Commentary: Jesse Williams says black lives matter — we break down why his BET speech matters
At Sunday night’s BET Awards, Jesse Williams delivered one of the wokest award acceptance speeches in recent memory.
That’s not to say that his speech was entirely novel. A lot of the things Williams said as he accepted BET’s humanitarian award have been said before - by black political thinkers like Martin Luther King Jr., by modern-day activists and artists, and by everyday people on social media and beyond.
But that’s a good thing. In this short speech, Williams presented a great distillation of some of the conversations happening about social justice today.
So we decided to present it here, in its original form - with annotations. Just click on a yellow link and you’ll see a brief explanation or a link to read more.
If there’s anything we missed, you can annotate too – just get a Genius account and join us.
You can play the speech here, and read along as you listen:
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. 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 know that police somehow manage to de-escalate, 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 Darrien 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, 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 … 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.
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