WATCH: Actor and Activist Jesse Williams Speaks Out on Racism at BET Awards

By the Web Editors 6-27-2016
BET / Washington Post
BET / Washington Post

"The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander."

So said Jesse Williams at the 2016 BET Awards on June 26, where he received the Humanitarian Award for his advocacy and activism over the past year. Best known for his role in Grey's Anatomy, Williams stole the show on a night featuring a surprise performance by Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar.

Williams has attracted attention before for his commentary on race, and his latest critique of white America did not disappoint.

Taking a moment to remember that June 25 would have been Tamir Rice's 14th birthday, Williams had strong words for those who claim "progress" in the face of ongoing police brutality.

"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."

Williams also specifically recognized black women for their role in the movement, which brought his audience to their feet.

"This [award] is also ... 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."

But it was Williams' finale that brought tears to the eyes of many in the audience:

“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 of things straight here, just a little sidenote. 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 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.”

Jesse Williams Accepts Humanitarian Award at 2016 BET Awards

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Read the full transcript of the video at the Washington Post.

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