After taking some time to truly internalize the words of Jesse Williams, I, like many others, had to truly put into perspective the words that actor Jesse Williams spoke during the night of the BET Awards. While there were other memorable moments of that night such as the tributes for Prince and Muhammad Ali, the exhilarating performance of Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar, and the countless anti-Trump comments that were highlighted by Usher and Taraji Henson, nothing spoke more loudly than the acceptance speech from Jesse Williams.
While a mere two-to-three minutes acceptance speech for the humanitarian award, the actor, model, and African American activist Jesse Williams used his time and spotlight to provide an incredibly passionate speech that highlighted the social and racial inequities and cultural appropriation that the United States is facing today. Now, Jesse Williams is not the only one to mention this. In fact, with the political debates and countless musicians such as Kendrick Lamar showcasing this ever-existing problem, Jesse Williams was able to add to the fire.
His speech begins with the standard ‘thank you.’ But once that was all in said, he hits off with, “this award –this is not for me. This is for the real organizers all over the country – the activist, 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.” With the crowd already at his fingertips, Jesse continued to discuss and highlight some of the biggest concerns facing African Americans today such as police brutality (while noting Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, and Sandra Bland as his examples), cultural appropriation, and racial inequalities. His remarks of the concept of branding and the definition of freedom truly captivated these social and racial problems in a way that truly resonated with the crowd on an emotional level. But what really put the marker was one of his last statements:
“…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.”
For the past forty years, African American entertainers within the industry have created a foundation where black culture and black entertainment has allowed people of color to rise within the rankings. But in doing so, the style, the culture, and the essence that makes being black so great has also be extracted and used as black gold that ghettoized and demeans the essence of black culture and black ingenuity. Just like Jesse Williams states, “just because we are magic, doesn’t mean we are not real.” With the countless social inequities going on in the world, we need to come together and rise above the negatives. We need to constantly identify our greatness and use it in a way to grow future leaders of tomorrow. We need to constantly and consistently make a change.