Watch Jesse Williams's Powerful Speech at 2016 BET Awards
"Grey's Anatomy" star Jesse Williams (Dr. Jackson Avery) brought the house down Sunday night at the BET Awards. Williams was given with Humanitarian Award for his work in the black community, and after thanking his family, teachers, and wife, he offered an insightful, impassioned, scathing look at racism in modern society.
Watch the full speech video:
Here's a transcript of the speech:
"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.
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.
Now, 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 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, the thing is, that just because we're magic doesn't mean we're not real. Thank you."
Justin Timberlake ended up facing backlash for his response to the speech; he first tweeted that he was inspired by it, then responded to someone who challenged him on appropriating African-American culture and disrespecting Janet Jackson. JT apologized for his response, but at least he's trying to continue this (rather heated) conversation on race and culture.
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