Jesse Williams – Justin Timberlake – & Cultural Appropriation

So in case you haven’t heard, Grey’s Anatomy’s Jesse Williams won Humanitarian of the Year at the BET Awards. But what has really got the media talking is the fiery speech he gave in acceptance, and all the controversy that followed.

Jesse Unleashed

Jesse’s speech isn’t one we haven’t heard before. But like other celebrities before him, he used his moment in the spotlight to draw attention to bigger issues of police brutality and social inequality.

While I didn’t agree with everything he said, I understood his positive intentions, which nonetheless began by tackling some uncomfortable issues most of us would much prefer to sweep under the rug.

In spite of his good intentions though, one part of his speech effected a raised eyebrow from me.

We know that police somehow manage to de-escalate, disarm and not kill White people every day. 

The Truth about Police Brutality and Race

But is that really the truth? Contrary to propaganda from the Black Lives Matter campaign, police kill more Whites than any other race, each year. This makes sense, since Whites do make up the majority of the population. Anything less would not make mathematical sense.

The imbalance comes in, however, when we consider that there are five times as many Whites as Blacks in America, but Whites are killed at “only” twice the rates of Black Americans.

According to the New York Times, when studies adjusted for the percentage of the population which Blacks and Whites occupied, Black men between the ages of 15 to 19 were 21 times more likely to be killed than Whites. And even when unarmed, they were still seven times more likely to have a fatal interaction with officers of the law.

A Selfless Approach to Social Equality

What  appalls me though is that any race thinks they should be killed less often than the other.

While I do agree that police brutality is a serious issue in America, and that the percentage of African-Americans killed by police officers is a great deal higher than it should be, I think people become so blinded by self-interests these days that we only care when it affects us, or ‘our people’.

There have been countless incidents of unarmed Whites and Hispanics killed unnecessarily as well, yet these never arouse as much uproar and cause for concern.

Have we resolved that since Hispanics and Whites make up the bulk of the American population, it’s okay if we lose a few – no matter how unlawful?

If we are truly asking for social equality, then as a society, we should place equal weight on all our social ills. Why are we not addressing the larger issue of police brutality, as much as the specific cases of police brutality towards Blacks?

Jesse says that “a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do”. But it can, if we’re only standing to serve our own self-interests. Social equality requires all hands on deck, as does our gripes with police brutality.

The Division in the Black Community

The fact that we don’t even have our own hands on deck was obvious with a simple glance at Twitter, where Black followers debated about whether or not Jesse Williams – with his freckled skin, and grey-blue eyes – was ‘Black enough’ to give such a speech and really make a stand.

It seemed as though, because he was of Mixed-race, many Black Americans believed he wasn’t qualified to join the movement. So basically, the very people Jesse Williams worked to uplift and respect and speak out for, didn’t even want him on their team.

Amazing, isn’t it?

The White Casualty

But Black Twitter didn’t stop there. When Justin Timberlake then tweeted his support of Jesse Williams’ speech, Twitter tore him to bits and pieces next.

Many accused him of being a part of the very system that Jesse Williams was speaking against. They viewed Justin Timberlake as a thief who had made a fortune off culturally appropriating African-American culture and music.

Cultural What Now?

Every time I hear about this cultural appropriation thing I can’t help but laugh.

We have a problem with White people wearing dreads and cornrows, but then buy four-feet long blonde weave to put in our hair.

We have an issue with White people, like Justin Timberlake, borrowing our sound and look. But then we too have Black and Mixed-Race stars singing country, pop, rock, and making dubstep beats without a problem.

We can’t be mad at Justin Timberlake for once looking like this:

When even Beyoncé still looks like this, after her own venture into Black Empowerment:×800/landscape_nrm_1430565303-beyonce_at_the_brit_awards.jpg

Or what about the fact that one of our biggest cultural icons voluntarily went from this…

to this…?

The Black Patent

The real question everyone should be asking is who patented Black and African-American culture? I want to see the paperwork. Until then, it’s time we all learn to work together to achieve actual social equality – or just shut up.

We all profit from borrowing each other’s looks and sounds. It’s what helps artists to meet in the middle and appeal to a broader audience. And sometimes, as in the case of Jesse Williams, we have no choice. We are our parents’ making. He didn’t choose his European features.

But since we’re all so adamant to draw the line, let’s do it right. I’ll bring the fire and brimstone to roast Justin Timberlake, right after Nicki Minaj stops dressing like Barbie, and Beyoncé gives up her straw-coloured weave…

With all Due Respect.


Featured Image Photo Credit: @iJesseWilliams


63 thoughts on “Jesse Williams – Justin Timberlake – & Cultural Appropriation

  1. Very interesting points… Afican Americans are all mixed to be clear… Well some way along the lines of a fucked up history. And I believe if your standing up for us your an allied person no matter your race. I’m a victim of police brutality.. The worst was when I was 17 and I gotten beat so bad and my friend was shot at close range by the officer in the leg and stomach right next to me….. All because they said we where loitering on the corner… My friend who was fighting for his life died 2days or 3days later. And I was released from jail without a court date or charge papers. They just sweap it under the rug… So fuck the police!

    1. Thank you.

      Most African Americans are mixed, but not at all. Some Blacks have kept to themselves for generations. Just as some Whites have. Just like most Jamaicans are mixed, more so than here, but my paternal grandma was 100% African.

      I haven’t experienced any issues with the police and legal authorities so far, but I’ve had my fair share of shake down from customs and immigration while visiting America in the past. I guess I’m Jamaican so I must have weed somewhere, you know?

      I try to be extra careful here. I don’t go out with my 420 friendly friends. I tell them all the time, if we get pulled over and you get get caught, no one is going to believe the Jamaican with dreads (a) doesn’t smoke and (b) didn’t sell you the weed. 😂

      Sorry to hear about your friend though. I hope things get better. I think the Black Lives Matter created more tension in spite of all the good it tried to achieve, but we’ll see.

      1. That’s crazy… Sterotyping a person because of their nationality, race, religious beliefs are so fucking insaine… Especially when the very people that are all God fearing and say that we need to stop and come together are the very ones who are stereotypical… America is the best ain’t it! You don’t have to answer that… Lol…. And as for my old friend… He’s been gone for along time now and ive lost way more friends and family members sence then. I remember in 2013 I when to 17 funerals and only three out of them were over 25years old. I’m immune to death now it’s just a part of my life like I’m in a love hate relationships with death. Any way thanks for the condolences sweety. I appreciate that.. An I apologize for talking your ears off. Lol!

      2. I don’t mind long comments. I welcome them.

        And yes, it’s crazy to stereotype people. It’s a natural bias we’ve evolved to have, but many people never look beyond it. I think when it starts to put us in in a position where we might inconvenience or kill others it’s time to examine those biases.

        And you’re right, religious people are often the most segregated ones. Just take a look at Trump’s followers. The liberals are the secular ones. But that’s a discussion for another day lol

        Thanks again for dropping by and sharing your thoughts.

  2. A few months ago I read a lot on cultural appropriation and I am really glad you dealt with this concept, you have a great style! The thing is that too often people are defending the same ideas against which they are (supposedly) fighting and then it all comes down to who is saying something and not the person’s actual message.

  3. The black patent, that’s good. When I saw Jesse’s speech I knew it was going to get all sorts of backlash. As a mixed race person myself I wondered how receptive the black community would be to a light skinned, blue eyed, mixed race celebrity giving a speech like that. I wasn’t at all surprised to read the comments that he wasn’t black enough to give it. The funny thing is, he’s not black enough for some and too black for others… I know what it feels like to not look like my race “enough” to fit in. I understand what the Black Lives Matter movement is about and I’ve seen reports with numbers proving a point on both sides. At the end of the day, we all need to do our part to be more kind and considerate. Be more accepting and learn to find more common ground with others instead of drawing lines of division. We shouldn’t be ok with anyone being subject to injustice, inequality or discrimination. You’ve highlighted some very thought provoking points in this post.

    1. Thanks Niki! Flattered that you dropped by and joined the discussion.

      I’m a mutt myself so I know all about not being black enough until it’s convenient. Or not being Jamaican enough, because I don’t fit the stereotypes. Yet it never really occurred to me that people would feel that way about Jesse until I saw the comments on Twitter.

      As a citizen of a predominantly Black country, I can say with confidence that we have some of the very same issues there, and we’re all Black (well mostly black/biracial/multiracial at about 95%), so it’s not always about race. I’m still learning this racial vortex everyone views things in America in.

      In the current state of America, I’m not too keen on giving birth to a mixed race child here at all. It seems like there’s just no escaping racial prejudice, both from outsiders and our own kind.

      1. The pleasure’s all mine! I was very pensive after our conversation this morning 🙂

        It’s the first thing I said to my husband when I saw it. He’s Latino and has experienced prejudice and racism but not from within his own culture or race. Neither one of us sees people in colors but we know what it’s like to experience the dark side of people that do.

        It’s so strange because growing up and in my early adult years I was so aware of being slighted due to my race but now, I can’t recall the last time I felt that way. Several years ago I had a racial disconnect. I just completely stopped identifying myself by any race. I won’t check a box on a form or I’ll choose other if I “have” to choose one. I perceive people’s interactions with me based on our encounter- my demeanor, if I smiled at them, the way I interacted with them. I’ve made it my focus to come from a place of kindness at all times (I’m not always successful, I’m human!) but I have noticed that it’s changed the way I interpret people’s motives and interactions with me. Is there racism out there? Of course! My reality is that I choose to find another reason that someone was rude to me or treated me unkindly and I take that as an opportunity to improve myself. This has really helped me personally because I don’t have a victim mentality or see myself at a disadvantage because of my color or my sex. I also don’t dwell on the interaction or let it bring me down.

        I did have reservations about having mixed race children when I was pregnant with my oldest (going on 8). I had my racial disconnect between my oldest and my 18 month old. While this quote isn’t about race, it has become my mantra for parenting that I apply in almost every situation- “It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.” From that I find the strength, courage and perspective to do the best that I can because as you said, there’s no escaping it but there is a chance to do something to change it. <3

      2. This is great Niki. I admire your approach, from a vain appreciation of the fact that I have done the same haha.

        As I said, I come from a culture where these same ills occur regardless of race, so while in America, when slighted I look to other reasons as to why something did or did not happen, or why someone reacted a certain way.

        I don’t know that I agree we shouldn’t toughen the kids though. Can’t say I remember my parents toughening me up, but mom certainly went out of her way to make sure I knew what I was in for in the real world. She prepared me for adulthood, rather than any specific prejudice. Maybe I learned the toughness on my own?

        But I’ve noticed that the not so tough ones are the ones who become jaded and eventually a part of the problem, while the toughened kind are best able to withstand the obstacles from going against the grain to effect change.

        In any case, your situation is different from my own, and unique, because you and your family and your life is unique. I’m sure you’ve done what’s best for you and yours, and that you’re an amazing mom!

      3. I knew someone growing up that had the kindest most gentle heart I knew. As they got older their heart hardened and it always seemed like such a loss to the world to me. To see this person completely change because their kindness was taken as a weakness and they didn’t have the tools at the time to realize otherwise. I see that same heart in my daughter and I don’t want her see her lose it and want to help her preserve it. Pain is apart of life so I know I can’t protect her from it but I can help her learn how to manage it. Maybe that’s why that quote speaks to me so loudly…I guess when I read that quote and I look at my daughter to me it means not expecting or encouraging her to be less kind than her nature because of the ills of the world. My aim as a parent is to nurture the nature of my kids and give them the best tools I can to equip them to handle life- both the good and the bad. It’s a balance of not sheltering her but not exposing her to things before it’s time. Allowing her room to make her own choices and learn from her experiences instead of obeying commands and hoping she’ll turn out to be an adult that makes good decisions.

        Then this takes my mind back to the conversation we initially had and makes me wonder what’s considered strong. If someone is more gentle, kind and empathetic does that make them not tough? I’m thinking out loud here 🙂 I think it boils down to character. Personally I’ve always had very strong character. My personality has become more soft over the past couple of years but the strength of my character remains the same. I go about things in a nicer more considerate way without seeing circumstances through the negative lense I did before but I didn’t become weaker because of it. Before I was what society usually considers strong, now I’m more gentle in my ways but still made of the same experiences and character.

        Anyway sorry for the long comment, I let myself get carried away in my thoughts.

      4. Well I think of tough and hard in different ways.

        Me, being toughened, I’ve withstood the evils without becoming jaded as a result of it.

        Maybe your daughter will have that toughness rather than a hardened heart.

      5. Interesting perspective, thanks for sharing that <3 So the way I interpret that quote is with the intention of her not being hardened 🙂

  4. Culture, like race is an artificial construct. It doesn’t exist per se. Like cargo cults worship things that fell from an airplane or washed up on a beach, so-called black culture-and those who consider it appropriated- worship whatever crap falls out of Hollywood.

    1. I can’t say I agree with that. Jamaican culture is very different from American culture, Black or white.

      Our history and collective socialisation and even political situations define our different cultures and subcultures. But I don’t believe it should be ‘owned’ by anyone or used to divide us.

      Thanks for commenting though and adding your honest opinion to the discussion.

      1. I’m glad you disagree! Agreement is so ordinary-AND if we agreed from the outset, we would be ‘creating a culture of agreement’!

        But I was speaking to the well known trope that no one definition of culture exists for any meaningful period of time. Definitions and symbols are both fluid in meaning and context.

        So, in the end, as you noted, culture is defined politically. I wonder: who were the native inhabitants of Jamaica? What do they define as culture?

      2. Ah yes, disagreement is healthy. Or so I believe. So many people believe otherwise.

        I studied sociology in college and have a pretty good memory so I grasp what you’re saying with regards to that. I loved sociology. Did you study it as well?

        The native Jamaicans were killed by Spaniards. It’s one of the most complete cases of genocide in the Americas. They were called Arawaks. Since they pretty much all died before the Blacks came, I don’t think any of their culture survived unfortunately.

      3. Ahhh the Arawak. Now I remember. Speaking of ‘culture’- did rhe spanish kill them off or….were they Moroccans who had assimiliated and appropriated genocide- after colombus appropriated Catholiscism…?. Lol…culture is a quaint rather simplistic notion.

        Yeah-I studied sociology, psych, culture studies and then bastard child of all of these biased propaganda laden fields: journalism.

        I came to believe that its all a vast collusion of propagandists working in different fields for the same purpose of social control via divide and conquer (as we see clearly in the Timberlake example where two guts who essentially look alike are pitted in the propaganda stream as nemesis via arbitrary construct).

        But I do love the discourse, and its power.

      4. The Spaniards killed them off. I remember because I remember they did it for sport, and many of the gruesome ways they did it. Like setting rabid dogs on the Arawaks, and chasing them with horses to see who could cut a head of clean with one swipe first. After the Indians were all dead, then they brought in indentured labourers, and when those weren’t ‘good enough’ they turned to slaves.

        I do believe that it’s all propaganda, but I don’t think it’s all a unified purpose. Just click=bait, sensational headlines, etc. I think different governments do manipulate the media though for different purposes – Russia, China, and America especially. Just part of politics, I guess.

      5. Aaaaah. Indentured servants….clever term in our era. Muck like ‘contract labor’= prison laborer toiling for pennies in todays American gulags. A self perpetuating model: ‘ well, he’s a criminal, but at least he has a job!’

        Never mind that prison rape, solitary confinement have replaced the lash, or that the prison guards of today employ dozens of sadistic tricks to enforce prison terror by inmate upon inmate crimes-and the lack of humane ‘rehabilitation’ opportunities don’t exist; nor even the smell of a field by a forest on a summers day. Even slaves had that.

        The indentured of that era suffer from todays short memory and the continuing politically expedient shorthand for divide and conquer- ‘whites were indentured, but blacks were slaves.’

        And so the logic follows that prisoners today have it better than slaves and so on.

        I am less worried about Spaniards 500 years ago than how they have built a black middle class that is current on BET but clueless about hoW catholics and jews collaborated to build ISIS- which actually uses slaves today. AND occasionally boils them aluve and so on.

      6. BTW- I think this aplies to the case here: ” In a way, culture substitutes itself to life, in another way culture uses and transforms life to realize a synthesis of a higher order. – Claude Levi Strauss”

        Put another way, we see cultural figures assuming agency to effect transformational narrative.

      7. Yes, it’s almost like the chicken before the egg scenario. Which comes first? Is it culture making/deciding life experiences, or life experiences making culture?

      8. Aaaaah. Indentured servants….clever term in our era. Muck like ‘contract labor’= prison laborer toiling for pennies in todays American gulags. A self perpetuating model: ‘ well, he’s a criminal, but at least he has a job!’

        Never mind that prison rape, solitary confinement have replaced the lash, or that the prison guards of today employ dozens of sadistic tricks to enforce prison terror by inmate upon inmate crimes-and the lack of humane ‘rehabilitation’ opportunities don’t exist; nor even the smell of a field by a forest on a summers day. Even slaves had that.

        The indentured of that era suffer from todays short memory and the continuing politically expedient shorthand for divide and conquer- ‘whites were indentured, but blacks were slaves.’

        And so the logic follows that prisoners today have it better than slave

      9. Well, I don’t think it’s fair to compare slavery to prison as equals. Blacks did not choose to be slaves. Prisoners (in most cases) committed crimes that landed them in jail. They knew what jail/prison was like before they got there, but still made life choices that took them down that potential road. Also the rape and gang wars are usually perpetrated by other prisoners, not so much their “masters”. Slaves were not so “fortunate”. As my dad says, “That sounds like a personal problem.”

        White indentured labourers did work hard back then, and were rewarded with wages and then a plot of land for themselves at the end of a term, usually about 3 to 5 years I think. Plantation owners realised that if they kept hiring indentured labourers they wouldn’t have any farmland left so free labour became more cost effective. Thus, I don’t think it’s fair to compare slavery to indentured labour on equal grounds either.

      10. A great case study in propaganda combining with differential power to create culture- and acting thereby to create a sideshow masking the freal cultural issues- is the BLM movement struggling to raise awareness against the backdrop of historical racist privileged narrative.

        The ‘culture’ we are told we have is a black versus white narrative but in fact it is one of the powerless against the powerful; the real issue is our corrupt policing institution and the historical place it has in murdering targeted speakers and community organizers of all races and tribes.

        And the powerful are winning because people are using its racist terms, taking the little carrot on the stick, instead of overcoming the false cultural narrative.

      11. Agreed, and that’s why in this article I questioned why people were not more concerned with the bigger problem of police brutality, as opposed to just cases where the victims were Black.

  5. I keep telling myself as I read each post you write, I will like it and just leave it like that as I have other things I’m currently procrastinating to do. Then I start reading, and I’m enthralled by your posts.

    You do an excellent job of engaging the reader. Side note: Your blog has a just one more way of things in my opinion. I will be like, okay I’ll read just one more post, then I go down to the next post and I’m like, just one more.

    Keep up the amazing work! 🙂

    Cheers! ^_^

    1. Thank you so much! I’ve fallen into that rabbit hole with other blogs, and I’m glad (sorry haha) that I have the same effect on others.

      Thanks again!

  6. If this were a mixtape of sorts I’d definitely be playing it loud!! This post is on point. I didn’t see anything wrong with Justin’s tweets but I did find the replies to it very negative and some uncalled for. I didn’t watch BET Awards either but thanks to a friend tagging me in a full version of the speech I did see it. I think Jesse Williams is a very attractive man & seems quite the humanitarian. That being said, he spoke and received attention but while I agreed with some things he said there were other chunks of his speech I didn’t agree with at all. I did appreciated him mentioning Tamir Rice a day after his would be birthday. The day after, I saw the Jesse Williams Appreciation Day which was a bit excessive especially since others have said similar things. I feel like Black people can be fickle sometimes (it pains me to even think about and actually write that) picking and choosing what is “acceptable” and what isn’t. Sometimes they’re contradictory. Which annoys me.

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