Jesse Williams’ Powerful BET Award Speech Addresses Police Brutality, Racism in America

Jessie Williams BET
Jesse Williams accepts the Humanitarian Award on stage during the 2016 BET Awards. (Photo: Kevin Winter/BET/Getty Images for BET)

Actor Jesse Williams is best known for his role on the TV show Grey’s Anatomy. But on the night of June 26, he earned a standing ovation at the BET Awards for the powerful speech he gave when accepting the 2016 BET Humanitarian Award. Williams paid homage to police shooting victims, including Rekia Boyd, Sandra Bland and Tamir Rice, who would have turned 14 years old on Saturday (June 25th) had he not been gunned down by police in Cleveland. Below is a transcript of Williams’ speech in its entirety.

☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥

Before we get into it, I just want to say, you know, I brought my parents out tonight. I just want to thank them for being here, for teaching me to focus on comprehension over career, that 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 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 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.

Now the thing is, though, all of us in here getting money, that alone isn’t going to stop this. All right? Now, dedicating our lives—dedicating our lives to get 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.” 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—let’s get a couple 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 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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