Jesse Williams did not pull any punches in his speech after receiving the BET Humanitarian of the Year award.
BET Humanitarian of the Year Award recipient Jesse Williams
Actor/Activist Jesse Williams received the BET Humanitarian of the Year award and used his speech to take racism to task like rarely seen. He told some uncomfortable and inconvenient truths.
Williams started his speech by thanking his parents "for teaching me to focus on comprehension over career," William said. "They made sure I learned what the schools were afraid to teach us." He also thanked his wife for changing his life. He pointed out that the award was not for him but for all the real organizers, activists, civil rights lawyers, teachers, and students who realize that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand.
Williams called out the police for their biased attacks against people of color. "What we have been doing is looking at the data," Williams said. "We know that police somehow manage to de-escalate, disarm, and not kill white people every day. So what is going to happen is we are gonna have equal rights, and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function and ours."
William reminded the audience of many of those who were murdered by cops recently in high visibility incidents. "Yesterday would have been Tamir Rice 14th birthday," Williams said. "So I don't wanna hear about how far we've come when paid public servants can pull a drive by on a twelve-year-old playing alone in a park in broad daylight, killing him on television and then going home and making a sandwich."
Jesse Williams then made the most real statement of the night. "There's been no war that we have not fought and died in the front lines of," Williams said. "There's been no jobs we haven't done. There is no tax they haven't levied against us. And we've paid all of them. But freedom is somehow always conditional here. You are 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."
Jesse Williams then admonished those who criticize those in the racial justice movement. "The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander," Williams said. "That's not our job. Now stop all of 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. And we are done watching and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses 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 costume before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit."
Jesse Williams finished with a poignant message. "We've been floating this country on credit for centuries," Williams said. And we are done watching and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses 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."
Jesse Williams had the attention of the entire room and likely the entire audience watching. It was evident he puts his activism over his career. That is how change is effected.