Last night, the 2016 BET Awards captured the attention of all who enjoy this celebration of talent gleaned from the combined experiences of the African Diaspora. Aside from the plethora of inspired dedications to the late music icon Prince, the talk of the day has been the impassioned speech given by actor Jesse Williams as he accepted the BET Humanitarian Award.
Here are a few excerpts from the speech that has quickly gone viral:
On those who due the hard work of organizing and activism:
“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 families, 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.
On the struggle and sacrifice of black women:
“Now, this is also 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.
On policing black communities:
“Now, what we’ve been doing is looking at the data and we know that police somehow manage to de-escalate, disarm and not kill white people every day. So what’s going to happen is we’re going to have equal rights and justice in our own country, or we will re-structure their function in ours."
On Tamir Rice:
“Yesterday would have been young Tamir Rice’s 14th birthday. So, I don’t want to hear anymore 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 then going home to make a sandwich."
On the effect of culture vultures that prey upon Black brainchildren and creativity:
“We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, yo. And 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. The thing is, though, the thing is, that just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real. Thank you.”
As he concluded his speech and was escorted off the stage by BET president Debra Lee, the audience exploded and news of his social commentary erupted on social media.
For many of us, Jesse's speech comes as no surprise, seeing as though he has been speaking about race and black culture in America ever since I can remember. And I am curious to know whether or not the layperson among us is aware of how he has been speaking truth to power ever since the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson.
Folks generally do not like being called on their BS; not Black people, not White people, not nobody. Intertwined within his admonishment of the white supremacy power structure was his pointed criticism of individuals who bathe themselves in brand names and status symbols as trinkets of success.
But I bet Tom Ford won't be hurting anytime soon.
Additionally, I see individuals calling him "Woke Bae", others mentioning his degree in African-American Studies as a source of collegiate pride, his skin color, his eye color, and all sorts of other nonsensical quibblings, yet nothing about how we begin to consolidate resources, prioritize our collective concerns and begin building positives and destroying negatives within ourselves and the greater community at large.
Iron is most malleable when hot, so swift actions, either for self-betterment or for community good, must be undertaken while the inspiration is still burning within us.
Otherwise, the positive energy Jesse Williams put out in the universe will have been wasted, serving no other purpose than to warm our battered egos in the eternal night that is white supremacy.