On Justin Timberlake: How Black Twitter Gets It Wrong

Anyone who was paying attention to Black Twitter during Justin Timberlake’s Superbowl LII halftime performance would be under the belief that the totality of black Americans were singularly against him because of his treatment of Janet Jackson in Superbowl XXXVIII. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

It appears as though many who participate in the syndicate of black social media have chosen to hold a public trial for Timberlake alleging crimes of cultural appropriation since the statute of limitations has run out on charging him with the death of Jackson’s career.

The popes of Black Twitter issue their bull and the cardinals and lay members fell in line. There is very little room for public dissent lest the heretic be accused of running afoul of some gnostic rule of intersectionality only known to the popes themselves.

Black Twitter, a metonymy for the syndicate of black social and digital media production inclusive of social media networks, has succumbed to the same fate facing the rest of the country. Taking modern-day sensibilities and retroactively applying them events of the past. This tactic works with large scale events such as slavery and women’s rights because there were always abolitionists and women’s rights get traced back to antebellum days as well. However, this tactic falls flat when using social and digital media platforms to promote a biased narrative using a post-Ferguson and post-Trump sensibility around race and gender.

It is problematic to re-litigate Timberlake all over again using cultural norms that didn’t exist in 2004. While the underlying sentiments may have been true then, the cultural machine of social media didn’t exist and the power to so easily shape and mold narratives was just a figment of one’s imagination. Even after Jackson went on Oprah in 2006 and discussed how hurtful the incident was, the masses of black Americans weren’t all that worried about Jackson’s career when Timberlake released what many consider to be his classic album in 2013: “The 20/20 Experience.” The track “Suit and Tie” was released as a single with a major feature from Jay-Z and received critical acclaim and major air time on hip-hop and R&B stations nationwide.

What’s most annoying is that so many during halftime so many watched Timberlake and tweeted their distaste for it as if standing in solidarity with Jackson. Many opined that the performance was lackluster and words likes “yawn” and “snoozefest” were found up and down my timeline. The cognitive dissonance of the moment was best summed up in a Facebook comment that said “It was a great performance, but it just didn’t do anything for me.”

If Black Twitter’s only recourse to taking down Timberlake is through contrived hashtags and a re-sharing think-pieces attacking his musicality then the syndicate of black digital production is trite and petty and lacks the intellectual force needed to combat serious issues of misogyny and racism that exist in our country. Given the prevalence of fake news cobbled together by alternative facts by right-wing media outlets, Black Twitter’s rewriting of history to fit a current narrative is just as egregious. It illuminates the intellectual rot that has beset our public discourse as a country. How can we have open and honest discussions if the rules of engagement are decided in a secret conclave?

This is the new Black American landscape for millennials and those who consider themselves part of the Tide pod generation born after 2000; a world where ideological tribalism plays itself out on a digital stage and discards it before week’s end as the news cycle fixates itself on a new “problem.” Black Twitter only seems to find its relevancy when its “dragging” someone at the expense of intellect and thoughtfulness. Absurdly, this was the case when it came to the fallout between Ta-Nehesi Coates and Cornel West. For some this is a new form of entertainment, for me it’s just sad.

Unfortunately, Black Twitter has found a way to make black culture beholden to the next trending hashtag rather than substantive arguments and critique. Until the adherents of Black Twitter find a way to unravel the Gordian knot of inconsistencies and its orientation of anti-intellectualism, the future of black digital culture is in peril.


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