Sunday night’s BET Awards ceremony was heavier on sociopolitical commentary than most lightweight, gimmicky music awards shows – from Beyoncé’s suprise opening number “Freedom,” to co-host Tracee Ellis Ross’s Hillary Clinton endorsement, to Usher’s “Don’t Trump America” shirt, to multiple presenters passionately advocating for gun control and voter registration. But the most powerful statement no doubt came from Jesse Williams.
>When the Grey’s Anatomy actor, tireless activist, and star/executive producer of the documentary Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement accepted his 2016 BET Humanitarian Award, his emotional speech practically broke the Internet – or at least made the Internet really stop, listen, and think.
Read Williams’s full acceptance speech below. Watch it in full HERE.
Before we get into it, I want to say I brought my parents out tonight. I want to thank them for being here, for teaching me to focus on comprehension over career, make sure I learn what the schools weren’t afraid to teach us, and my amazing wife for changing my life. 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 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 now know that police somehow manage to de-escalate, disarm, and not kill white people every day. So what’s going to happen is we are going to have equal rights and justice in our own country, or we will restructure their function and outs.
I have more, y'all. Yesterday would have been young Tamir Rice’s 14th birthday. So I don’t want to hear any more about how far we have come when paid pubic servants can have a drive-by on a 12-year-old playing alone in broad daylight, killing him on television and then go home to make a sandwich. Tell Rekia Boyd how it’s so much better to live in 2012 that is in 1612 or 1712. Tell that to Eric Gardner. Tell that to Sandra Bland.
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 for someone’s brand on our body, when we spent centuries praying with brands on our body, and now we pray to get paid for brands on our bodies? There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the frontlines of. No job we haven’t done, 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 on 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 things straight, a little side note, the burden of the brutalized is not to comfort of the bystander. That is not our job. Stop with all that. If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established record of our oppression. If you have no interest, if you have no interest in equal rights for black people, then don’t make suggestions to those who do. Sit down. We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, and we’re done watching and waiting while this invention called ‘whiteness’ uses and abuses us, burying black people out of sight/out of mind while effecting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil, like gold, demeaning our creations and stealing them, gentrifying our genius and trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit.
The thing is, though, just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real. Thank you.