On June 26th, Jesse Williams, an activist and actor, received the Humanitarian award at the 2016 BET Awards. His speech was amazing, and it should be the official mission statement of, well…everything. In fact, it is applicable to any human being seeking basic human rights. So obviously, we have to gleam and gush over all the amazing-ness.
Before we do, however, for everyone still wondering why “Dr. Avery” received the Humanitarian award in the first place, I thought I’d give you a little background info on Jesse Williams (who, by the way, is way more than just an actor).
Mr. Williams is on the board of directors for the Advancement Project, which is dedicated to racial justice issues, and holding public servants accountable. The organization was founded by civil rights attorneys, and run by dedicated civil servants and proponents like him.
He dedicates his time and platform to advocating for true human equality, such as the criminalization of young people of color, police reform, real accountability, and dismantling the school to prison pipeline.
He is the founder of FarWord, a production company aimed at making purpose driven films.
He is an active supporter of the Black Lives Matter Movement and the director of the documentary Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement. Williams is involved with Sankofa, which is geared towards celebrities and encouraging them to use their notoriety to bring awareness to social injustice. Williams is by no means a new voice to social change and Black movement.
It’s important to note that this isn’t an explanation of Mr. Williams’ speech. In fact, there should be no explanation needed, as he was clearly concise as he addressed the issue of race in America. This is more of a quoting spree and reaction to one of the best acceptance speeches on police brutality, justice, and activism I’ve ever heard, and I hope you appreciated as much as I did.
“A system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand, if we do.”
Mr. Williams jumps right in and doesn’t sugar coat anything. He directly addresses the brutality and oppression of black people in America. While this statement was made in America to an audience largely made up of African-Americans, it, like the Black Lives Matter Movement, can be applied to all the systems all over the world oppressing people. It’s a profound statement that the system is broken, not us, and each and every one of us can do something about it. It’s only a matter of time because “…The more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize.”
“This is also in particular for the Black women, who have spent their lifetimes dedicated to nurturing everyone before themselves. We can and will do better for you.”
Let’s be honest, women rarely get their just due in the present and in the past; and Black women are often neglected and forgotten, no matter how many front lines they stand on. They are excluded from the conversations of oppressed people; though they are often the ones at the helms fighting against the taking of innocent lives and unjust incarcerations. Black women are expected to be brick walls, strong and present when needed to lean on but inanimate objects unable to feel pain or hurt. The world forgets that black women are also unjustly killed and incarcerated. That it is their babies, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, husbands, friends, fathers, and mothers who are ripped from their arms and yet they are still expected to be the backbones, the walls; that hold up everything and everyone around them. To be a woman and constantly have to remind the world that you are a woman, to be human and have to constantly remind the world you are human, is to be a black woman. It is exhausting. This country has a history of Black women nurturing and empowering everyone around them, but receiving none of the gratitude. It is time to say thank you, and to acknowledge Black women’s place in history and humanity. It is time to do better for Black women.
“And we know that somehow police 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 ours.”
It is no coincidence that a large portion of police situations that “escalate” end with a brown body in a black bag. Conversely, the white men in America that are raping, shooting, and killing people somehow make it out alive and well. So the demand in Williams’ statement is that police officers either find a way to do their jobs and de-escalate and disarm black people the same way they de-escalate and disarm white people or a new structure will be created. One that will ‘protect and serve’ all people, not just protect and serve white people.
“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 12 year old playing alone in the 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 than it is 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 Dorian Hunt.”
Do I even need to go into explaining why this statement was so powerful?
“Now the thing is, though, all of us in here getting money –b that alone isn’t gonna stop this. Alright, now dedicating our lives, 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 bodies, and now we pray to get paid for brands on our bodies.”
Stop supporting and chasing the same system that brands human lives like cattle. This is where we take responsibility for our lack of action, for not standing up to corruption. Where we pledge to use our resources to uplift people, not further oppress them and ourselves (somebody show this to Stacey Dash).
“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.”
So basically if Black (Brown) people take the time to explain “White supremacy” and it’s very real implications, that is a courtesy. If you cannot admit or see that White supremacy is real, you probably shouldn’t be speaking at all. So go ahead and “Sit down.”
“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”
“Whiteness” is an invented system, and not a natural state of being. Have you ever heard the saying “We are all one race; the Human race”? Yeah, that’s true. Unfortunately, that is not the motto America lives by. I hesitate to use the term cultural appropriation because it is used so frequently, so I’m just going to say this: Stop plagiarizing Black culture for profit, and then pretending like Black people don’t exist. Either insert a works cited page, or don’t use it.
“The thing is though… the thing is that just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.”
A short love letter to Black people, “You are magic,” and it is a reminder to those who oppress them, “We are real.”
We are so thankful for Jessie Williams’ Humanitarian acceptance speech, because he was able to eloquently verbalize everything so wrong and so true about what’s going on in our country today.
Written by Maryam Abdul-Kareem