Justin Timberlake apologises for his response to Jesse Williams' powerful speech.

On Sunday night, Grey’s Anatomy actor and social activist Jesse Williams was given a humanitarian award at the BET awards. His acceptance speech, in which he called out cultural appropriation, racism and police brutality, was perhaps the most powerful award acceptance speech I’ve ever seen.

Williams called out white America for “extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil-black gold; ghettoising and demeaning our creations then stealing them.”

It was an incredibly powerful moment in the broadcast. People in the building and those watching at home were moved, and millions of people took to Twitter to express their feelings on the speech.

Among them was Justin Timberlake, who tweeted about how inspired he was by Williams’ speech.

However, it soon became clear the pop star might have completely missed the point. 

Writer Ernest Owens quickly called Timberlake out for being a huge part of the cultural appropriation Williams was talking about:


To which Timberlake replied:

The reality is, Justin Timberlake doesn’t know what it’s like to experience racism or cultural appropriation. Justin Timberlake doesn’t know what it’s like to be black.

Yes, his intentions were good. Yes, he was trying to say that we’re all people and that race doesn’t matter, but by saying that “we are all one” he is completely missing the point of Williams’ speech. Because no matter how good Timberlake’s intentions, society does not treat everyone the same.

Unsurprisingly, the tone-deaf remarks of a man who has made a living from emulating black culture did not go over well on Twitter.


Eventually Timberlake returned to Twitter to add:


Before apologising:

Look, I get it.

I’m a white woman living in the United States and I was moved by Williams’ speech as well, but there is a difference between empathy and understanding. I empathise with the black struggle, but in no way do I dare to say I understand it or that it doesn’t exist.

It’s easy to forget the realities of the world when you’re not faced with them every day, but Williams’ words are a poignant reminder for anyone willing to listen.

Featured image: Getty images/iStock