I didn’t know that when I tuned into the BET Awards tonight, I’d see one of the most important performances in 2016. And no, it wasn’t a singer or a rapper — it was actor Jesse Williams. His acceptance speech for the Humanitarian Award was intelligent, insightful and, most of all, important for everyone to understand.
It's so important that we thought we’d write down the speech so everyone who may not have heard it could read and understand it. Here is Williams’ full speech.
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.
Now, this is also in particular for the black women 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 going to happen is we’re 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 Dorian Hunt.
Now the thing is, though, all of us in here getting money, that alone isn’t going to stop this, all right? Dedicating our lives to getting money just to give it right back for someone’s brand on our bodies, when we spent centuries praying with someone’s brand 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? The hereafter is a hustle. We want it now.
And let’s get a couple of things straight. This is a little side note. The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That’s not our job. Stop with all that. If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an already established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest in equal rights for black people, then do not make suggestions for 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, that just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.
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