A Philadelphia-based journalist involved in a controversial Twitter exchange with pop superstar Justin Timberlake over a speech at Sunday night's BET Awards, is speaking out about the widespread reaction.
Ernest Owens, an editor for Philadelphia Magazine's G Philly, writer for the Huffington Post, and a former NBC10 intern, said he was on Twitter Sunday night following actor Jesse Williams' Humanitarian Award acceptance speech at the 2016 BET Awards. That's when Owens said he saw Timberlake's tweet on the speech.
"@iJesseWilliams tho... #Inspired #BET2016," the 35-year-old Grammy winner tweeted.
After Timberlake’s tweet Owens responded, “So does this mean you’re going to stop appropriating our music and culture? And apologize to Janet too. #BETAwards.”
Owens was referring to the 2004 Super Bowl performance with Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson in which the singer accidentally flashed Jackson’s breast on stage. Many have argued that Jackson's career never recovered as a result of the scandal while Timberlake's career continued to soar.
Owens told NBC10 he remembers his parents discussing the Janet Jackson incident.
"It was one of the first times in my youth seeing the power of privilege in mainstream entertainment," Owens said. "Had he been a black male and the female Taylor Swift the blame would have been on the black man. Then as I got older and started studying more I began to question what gives this guy the audacity?”
Timberlake responded back to Owens' tweet by saying, "Oh, you sweet soul. The more you realize that we are the same, the more we can have a conversation. Bye.”
Timberlake’s response only created more responses and Owens' words have since gone viral igniting conversation throughout the twitter world.
“There was a moment where I felt like there was an opportunity to speak," Owens said. "I am a conscious content creator so talking about these issues is second nature for me. I don’t think he realized the following I had and he tried to dismiss me with a tweet."
Timberlake eventually apologized, tweeting, “I feel misunderstood. I responded to a specific tweet that wasn't meant to be a general response. I shouldn't have responded anyway...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. I apologize to anyone that felt I was out of turn. I have nothing but LOVE FOR YOU AND ALL OF US. - JT."
Owens told NBC10 he was surprised not only that Timberlake responded to him but also by the massive social media reaction the exchange sparked.
“Yesterday was the first time where Justin Timberlake was in the middle of a major controversy because of his remarks," Owens said. "Never in my lifetime would I have thought I would have been a part of one of the biggest controversies with one of the biggest pop stars."
Followers on both Timberlake’s and Owens' side began to defend each individual.
“His fans were saying very racist things like he has done more for your people than you have," Owens said. "Then my followers started to chime in more and the conversation changed. The dynamic changed and people realized that they had something to say.”
Cultural appropriation was one of the topics Williams touched on during his acceptance speech.
"We’re done watching, and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us," Williams said. "Burying black people out of sight and out of mind, while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil — black gold. Ghettoizing and demeaning our creations then stealing them. Gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit."
Owens told NBC10 he believes Timberlake learned a valuable lesson following the controversy.
“I think at the end of the day Justin Timberlake learned something and he stands for an example for so many other artists," Owens said. "I hope my message transcends various platforms, not just the music industry but also Hollywood. I am happy I broke the internet in a more intellectual way. I made Justin Timberlake trend not because of a new music video or song but because his privilege was checked.”
Note: Zach Johnson of E News contributed to this report.