Jesse Williams speaks out against racism, up for Black people at the 2016 BET Awards

Jesse Williams - BET Awards

The 2016 BET Awards honored Jesse Williams with a Humanitarian Award and his speech showed why he deserved it. Williams is more than just the actor who plays Dr. Jackson Avery on the TV medical drama Grey’s Anatomy. He’s also a very outspoken activist for justice and equality; particularly involving the black community. In a press release about Williams receiving the award BET stated, “Williams uses his celebrity platform to shine a light on the injustices of our society and became an outspoken advocate of the Black Lives Matter movement.”

Williams accepted the award then acknowledged his parents and wife before getting into a speech on racism, police brutality towards blacks, and raising up the black community that rightly drew cheers and multiple standing ovations.

You could feel the pride being emitted from the look in Jesse William’s father’s eyes as the camera cut to him. I won’t attempt to reiterate parts of Jesse’s speech. His words deserve to be heard from him and left as is. There many quotables that I’m sure we will be hearing for a long time to come and that will adorn various memes on social media.

“And let’s get a couple things straight, a little side note, the burden of the brutalized is not to comfort of the bystander.” – Jesse Williams

What is worth noting is that Williams not only addressed the racism that Black American’s face now and have faced in the past but he also took to task the room full of wealthy Black folks in the audience. He not so subtly challenge them to do more than just get paid. It’s a call that has been made before by people comparing Black celebrities from the Civil Rights Era, like Muhammad Ali and Harry Belafonte, with those of today.

William’s isn’t new to speaking out. In the wake of the mockery some were making of the deaths of unarmed Black citizens back in 2014, Williams stood up and asked “What about Black pain is so fun to you?

The struggle for equality has risen to the forefront of daily conversation since tragedies like the Trayvon Martin killing and the string of never-ending slayings of unarmed African American’s by police. A large portion of the Black community and citizens interested in justice have become “woke” in the face of these atrocities and speak out. Beyonce was criticized for her awards show performance that gave a nod to the black civil rights group the Black Panther’s and rapper Kendrick Lamar was lauded for his socially charged performance as well. Incidentally the two united at the 2016 BET Awards to once again make a statement by performing “Freedom” off of Beyonce’s Lemonade project.

These demands of justice are timely in a present day where a leading presidential candidate got to the top by making one racist, bigoted, and xenophobic statement after another. It’s a time where every other day there seems to be the death of another Black man, woman, or child at the hands of police reported on the news. However, for as great a speech as Jesse Williams delivered, one the question remains.

What next?

I don’t expect those carrying out and supporting the injustices will hear Jesse’s words nor care. I actually expect the opposite. Those that mentally adhere to the “superhuman black person” or the “magic negro” trope will ignore it or make an attempt at a negative counter-argument. My question is for those that were in the room at the BET Awards. Those Black millionaires that gave Williams loud applause as he walked off stage with the Black fist in the air. Those that wield the power of celebrity and finance and know all too well the truth of what they heard.

What next?

In the meantime, read the full text of Jesse Williams speech below or watch the video of Jesse Williams full speech again.

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 where we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real. Thank you. – Jesse Williams


Jaylon Carter

Jaylon Carter is a blogger, social media marketing consultant, former Congressional Campaign Media & Communications Director, and a Hip Hop artist who performs under the stage name Timid (@timidmc). He also runs, a subscription newsletter informing parents of current happenings on the Internet.

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