Justin Timberlake ignited a social media storm on Sunday after tweeting about a moving speech delivered by Grey’s Anatomy actor Jesse Williams at the 2016 BET Awards.
The 35-year-old singer sent out a string of apology tweets after facing backlash for writing that he was “#inspired” by Williams’ moving speech at the award show in which he spoke out about racial issues, social justice and cultural appropriation.
“I apologize to anyone that felt I was out of turn,” he tweeted. “I have nothing but LOVE FOR YOU AND ALL OF US –JT”
It wasn’t Timberlake’s initial tweet that outraged many on the social media site as much as it was his response to a particular critique in which one tweeter wrote, “So does this mean you’re going to stop appropriating our music and culture? And apologize to Janet too. #BETAwards.”
RELATED: BET Awards 2016: Red Carpet Arrivals
The tweet referenced Timberlake’s and Janet Jackson’s controversial Super Bowl Halftime show performance in 2004 in which Timberlake pulled off a section of Jackson’s dress, accidentally leaving one of her breasts exposed.
Williams received the Humanitarian Award at the ceremony for his efforts to raise awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, 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,” he said in the speech.
“Ghettoizing and demeaning our creations, then stealing them, gentrifying our genius, then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit. The thing is though, just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.”
In response, the “Can’t Stop the Feeling” singer wrote, “Oh, you sweet soul. The more you realize that we are the same, the more we can have a conversation. Bye.”
The message only fueled the fire, with other social media users urging Timberlake to acknowledge his privilege and use his platform to speak about social issues.
“Go ahead be inspired, but you have a platform to speak up on issues that affect the cultures you’re appropriating,” one tweeter wrote.
Another tweeted: “If ‘we’ are the ‘same’, why is it that you have been so successful and black R&B singers struggle to sell? You ain’t that good.”
Timberlake soon tweeted that he “shouldn’t have responded,” and noted that he feels “misunderstood.”
“I feel misunderstood. I responded to a specific tweet that wasn’t meant to be a general response. I shouldn’t have responded anyway …” he wrote.
He added: “I forget this forum sometimes … I was truly inspired by @iJesseWilliams speech because I really do feel that we are all one … A human race.”
The social media storm didn’t end with Timberlake’s apology, though. His tweets sparked a Twitter discussion with some slamming Timberlake, some defending him and others wondering just what the singer did wrong.
“Literally don’t see what Justin Timberlake did that was so wrong. Point it out to me please. This is not sarcasm, by the way,” one tweet read.
Another user condemned those criticizing Timberlake, calling the backlash an overreaction.
“I know the Jesse Williams speech got everybody racially sensitive right now,” the Twitter user wrote. “But y’all reaching with this Justin Timberlake outrage.”
Radio personality and MTV star Charlamagne tha God, co-host of Power 105.1’s The Breakfast Club, weighed in on the controversy, posting an Instagram photo of Martin Luther King Jr. and a quote about speaking out amid social issues.
“But y’all mad at Justin Timberlake because he chose not to be silent??? SMH,” he wrote.
“I don’t find Justin Timberlake’s comments to be offensive,” another person tweeted. “He has an equality point of view which is what everyone should aim for. #JT”
However, many were eager to explain just why Timberlake’s tweets were offensive – and make him the subject of several memes.
“Justin Timberlake pulled that ‘we are all one race’ card and people called him out on it. It’s that simple,” one person explained.
Another wrote that Timberlake deserved the backlash: “Justin Timberlake deserves the dragging for that colorblind view of racial equality.”
“Justin Timberlake has never spoken on black issues not one time ever,” one tweet read. “Wouldn’t even defend [black women] for His mistake. Ally … Where? How?”