Jesse Williams’ Blueprint for Revolution Is Chillingly Powerful (Video)
Best known for his portrayal of Dr. Jackson Avery on Grey’s Anatomy, actor Jesse Williams took the stage at the BET Awards last night (June 26) for a reason unrelated to his on-screen performances. The Chicago, Illinois native has been deeply entrenched in political and social activism, working tirelessly to help the oppressed and marginalized attain full equality in the eyes of the law and other social structures. Appearances at marches in places like Ferguson, Missouri, Williams has used his celebrity to bring awareness to systemic racism, much like the kind at play when examining instances of police brutality in this country.
But he’s done more than simply show up; his extensive work with organizations like the Advancement Project and his involvement with the Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement documentary earned him BET’s Humanitarian Award, and he used his time on stage for much more than an acceptance speech. Rather, he minced no words and made the kinds of statements that could very well become widely quoted for years to come. While every facet of his speech was moving (he singled out Black women as being heroes, for example), for many it was his step-by-step proclamation for what need to be changed that resounded most strongly.
“A system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do,” he began, launching into several minutes of beautifully inspiring words about empowerment, self-reliance, and social justice. “It’s kind of basic mathematics. The more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we’ll mobilize.” That call for a united front became even more revolutionary in tone when he exclaimed “[w]hat we’ve been doing is looking at the data and what we know is that police somehow manage to de-escalate, disarm, and not kill White people every day. So what’s gonna happen is we’re gonna have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function and ours.”
Police brutality – namely the murders of unarmed men and women of color at the hands of law enforcement – became a central focus of his speech, which he used to remind listeners of the names of some of the victims. “Yesterday would have been young Tamir Rice’s 14th birthday. So I don’t wanna hear any more about how far we’ve come when paid public servants can pull a drive-by on a 12-year-old boy 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 in 1612 or 1712. Tell that to Eric Garner. Tell that to Sandra Bland. Tell that to Dorian Hunt.”
Williams also turned his words of revolution towards the economic self-reliance of minorities, making a case for an end to cultural appropriation, and he made it clear who the oppressors are. “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,” he said in reference to Billie Holiday’s iconic lyrical imagery of lynching. “The thing is though, that just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.”
However, there is more work to be done than simply standing up and saying something, according to Williams. Demands must be made and they must be relentless. “Now the thing is though, all of us in here getting money, that alone isn’t gonna stop this. Alright?,” he says before continuing. “There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the frontlines of, there has been no job that we have not done, there is no tax they haven’t levied against us. But freedom is somehow always conditional here. ‘You’re free,’ they keep telling us, ‘but she would’ve 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.”
Stay Woke aired in May, but Heads can check out Jesse Williams’ insight into the film when he spoke about it extensively while visiting Sway’s Universe recently.