticized in the past for sporting a bindi, was in for it after posting a pic on Instagram in which she's wearing a Native American dreamcatcher as a hair accessory.
None of the above meant any harm. But then again, none of the above were thinking that far ahead, either. Maybe if you group enough seemingly meaningless acts together, you get meaning—and it's nothing good.
It's unfortunate that modern civilization, despite progress, is still rife with despicable, arbitrary lines that a few drew under the auspices of representing the many hundreds of years ago. Man vs. woman, rich vs. poor, white vs. everyone else, including other white people who come from countries that aren't your own.
Overall, Justin Timberlake isn't the enemy, and he's not responsible for horribly unfair happenings in the world that preceded his success. If more people thought of the world as he does, as being made up of only one type of people—fellow humans—we'd be a lot better off.
But just as Timberlake couldn't have predicted the reaction to what he thought was a supportive tweet, because his experience of the human condition has no reason to make him think that way...we just don't know what we're talking about sometimes.
We're all free, for better or worse, to say what we want on Twitter. I tweeted about today's SCOTUS decision this morning, and was immediately met with someone's reply that, the more abortions there are now, the fewer Democrats there are later. Good times.
Justin Timberlake's fabulous life is no worse today than it was yesterday, so to even call him a momentary scapegoat is putting more of an onus on his critics than the situation deserves. JT's fine. We do feel that the direct reaction to his "#inspired" tweet was uncalled for, Timberlake certainly being one of the good guys if you draw the good vs. bad line, but insta-backlash is to be expected these days.
But hard feelings are called hard feelings for a reason—when you try to explain to those who are hurting that you get them and are there for them...well, that's easy enough to say. Or tweet.