Is Justin Bieber a poster boy for white privilege? Racist past continues to haunt singer despite fresh start
Despite a pledge to fight hate, Justin Bieber's racist missteps seem to continue to haunt the singer and it begs the question — what would it take for a young pop star to shake their problematic past and start anew?
Bieber's racist past, as well as subsequent missteps along the way, are most notably highlighted in a video he filmed of himself singing a parody version of his song 'One Less Lonely Girl', where the n-word replaces the word 'girl'. In addition, other lyrics are replaced with lines about joining the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and killing black people, something the KKK is notorious for having done in the past. In a separate video, the singer can be heard telling a joke where the n-word is a punchline, which once again features attempted violence against black people.
The singer, who was 14 and 15 years old at the time the videos were filmed, send the videos himself to TMZ, claiming people were threatening to extort him. He also claimed he immediately regretted what he had done and was educated by mentor Usher on the realities of the racism black people in America experience.
Perhaps due to this, the singer largely escaped any real consequences for the content in these videos, to the point that many do not even know they exist. Angered by the videos, one user tweeted, "Oh, you didn’t know your fav pop star Justin Bieber was racist? Let me guess, this is performance art??"
Bieber has, however, been called outs many times over the years from those who have witnessed his racism in the past. Most recently, Ariana Grande fans expressed significant disapproval for her upcoming collaboration with Bieber. Even in the face of opposition, however, the two went ahead and released their song.
When the videos became public, Bieber (then 20) put out a statement that read, "As a kid, I didn't understand the power of certain words and how they can hurt." He continued, "I thought it was okay to repeat hurtful words and jokes, but didn’t realise at the time that it wasn’t funny and that in fact my actions were continuing the ignorance."
The statement also adds that he learned from his mistakes, claiming he apologized in private but now that the videos were made public, he was apologizing again to anyone he had offended. He also called his past deeds "reckless", "immature", and "inexcusable", adding that he hoped his apology would serve to educate others and prevent them from making the same mistakes he did.
Despite his heartfelt apology, however, Bieber once again found himself at the mercy of people accusing him of racism and ignorance. The following year, he defended Kylie Jenner after she courted controversy for sharing an image of her wearing cornrows, a traditionally African hairstyle. Actress and activist Amandla Stenberg called out Jenner in a since-deleted comment, stating, "When u appropriate black features and culture but fail to use ur position of power to help black Americans by directing attention towards ur wigs instead of police brutality or racism #whitegirlsdoitbetter." She later addressed the issue in greater detail via a series of since-deleted tweets about cultural appropriation. Sternberg, who dealt with immense hate following her role in 'Hunger Games', has remained vocal in her fight against racism and has continued to address these as well as several other issues over the years.
Bieber later jumped on Jenner's post to state, "Guys leave her alone, we're all trying to figure it out and she happens to be under a microscope! I'm the first to know this." He continued, "But saying she's being racist because she wants her hair in braids is ridiculous. Lets focus on the bigger picture and instead of fighting over something stupid lets do something about equality, but it doesn't start here blasting a 17-year-old kid for wearing braids smh." The comment caused many to question if the singer understood the issue of cultural appropriation at all, and once again, his past racism resurfaced.
Many have not forgotten this misstep from the singer. A recent tweet read, "Remember when justin bieber and kylie jenner tried to tell a black woman, amandla stenberg, what and what isn't racist? actual pieces of s**t." The user added, "They are both so gross tbh. Plus, Amandla was only 16 at the time and Justin was 21. Sad."
In the years that elapsed between his racist missteps and his commitment to self-growth, Bieber has gone through a host of ordeals. These include an altercation with Orlando Bloom, being charged with driving under the influence, resisting arrest and vandalism in 2014, being arrested and charged with assault and careless driving in 2015, allegedly punching a fan in the face in 2016 and accidentally hitting a paparazzo with his truck in 2017, among many others.
Despite his troubled past, the singer was only arrested once when he spent a night in jail during his 2014 drag racing incident. He paid hefty fines and made donations to charities following his other run-ins with the law. A few charges were dropped due to a lack of conclusive evidence.
More recently, Bieber appears to have turned a new leaf and acknowledges his own racist comments. At the end of 2019, the singer shared an image on his Instagram account that reads, "Stand Against Racism". The caption states, "When I was young I was uneducated and found myself saying really hurtful things not knowing the power of my words. Racism Is still very prevalent and I want to use my voice to remind we are all human being and all of EQUAL VALUE BEFORE GOD! (sic)" In a post shared a few hours prior to this one, Bieber also stated that he was determined to "take ownership of all (his) shortcomings", adding that working on himself was one of his goals during the holiday season.
While the posts do not directly point to which incidents Bieber is talking about, most have connected it to his previous uses of the n-word when he was a teenager.
Since posting about his stance against racism, the singer has spent his time sharing pieces from his clothing line 'Drew', posting photos with wife Hailey and exalting God. He is also releasing new music and has managed to steer clear of any more legal disputes.
But despite his apparent shift from a troubled youth to mature adulthood, many remain unconvinced that Bieber has, in fact, changed for the better. And many more feel he got off easy despite doing things that most artistes today would get "canceled" for.