Entertainment

Jesse Williams: The Speech Heard Round The World And The Backlash It Caused


The BET Awards have become an event for African-Americans to get their frustrations off their chest. It started as an event where we could honor our own for works in the Entertainment Industry as well as a social and political platform. This year actor Jesse Williams took center stage and delivered what is seen and talked about as the new “IT” speech for African-Americans.

But was it?

Yes it was. He’s not one of those public figures that wants his/her 15 minutes of fame, what he spoke about during the telecast, he has fought for since he could walk. Williams was born into a family that had to deal with race issues as his mother is white and father is black but never used that as a crutch or soapbox.

His character on TV is just that, a fictional person he plays as he recites lines that were written by someone else. I’ve seen people attack Dr Jackson Avery for marrying and having a baby with a white woman on TV, this is the society where we live in where we are quick to over react but not think about what we say or do.

As African-Americans we have witnessed our fair share of unjust, and I’m not short-sighted to say that we haven’t caused some on our own but lately it seems that the target on our backs have grown as our voice has gotten louder. I’m not opposed to speaking up or out concerning any issue but I do know that Bad Boys move in silence. If you want to make a move, there is no need to broadcast it to the millions, take a page out of other nationalities, plan then attack.

What Williams did was not only speak up for African-Americans, he spoke up for everyone. People hear race issues and judge, forgetting the message that’s inside of the message. King had a dream that WE all could come together, but what the world heard was “screw white people”. King was no racist and neither is Williams but when speaking in terms of Sandra Bland or Eric Garner, events that has taken place recently he is considered anti-American. I guess his mother should be the first one to cast a stone her son’s way then. I mean she is white, right?

Now there is a petition calling for ABC to fire Williams. Is this what it has come to America? Fans of hit show Grey’s Anatomy have went on social media showing their dislike for Williams speech:

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The majority of these people follow his character on the show, maybe they never Googled Williams and saw what he has done in regards to the civil rights movement. Maybe they had no idea his mother is white. How can they call that man a racist when he bi-racial? This is the same as me saying I hate the Spanish race when my daughter is Spanish. Why would he disrespect his mother on national television just to prove a point to the African-American community? Instead of reading the headlines and news clippings, take time out to read and understand what was actually said:

Peace peace. Thank you, Debra. Thank you, BET. Thank you Nate Parker, Harry and Debbie Allen for participating in that .

Before we get into it, I just want to say I brought my parents out tonight. I just want to thank them for being here, for teaching me to focus on comprehension over career, and that they make sure I learn what the schools were afraid to teach us. And also 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.

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 everyday. 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 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 anymore about how far we’ve come when paid public servants can pull a drive-by on 12-year-old playing alone in the 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 than it is 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 gonna stop this. Alright, now 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 is no tax they haven’t leveed 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.

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 things straight, just a little sidenote – 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 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.

America wants change, we as African-Americans want change but the ones that are angry over his comments are the ones that despise change. I’m not calling him the next MLK but he stood up and spoke about the injustice that we face as a people, the same words that has been said countless time in life and by fictitious characters in movies and TV.

My question to you is. Would there be the same uproar if his TV character had said that (written by a white person)?


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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at [email protected]