Jesse Williams’s Speech Was Moving, But Were We Really Listening?
If only we loved the work as much as we love hearing the message. That was my takeaway from Jesse Williams’s powerful acceptance speech during the BET Awards.
The star of Grey’s Anatomy, who received BET’s Humanitarian Award for his activism, set a bunch of folks straight. But were they – as in us – listening?
For those of us who do not have cable and missed the show, you can watch his speech here:
For those who do not have cable and suffer through cheap data plans, here is a transcript:
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 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.
Yesterday would’ve 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 then going home to make a sandwich. Tell Rekia Boyd how it’s so much better to live in 2012 than 1612 or 1712. Tell that to Eric Garner. Tell that to Sandra Bland. Tell that to Darrien Hunt.
I listen to his words in both relief and frustration.
I was relieved that despite all of the self-congratulatory humble bragging, which usually happens during acceptance speeches, there was someone present who decided to actually say something of substantial value for the people.
But as much as I loved the moment, I was also frustrated because in the midst of all of that head nodding and finger snapping Williams’s words received, both from the live audience as well as online, I also knew that some of those folks just weren’t listening.
Like the Hoteps who passed around Williams’s words and emphasized his chin check of White supremacy but got right back to their regularly scheduled program of bashing Black women and blaming us for all the social ills in our community. I saw you and you were not listening.
Like some of those Black male entertainers who made sure the camera caught them looking all intense and serious, like they were truly feeling Williams’s words. But in reality, they knew good and damn well that they would be leaving Black Entertainment Television and going straight to their “No Black girl allowed parties.” I saw you too and you were not listening.
Like some of those female artists, foot-stomping in Manolo Blahniks along with Williams as he talked about rampant materialism and restructuring their function and ours.
Like the folks on social media who couldn’t be bothered to march, let alone lend a positive word of their own to the movement for social justice (there were just as many of us talking about “All lives matter” and “All you’ve got to do is go to school, get good grades and listen to the police” too), but now that a celebrity said it, they’re woke. I see you too and you were not listening.
Like Justin Timberlake, who in one breath is boo-loving Williams on Twitter for his words, but when confronted with his own complicity, suddenly develops colorblind-based amnesia.
In the words of Williams, those folks can all sit down.
Loving the words is easy. It’s the work that is hard. And it is the work that matters.
It’s not that I’m jaded – okay, I am a little. But for good reason. I’m just tired of us loving words that lead to nowhere other than us being in love with our own voices.
I loved what Williams had to say. I love it so much that I want his words to matter beyond a fleeting moment on the ears and lips. I want it to reflect in how we go through our everyday lives. How can we in our everyday lives make Williams’s words matter? In how we treat ourselves as well as how we treat others who look like us.
That is the work. I have to do it. We all have to do it.
Anything else is just words.