Watch Jesse Williams' Powerful BET Speech: 'Whiteness Uses And Abuses Us'
Grey's Anatomy actor Jesse Williams pulled no punches in his acceptance speech at the BET Awards last night after he won a Humanitarian award. In just five minutes, he gave an impassioned speech on the modern-day legacy of slavery and white supremacy that tackled everything from police brutality to cultural appropriation.
The crowd rose to its feet as the 34-year-old Williams delivered lines like: "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, this award, this is not for me. This is for the real organizers all over the country. The activists, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do. All right? It’s kind of basic mathematics. The more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize. Now, this is also in particular for the black women in particular who have spent their lifetimes dedicated to nurturing everyone before themselves. We can and will do better for you.
Now, what we’ve been doing is looking at the data and we know that police somehow manage to deescalate, disarm and not kill white people every day. So what’s going to happen is we’re going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function in ours.
Now, I got more, y’all.
Yesterday would have 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 and then going home to make a sandwich.
Tell Rekia Boyd how it’s so much better to live in 2012, than it is to live in 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. All right? Now dedicating our lives to getting money just to give it right back. To put someone’s brand on our body when we spent centuries praying with brands on our bodies and now we pray to get paid with brands for 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’s no tax they haven’t levied against us. And we pay 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 of things straight here, just a little sidenote. The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That’s not our job. All right, 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 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. Thank you."
Though when someone suggested Williams' critique could apply to JT himself, a Twitter fight ensued and Timberlake backtracked with an apology whose color-blind approach was tone-deaf:
I feel misunderstood. I responded to a specific tweet that wasn't meant to be a general response. I shouldn't have responded anyway...— Justin Timberlake (@jtimberlake) June 27, 2016
I apologize to anyone that felt I was out of turn. I have nothing but LOVE FOR YOU AND ALL OF US.— Justin Timberlake (@jtimberlake) June 27, 2016
Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar kicked off the awards with a literally and metaphorically fiery performance of "Freedom" from Lemonade. The song opened with Martin Luther King Jr. quote: "We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt [...] And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice."
The evening also paid homage to Muhammad Ali and Prince (and Willy Wonka):