Jesse Williams’ BET Awards Speech Powerfully Sums Up What It Means to Be Black in America
It's a rare day when an award show speech can shake up the internet as much as a Beyoncé performance. But when Jesse Williams accepted the 2016 Humanitarian Award, he did exactly that.
"This award is not for me," he told a rapt audience at Los Angeles' Microsoft Theater Sunday. "This is for the real organizers all over the country; the activists, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents. The families, the teachers and students that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do."
His speech, which lasted nearly five minutes, was pure revolutionary poetry and a breath of fresh air in an award show filled with stale skits and bits.
Williams, who stars on ABC's Grey's Anatomy, was recently featured in Stay Woke, a BET documentary about the Black Lives Matter movement. He's previously spoken out against the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson as well as the Flint water crisis.
Williams also dedicated the award to "the black women who have spent their lifetimes dedicated to nurturing everyone before themselves." He talked about the legacy of inequality against black Americans — while also calling out cultural appropriation.
"We've been floating this country on credit for centuries," he said. "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 and stealing them, gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before disregarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit."
In this powerful excerpt, Williams remembers several victims of police brutality, calls out celebrities and their responsibility to step up, and then talks about delayed freedom for black Americans:
Yesterday would have been young Tamir Rice's 14th birthday. So I don't want to hear any more 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 going home to make a sandwich.
Preach on, Jesse Williams. Watch the full speech here.