“Did you see the awards last night?
“Yes, there was a man I’ve never heard of who gave a great speech. Everyone’s talking about him. I’m going to have to look him up when I get home.”
These are the hushed whispers between a postal worker and her customer as I stood in line at the post office this afternoon.
Ever since last night all anyone is talking about is Jesse Williams. The Grey’s Anatomy actor and Black Lives Matter activist, gave a monumental speech at last night’s BET Awards– calling for an end to racial inequality within our justice department and cultural appropriation–that stirred celebrity attendees, fans and the entire internet. That his speech is the focus of so many conversations–instead of which artist won which award, or whose musical performance stole the night is utterly inspiring.
Williams accepted the 2016 BET Humanitarian award for his work as an activist and after thanking his parents he wasted no time calling out his peers for not doing more to use their public platforms to address the injustices prevalent in our communities.
“Now the thing is, though, all of us in here getting money – that alone isn’t gonna stop this. Alright, now… dedicating our lives to getting money just to give it right back for someone’s brand on our body when we spent centuries praying with brands on our bodies, and now we pray to get paid for brands on our bodies.”
He also tells Black people to stop coddling those who are not working toward bettering our situations and calls out detractors who are quick to criticize activists over how they have gone about fighting for equal rights.
“And let’s get a couple things straight, just a little sidenote – the burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That’s not our job, alright – stop with all that. If you have a critique for the resistance, … then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest, … in equal rights for black people then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.”
Williams continued his speech, blasting a system that continues to degrade us, and our contributions while stealing our culture, repacking it and selling it back to us.
“…we’re done watching and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us, 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. The thing is though… just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.”
Last month, Williams premiered his documentary, Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement, which chronicled the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement on BET. Before becoming an actor, Williams taught American, African and African-American history in low-income, Philadelphia charter schools. He currently works with several civil rights organizations, sits on the Board of Directors of The Advancement Project, and along with his wife has founded farWord Inc–a production company that examines the historical and cultural effects media content has on collective and individual health and behavior.