Watch Jesse Williams eviscerate racism and whiteness in his BET Awards speech

Jesse Williams collects the Humanitarian Award at the 2016 BET Awards. (Danny Moloshok, Reuters)

Jesse Williams collects the Humanitarian Award at the 2016 BET Awards. (Danny Moloshok, Reuters)

On Sunday night Grey’s Anatomy actor and civil rights activist Jesse Williams gave a speech that can only be described as a call-to-action to both social justice activists and their allies. Williams was awarded the Humanitarian Award for his work in the black community. 

After thanking BET and his family for their support, he got straight into the business of his 5-minute sermon, noting that we cannot claim a freedom that black people in the United States are yet to see. Watch Williams’s speech in full below:

Here’s a full transcript of Williams’s speech:

Thank you Debra, thank you BET. Thank you Nate Parker and Debbie Allen for participating in that. Before we get into it, I just want to say, you know, I brought my parents out. I just want to thank them for being here, for teaching me to focus on comprehension over career—they made sure I learned what the schools were afraid to teach us. And also I thank 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 families, the teachers, the students that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do. Alright? 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 know that police somehow manage to deescalate, disarm and not kill white people every day. So what’s gonna happen is we’re going to have equal rights and justice in our country, or we will restructure their function, and ours.

Now I got 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’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 going home to make a sandwich. Tell Rekia Boyd how it’s so much better to live in 2012 than it is to live in 1612 or 1712. Tell that to Eric Garner. Tell that Sandra Bland. Tell that to Dorian Hunt.

The thing is, though. All of us in here getting money? That alone isn’t gonna stop this. 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.

There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the front lines of. There has been no job we haven’t done. There’s no tax they haven’t levied against us. And we’ve paid all of them. But freedom is somehow always conditional here. You’re free, they keep telling us. But she would have been alive if she hadn’t acted so… free.

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 of things straight, just a little side note:  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’d 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.

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.




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