Justin Timberlake's Eligibility To Perform At The Super Bowl Is The Perfect Example Of White Male Privilege
By: Imani McGill
Here’s what we know.
It’s 2017, we have a rabid Cheeto in the White House, women are still fighting heavily against blatant and subliminal double standards and Justin Timberlake is doing…the halftime show…for Super Bowl LII? Go figure. In many ways this feels like the National Football League’s desperate attempt to try and get Americans to act like America isn’t currently a hotbed of racial and cultural hate and opposition.
This is done, of course, without any actual strides made to get to the root of America’s problems. It’s as if the Super bowl LII half time show committee sat around the boardroom saying “Who’s a white man that everyone knows that isn’t seemingly and exceedingly problematic…who’s one who has apparent ties to the black community but is white enough to make other white people comfortable?” Insert, Justin Timberlake. Like many, in previous years I have belted out many of his songs and watched many of his movies; and enjoyed them, but maybe I missed it…what exactly is JT doing now-days to warrant a Super Bowl invite besides being white, male, rhythmic and not outwardly racist, homophobic, etc.?
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always seen it for JT’s music and onscreen projects. However, I understand what those who sat in a boardroom might have missed; for a lot of African Americans, the JT who was invited to the cook out 5+ years ago is no longer invited…and hasn’t been for a while. If you aren’t one of the many that have canceled Justin, along with his work, at the very least you and I probably come together with our ability to realize and agree that his existence as a RnB/Neo-Soul pop star is problematic.
Along with this problematic aspect of Justin Timberlake stems another, the 2004 Super Bowl XXXVIII infamous wardrobe malfunction, it’s aftermath, and this upcoming Super Bowl half-time show. The Super Bowl half time show is known to either stir up controversy, have a larger than life production or both. Expectedly, the Super Bowl is equally known for being talked about weeks, months, even years after the star has left the stage. But when Ms. Janet Jackson, in all her preforming glory rocked the stage in 2004 no one would have ever anticipating the magnitude of that full frontal nipple exposure by special guest, yours truly, Justin Timberlake. Understanding that Super Bowl’s wardrobe malfunction requires taking a look into what it means to be these two individuals. Janet was the headliner who showed that even though she was getting older, she was just as relevant and sexy as early to mid-20 year olds. Justin was finally shaking away the remaining remnants his Micky Mouse/NSYNC boy-band image and standing on his own. This half time show production should have worked.
Yet Justin’s “I’m going to have you naked by the end of this song” with the words inciting the following action sparked a huge amount of backlash. Primarily against Janet, a black woman, who’s breast said hello to the world probably more reluctantly than the world said hello to it. Justin received some backlash, but it was minimal. We can most definitely accredit this to him being a white man. (Because… America, right?) It’s safe to say that if this had happened in 2017 not much would have followed. People would talk but it would not have caused as nearly as much of an uproar as in ’04. It’s speculation on both sides of the spectrum.
We’ve heard, it was planned. We’ve heard it was totally not planned and we’ve heard a mixture of both, it was planned… but not like that. It’s important to note that she knew that he was going to rip that top article of clothing. It was NOT apart of the initial approved plan to have both the black and red fabric come off to reveal her breast. To what extent did either party know about what would happen during the show prior to it’s happening? No one really knows.
Regardless, we need to speak about what happened following the 2004 Super Bowl. People rushed to do what they always do, blame the victim. More importantly, blame the black woman who happens to be the victim. It was a mistake, a malfunction, we know. But Justin Timberlake, just like those MTV, Grammy and CBS CEOs, failed Janet Jackson.
She was laid bare figuratively and literally. Made to feel shame because the world wanted to encroach on a woman’s autonomous right to cover or free the nipple. However, I digress because that is a deeper issue than Timberlake, Jackson, and networks combined. To get back to the essentials, where was Timberlake when a former MTV CEO tried to demonize Janet by essentially saying it was all her responsibility? Saving face, laying relatively low. Some were more blatant with their shameless victim blaming and others were more lax, they were just trying to appease the people at home while subsequently throwing Jackson to the side.
It was her breast exposed without her consent. She didn’t rip her own blouse, Justin did and for him to not thoroughly and 100% take up for her during that time is unacceptable even years later. It was default to blame her rather than him or the both of them. A classic case of privilege, male and white. He knowingly or unbeknowingly did an action that arguably propelled him even more into stardom while the actual person it effected the most, Janet, had to defend everything she stood for and everything she was as an artist to date. And, of course, Twitter did not forget how the NFL had done wrong by Janet. Amid the Twitter storm, the NFL insisted Jackson is not banned from performing, despite some other inside reports.
Here is another case where a black woman’s body is used over and over to either secretly fetishize and praise/sell her sexy and in the same breath condemn that same sexy when things go awry. Also, we subsequently have another instance of the marginalized having to fight to be seen as just as good, or just as recognized or just as pardoned as those that don’t. Mr. Timberlake did admit in 2006 interview that he could ‘have handled [the backlash] better.’ I’d liken that to him saying he didn’t do all that he could have to alleviate some of the criticism unfairly placed on Janet Jackson. Fast-forward to 2017 and JT is about to take the stage yet again at next year’s halftime show, no matter if you love him or hate him, now is his chance to make completely right what went wrong following that eventful Super Bowl halftime show.
Just so we’re clear, who really deserved blame is Janet’s costume designer for that faulty tear away. All jokes aside, to date, we don’t know if Justin Timberlake has apologized to Ms. Jackson in private. She hasn’t said that he has. I don’t think Justin is a bad guy. To be frank, I think he’s probably a really nice person…a really nice person who needs to apologize for a lack of accountability and action. Don’t worry about Ms. Jackson though, she’s not dwelling too much on that these days. She’s been blessed with a beautiful new baby boy, Eissa Al Mana, is on tour and doesn’t seem upset in the slightest. Her career took a hit but as expected, she rose above.