All white performers who’ve mimicked or sampled black music, performers or styles are dickish exploiters who need to be corrected and bitchslapped. Justin Timberlake, who has appropriated aspects of black culture in his musical performances (and who was apparently, in the view of some, the careless orchestrator of Janet Jackson‘s boob-flash during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show), found this out yesterday. His crime was tweeting that he was “inspired” by remarks during Sunday’s BET Awards by Grey’s Anatomy actor and social justice activist Jesse Williams, and for subsequently tweeting to a black critic that “the more you realize that we are the same, the more we can have a conversation.”
Williams ranted about “this invention called whiteness” that has specialized in “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”. Williams said in so many words that “we need to restructure whites’ function, and ours.”
In short, guys with attitudes like Timberlake’s need to be straightened out and probably diminished for the time being, and, by extension, the memory of infamous music-industry exploiters like Morris Levy needs to be retroactively re-addressed. I don’t think it’s pushing things too far to say if Elvis Presley and Sam Phillips had returned to earth to give their own BET speech, the audience probably would have thrown fruit and booed their asses…right?
Perhaps Presley and Phillips would have been pelted with tomatoes and with ample justification, obviously, but they were coming from a whole different era when they stole black music in order to sell it to ’50s whites. We all do what we can according to the rules and restrictions we encounter when we step up to the plate.
Consider this 6.27 Guardian piece by Rebecca Carroll, which riffs on what Williams was saying. It’s angry and dismissive and reiterates the basic p.c. chant of many progressive black artists, which is that (a) we ain’t “all one” and (b) it’s time for white-ass artists, music executives and TV/movie producers to shut up and chill at the back of bus while artists of color reap the cultural whirlwind, correct the imbalance and reshape things to come.
Carroll: “Now that we are talking about ‘whiteness’ as a real thing — an identity, a privilege, the American default — we are flush with examples of what it can look like, and how not to do it. There are, of course, the obvious and the banal — Trump supporters — but then there are those who think they are so down, so woke, that they can come along with ‘we are all one’ after a brilliant black celebrity activist delivers a revolutionary speech at an award show for black excellence and achievement.
“We are not all one, Justin Timberlake, and if, as you tweeted following Jesse Williams’ radically spot-on speech about the centuries of whiteness using and abusing and stealing and co-opting blackness at the BET awards last night, you ‘really do feel we are all one’, then you should really stop feeling that way.
“Perhaps even more offensive than such a tone-deaf remark from a white man whose fame has come from emulating black culture is the casual arrogance, the utterly striking condescension of his initial dismissal of Owens. Because it’s up to us, the black folks, to read the memo written by white people telling us that we are all equal so that we can show up for the meeting and take careful notes while you show us how to be black? The very point that Williams was making with such resounding clarity was: we are not here for your memos anymore. We are here for you to read our memos now.”
Time heals all wounds, or go goes the cliche. Racial healing won’t happen in this country for quite a while, I realize, as things have seemed even worse in recent years (i.e., going back to Trayvon Martin and, if you will, Sandra Bland) and particularly with a strong majority of white people behind Donald Trump right now, and telling pollsters that they believe that p.c. prejudice against whites these days has become just as pernicious as it is against people of color.