Image: Screenshot / BET Awards
In this age of celebrity saturation, true authenticity is rare. When everyone from actors and musicians to instagram ‘stars’ has a ‘brand’, it can be hard to sort the worthy messages from the noise of sponsored posts and endorsements.
One celebrity who wholeheartedly bucks the trend is Jesse Williams. The Grey’s Anatomy actor dropped the metaphorical mic earlier this week during his acceptance speech at the BET Awards. Accepting the Humanitarian award, Williams let loose, delivering an unapologetic, excoriating address that brought the audience to its feet.
“This award, this is not for me. This is for the real organisers all over the country. The activists, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students, that are realising that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do.
“Now what we've been doing is looking at the data and we know that police somehow manage to de-escalate, disarm and not kill white people every day… Yesterday would’ve been young Tamir Rice’s 14th birthday, so I don’t want to hear anymore about how far we’ve come when paid public servants can pull a drive-by on a 12-year-old playing alone in a park in broad daylight, killing him on television then going home to make a sandwich. Tell Rekia Boyd how it’s so much better to live in 2012 than 1612 or 1712. Tell that to Eric Garner. Tell that to Sandra Bland. Tell that to Darrien Hunt.
“Now the thing is though, all of us in here getting money, that alone isn’t going to stop this. Now dedicating our lives to get 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.
“Freedom is somehow always conditional here, 'You’re free,’ they keep telling us, ‘But she would’ve been alive if she hadn’t acted so… free'.
“The burden of the brutalised is not to comfort the bystander. That's not our job, stop with all that. If you have a critique for the resistance, our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest in equal rights for black people than do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.
“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. Ghettoising 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, just because we’re magic, doesn’t mean we’re not real."
After such perfect, explosive and needed words there is no comment I could or would possibly presume to make to add to the conversation. What can we learn from Jesse Williams? The beautiful, difficult and vital lessons are all there in his words. We, especially those of us who experience white privilege, need to let them wash over us and seep into our pores.
You can watch the whole thing here.