Monday, June 27, 2016

#ICYMI: Here's Jesse William’s Poignant Speech About Injustice at last night's BET Awards

The 2016 BET awards featured some high profile tributes to Prince, an on-stage collaboration between Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar and appearances by countless celebrities, but, the evening's most talked about moment came during an acceptance speech.

Grey’s Anatomy actor Jesse Williams received the humanitarian award at the BET Awards last night, and gave an impassioned, 4-minute speech about civil rights, systematic injustice, police brutality, cultural appropriation and the Black Lives Matter movement. He said,

This is for the real organizers all over the country. The activists, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers of students that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do.

Addressing the deaths of numerous African-Americans by law enforcement in recent years, Williams said,

There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the front lines of. There has been no job we haven't done. There's no tax they haven't levied against us. And we've paid all of them. But freedom is somehow always conditional here. 'You're free,' they keep telling us. 'But she would have been alive if she hadn't acted so—free.

The speech drew an extended standing ovation from hundreds in the crowd. You can watch the whole thing here
Actor Jesse William’s credentials as a social/political activist are well established by now. Embodying the values of what was once called a “race man,” he’s been in the trenches of tumult, taking to the streets and documenting the violence inflicted against black bodies in protest, and then going toe-to-toe with assorted racist cable new commentators. (The withering clap-backs he gives racists who try to come for him on Twitter are things of beauty.) Though Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement, the recent documentary he executive produced and stars in, received mixed reviews, it made clear that he’s in the struggle for the long haul. If any doubt lingered, it was obliterated when he took the stage to receive the Humanitarian of the Year Award at this year’s BET Awards. On a night that kicked off with BeyoncĂ© and Kendrick Lamar performing “Freedom,” and in which Prince finally got the music tributes he deserved, Williams’ impassioned, pull-no-punches was still the highlight of the evening.

An excerpt from his speech:

“Now the thing is, though, all of us in here getting money - that alone isn't gonna stop this. Alright, now dedicating our lives, 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.

“There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the front lines of. There has been no job we haven't done. There is no tax they haven't leveed against us - and we've paid all of them. But freedom is somehow always conditional here. "You're free," they keep telling us. But she would have been alive if she hadn't acted so... free.
“Now, freedom is always coming in the hereafter, but you know what, though, the hereafter is a hustle. We want it now.

“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, for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest, if you have no interest in equal rights for black people then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.

We've been floating this country on credit for centuries, yo, and 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... the thing is that just because we're magic doesn't mean we're not real.”