Soulbounce Asks “How Can Justin Timberlake Still Objectify Black Women And Get Away With It?”

by Latoya Peterson

Reader Crash Happy tipped me to this provocative article published on SoulBounce, asking “How Can Justin Timberlake Still Objectify Black Women and Get Away with It?

Contributing editor Ro writes:

Someone please explain why Justin Timberlake continually gets a pass to fetishize and exploit the image of Black women. Right now. Because after watching him aggressively pulling on a chain wrapped around Ciara’s neck only to later use her bending body as a leaning post in her new video for “Love Sex Magic,” it’s getting ludicrously difficult to understand.

It been years since “Nipplegate” after which he distanced himself from Janet Jackson, cowardly allowing her to endure the overly harsh criticism alone. The outcry against his actions from those of us in the indignant minority was quickly overshadowed by an increase in album sales, multiple music awards and an increase in his Pop stardom miming Black music and culture. Instead of subjecting his next project with trepidation–let alone dismissal–nearly every “urban” club, radio station and music channel on the planet had the masses bumping to a song with a hook that’s about shackles, whipping and slavery.

From behind a wry smile and with his hair faded he actually tarnished a reigning, Black Pop star’s image arguably beyond repair by exposing her breast on national television and then built his street cred further by bringing sexy back, Middle Passage style. He’s transitioned from the post-racialist’s pop culture dream of somewhat harmlessly lusting after beautiful Black love interest in the video for “Like I Love You” into something more sinister. He uses the scapegoat of S&M edginess in which he is the aggressor, the dominant force, to subordinate his object of desire when she is Black.

Ro goes on to argue that while both Ciara and Janet Jackson chose to collaborate with Timberlake, “that just makes his ability to exploit their collaborations to the point that they are subjugated to his dominance, wittingly or not, more protestable.”

The comments over at SoulBounce were as provocative and engaging as the post. Here are a few of the choice ones:

You talk about JT “miming Black music and culture,” but until we get away from this insular view of racial ownership of culture (and a type of music) we will never be an integrated society. By making him out to be an imposter because he borrows from hip-hop and collaborates with black women (although his last popular single was with Madonna), aren’t you singling him out soley for the color of his skin and not the content of his musical product? That seems like precisely the kind of thing we are trying to get away from as a country.
Luce | March 25, 2009 5:02 PM | Permalink

I guess a black woman can’t express their sexuality with it being considered some kind of objectification. I’m not interested in seeing this time of video ALL the time, but it’s one kind of video. Ciara’s been doing this since the beginning of her career. Let’s face it, her voice is not the reason why she has a career. All of her videos follow the same MO. She’s up there with Britney Spears in that aspect. I’m not sure why this is a JT thing and he’s objectifying Black women. As for her being treated like a prositute in the video? I didn’t see JT handin’ her any money. People express their sexuality in different ways. It’s not always the vanilla type of thing. We look at Ciara being objectified, but how did we view Madonna in her Human Nature music video?
kidadank | March 25, 2009 4:39 PM | Permalink

t’s not just Justin. Look at how many black rappers and singers objectify women in their videos! The problem as I see it is w/ these women not demanding more and lowering their standards for a pay check. The industry isn’t going to change if women keep allowing this. Justin could’ve never treated Ciara like a whore in her video if she hadn’t allowed it. She didn’t seem to have any problem being pulled on a chain and bending over for him. So, I don’t blame JT. I blame the women who allow themselves to be exploited this way.
SistaSouljah | March 25, 2009 2:39 PM | Permalink

Its interesting seeing everyone mention Hip-Hop in a discussion that really doesn’t have anything to do with it. To me, injecting black men and Hip-Hop into this debate is similar to when Don Imus did it a year back. We can look at things holistically, or we could focus on the actual topic at hand.

I am glad SB brought up this topic. I have noticed that there has been a trend with Timberlake recently where he collaborates almost exclusively with Black women. However, I think there are ulterior motives on both ends. For Timberlake, he is trying to regain his “ghetto pass”. Although the last album proved he doesn’t really need it to sell well, I think he views these collaborations as opportunities to re-establish his fan base within the black community. For Beyonce, Rihanna, and Ciara (and T.I for that matter), collaborating with white “pop royalty” only increases the visibility of their projects to the mainstream media. What’s unfortunate here is that POPULAR black artist still feel the need to work with a popular white artists to increase their appeal. As for the video, although I think the video unintentionally conjures racist imagery (which is more due to the creative license of Diane Martel, Ciara, and her team), I think it is more than a coincidence that Justin has managed to work with three of the most popular black women in music right now in just the last few months. Its without a doubt exploitation, just not in the way this article suggests.
0731 | March 25, 2009 1:44 PM | Permalink

I can see this point from both sides. however, i think in this case it more about the ills of a patriarchal society then it is about race. It’s less about a black wouman and more about the treatment of women in general.

Yes, it is a problem that when black women are with “others”: They are deemed to be more exotic and sexual. Therefore, more able and willing to be objectified. But, when we do it to our own women it sets the stage. ” They treat their women that way, I guess we can, too” On all fronts we have to do better.

All and all this is a great article and definitley food for thought.
Thank you.
phyaflyjones | March 25, 2009 11:07 AM | Permalink

“Yes, Ciara is grown and autonomous. So is Janet. But that just makes his ability to exploit their collaborations to the point that they are subjegated to his dominance, wittingly or not, more protestable. ”

That statement makes absolutely no sense. Sure, I could do without the tired sexsexsex tactic of this video, and there is something to be said about the objectification of women in videos. But how is this Justin Timberlake’s responsibility? It’s Ciara’s video. Didn’t she approve the concept? Didn’t her people ask him to be on the track? Didn’t she give it her stamp of approval? And while it was kinda cold of him to distance himself from Janet following Nipplegate, well, that’s the harsh reality of the entertainment industry. Everybody’s looking out for their own career. And please don’t trivialize the Middle Passage and the exploitation of our ancestors by tying it to the choices of pop stars.
EDP | March 24, 2009 9:14 PM | Permalink

i neglected to answer the pass question in my first comment.

i think timberlake gets a pass because the lines between “black music” and “white music” (or pop and R&B) have blurred and melted into each other. once timbaland and the neptunes started producing everything and blurring genres, what was “insider” versus “outsider” (inside hip-hop/R&B versus not) changed a bit.

jay-z filmed a video in monaco with danica patrick and was a budweiser spokesman. dale ernhardt jr had a black bandaid under the left headlight of his car when left eye died. justin timberlake appeared on 106 & Park and did collaborations with T.I. and beyonce. our pop music scene has become more integrated and JT is now an insider/cool kid member of this heavily black, but multi-racial and multi-ethnic, genre-bending club.

in other words justin timberlake now gets the same pass as r. kelly because they’re making music for (arguably) the same audience.

as cecily said: that it happens at all is more of a problem, IMO. although i don’t think ciara is objectified here; at no point does she become decoration.
tiffany | March 24, 2009 4:11 PM | Permalink

Clearly, I need to be reading more SoulBounce.

At any rate, the whole conversation got me thinking about race, music, sexuality, imagery, and consent. Now we’ve had conversations on these types of topics before. Back in 2007, Carmen asked “Should White People Make Black Music?” In her piece, she noted some of the conversations cropping up around Amy Winehouse and Joss Stone, and wondered:

Are white soul singers given more exposure because they’re seen as novelty acts? Are record executives pushing black soul singers to be more explicitly sexual? Is it an act of cultural appropriation for a white person to sing soul or R&B music?

Carmen then followed up with a piece about how Lauren of the now-defunct blog Stereohyped argued against the assertion that Amy Winehouse’s drug addiction was “a familiar black stereotype.” So, there was already this idea of mixing music in with stereotypes and assigning that to race.

In 2008, Tami debated if cultural appropriation was an homage or an insult, pointing again to Amy Winehouse:

A black person might feel flattered at what appears to be Winehouse’s deep appreciation for “race music.” One might be grateful that the pop artist seeks inspiration frm African American culture and pays tribute through her style to too-easily forgotten women like Ma Rainey and Mamie Smith. I might feel that Winehouse was executing an homage to my culture, had the addled chanteuse not been caught on video singing racist slurs to the melody of the kids’ rhyme “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes.”

So, what to think of Winehouse’s appropriation in that light? It seems that a love of pulsing beats and from-the-gut singing does not translate into love and respect for the people that birthed the genre.

Which leads us back to what Ro from Soulbounce argued in her piece: if a white musician is performing in a historically black genre, and trades his reputation upon sexualized images of black women, should we allow this to go on without remark? Is Timberlake so successful because he plays into this well-established imagery of white dominance over the black form and of male dominance over the female form?

Or, is it as many Soulbounce commenters say, where the racial lines of entertainment have blurred long ago, and that these types of acts have become uncoupled with their former racial legacy? Is it possible that Ciara’s video should be examined through the lens of gender and patriarchy, and not race?

I’ll open the floor to you, readers. What are your thoughts?

Update: Silly me, I hadn’t watched the [NSFW] video before I posted this. And OMG – I think I’ll need to call out our sexual correspondent for this one. Reminds me of a conversation I just had with Marisol LeBron about the policing of sexuality in hip-hop culture. More on that in a bit! -LDP