I’ve been on this journey with Shonda Rhimes since the inception of Grey’s Anatomy so I am no stranger to Jesse Williams’ work as an actor. What has continued to impress me is his real-life real-time activism. A couple of years ago I began seeing clips circulating online of him speaking about the need for real dialogue and real tangible change. Change meaning the dismantling of an oppressive power structure that was put in place a long, long time ago. What is important to know is that Jesse isn’t all talk; he was on the ground when Flint and Ferguson happened. He’s been steadily making moves within the Black Lives Matter Movement and has consistently used his platform to bring awareness to the plight of the Black community. When Jesse, who is also the executive producer of the documentary “Stay Woke: THE BLACK LIVES MATTER MOVEMENT,” was discussing what is at the core of his activism and why this movement is so important he said something so heartbreakingly real. He responded with a rhetorical question asking, “Can I use the hood of my sweatshirt, Sir?” For me, those nine words are loaded with sorrow and urgency. That is exactly why the speech that he gave at the 2016 BET Awards was so powerful. After receiving the BET Humanitarian award, Jesse Williams proceeded to bring the revolution…LIVE. Williams began by thanking his parents, who were in attendance, for teaching him to “focus on comprehension over career” and then for 5 minutes, Williams spoke passionately and poignantly about police brutality, systemic racism, and capitalism (taking black consumerism to task). His thoughts were articulated so eloquently that there is no need for any summation. I will leave you with his actual words.
“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 are going to have equal rights and justice in our own country, or we will restructure their function in ours. …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 then 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 to Sandra Bland. Tell that to Darrien Hunt.
Freedom is somehow always conditional here. “You’re free,” they keep telling us. “But she would have been alive it 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 of things straight—just a little side note. The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That’s not our job, all right? 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 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, 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, just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real. Thank you.”