Janet Jackson & White Mediocrity
Taylor Swift is to white supremacy what Justin Timberlake is to white mediocrity. I said that to a friend over the phone during the Super Bowl and she almost choked to death on her water. I didn’t say that as an attempt to drag Justin, his lackluster performance, and his Duck Dynasty inspired Over the River and Through the Woods suit, but as a statement of the facts. He is mediocre, and it is this mediocrity that has allowed him to flourish after the 2004 Super Bowl, while Janet Jackson’s career almost drowned in a sea of humiliation and shame.
I remember the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show vividly. I was sitting in my parent’s bedroom on the floor watching the show. I danced and sang along to all the songs, and at that point, I was a huge JT fan. "Justified" was, and unfortunately is, still one of my favorite albums, so I was geeked that Janet was going to bring him out to perform “Rock Your Body.”
And then came the part, “I’ll have you naked by the end of this song.”
I watched in shock as Justin ripped off a piece of Janet’s bodice and exposed her naked breast. In the days after that, Janet was blacklisted from the music and entertainment industry, forced to apologize on live television, and subsequently silenced. Her album was practically tanked by her own music label. She was forced to pay fines, throw herself onto the altar and sacrifice everything she had while Justin escaped unscathed. Janet was forced to endure verbal abuse from every corner of the Earth, as society used her sexuality as a weapon to condemn her, while Justin could go to the Grammy’s the next weekend and crack jokes about it.
Janet was crucified for a physical violation of her body that was not of her own free will, and that’s not okay. However, I did not fully comprehend the vilification of Janet until years later.
As I grew older, I didn’t think much about the incident. Janet faded in and out of the spotlight while Justin grew to his full fuckboy potential. It wasn’t until this year, when it was announced that he would be this year’s Super Bowl halftime performer, that I really started to think about how all of this really affected Janet Jackson. A spirit of anger manifested in myself at the entire situation, our patriarchal fucking society, and, especially, Justin Timberlake. Justin being invited to perform at the Super Bowl brought on so many questions:
Why was she forced to apologize for something traumatizing that happened to her? She didn’t expose her own breast!
Why was she made to take the blame for something that wasn’t really her fault?
Why didn’t Justin stand up and take the blame for his part in the situation?
Why did it take him 14 damn years to address it?
We all know why, but it's still disgusting to see how much easier it was for him to hide behind Janet than acknowledge his role in the incident.
Justin Timberlake waited 14 years to show fake contrition in the form of mumbled offhand remarks like “I got my wires crossed,” and “I stumbled through it,” because we allowed him to do so. It’s only evident that he made these comments now because he knew he couldn’t make it to Super Bowl Sunday without saying something about the incident. So, instead of making offhand jokes, he chose to give us these cheap one liners and his reassurance that he had made peace with Janet in an effort to make it to that Pepsi halftime stage without being eviscerated by the public. This true lack of remorse and the unmitigated audacity of him to walk into that stadium singing “Rock Your Body” shows that Justin Timberlake has learned nothing, and he does not care to learn anything. He does not want to be a better person because he is fine being a mediocre and privileged white man.
Black women are held up as the shields for society on the battlefield. We are expected to take the brunt of the punishment for things both in and out of our control and accept it as our lot in life. We are also expected to clean up problems and mistakes from mediocre people while they act completely oblivious to the destruction they’ve caused. We are expected to be the world’s Molly the Maid. It happens every day in the workplace, and it certainly happened to Janet Jackson.
We can easily be erased from history if it directly contributes to the success of a white person. We’ve seen this time and time again. If we’re being fair about the entire situation, Justin should have been blacklisted as widely as Janet was, but he wasn’t. He was allowed to perform at one of the most coveted events again, but we know that Janet will NEVER be allowed to grace another Super Bowl stage.
She will not be allowed the redemption that she so rightly deserves, and my heart breaks for her because that's how patriarchy and misogyny work. Too many black women will not be afforded the same opportunity because it is inconvenient to our society, and it would force white people to admit to their own mediocrity and the fact that they are NOT all that and a bag of chips.
I was proud on Sunday when I woke up to the hashtag #JanetJacksonAppreciationDay. It gave the world something else to talk about except what happened in 2004. Twitter users everywhere talked about how she overcame, and how she deserved to be on that stage right now, and not Justin. At first, I said I didn’t want to see the halftime show unless he decided to bring out Janet, but I realize now that Janet is beyond that. Why should she lower herself to perform with someone who is clearly not on her level? And besides the 2004 incident, he has Justin Timberlake has several questionable opportunistic incidences he needs to answer for, while Janet overcame one of the biggest obstacles and most traumatizing events in her life.
He doesn’t deserve to breathe the same air as her, and #JanetJacksonAppreciationDay proved that!
Black women have a responsibility to uplift each other through the good and bad times, and we did not do that for Janet Jackson. It's time for us to admit that we failed Janet. We didn’t defend her like we should have. We left her to the wolves in very much the same way that Justin did, and even if we did realize our mistake and decide to support her actively and loudly years later, our behavior, collectively, was not acceptable. We cannot allow what happened to Janet to happen to any Black woman ever again. We must be each other’s champions and each other’s first line of defense. We must not allow them to erase us from history for their own convenience because they will do it if we allow them to do so.
Black women, we cannot afford to be silent.
Let's also stop apologizing for white mediocrity. Even as I type this message, Sheila E. is apologizing for causing a "distraction" and taking away from Justin's performance. I have never been more confused in my entire life. What is she apologizing for? Making sure that her dear friend's wishes were honored?
Maybe Justin just needs to accept that his performance was lackluster because he is lackluster. We all know it would've been trash even if Sheila E. hadn't said anything. It's not her fault, and it certainly isn't our fault when white people fail to live up to other's expectations. (Notice: I didn't say that they fail to live up their own expectations because in their own mind, they are exceeding those expectations and it's only when they don't receive the reaction that they think they should that they consider it a failure). White people, especially white men such as Justin, don't accept responsibility for their own shortcomings because they can use their privilege to rest it on others. We don't have to apologize for their poor performances, lack of development, and overall trash behavior. We are not to blame for any of those things so let's stop taking that upon ourselves and focus on ways that we, as black women, can continue to rise above white mediocrity and shine in our daily lives.