“Grey’s Anatomy” star Jesse Williams has always been outspoken about the tumultuous racial and political climate in the U.S., and his acceptance speech at the BET Awards on Sunday was no different.
The actor took the stage to accept his humanitarian award and delivered a powerfully inspiring speech that has since gone viral — yielding more than 1 million Google searches in less than 24 hours.
Here are five highlights from his speech that make it worth watching.
1. Police brutality against black men
“We know that police somehow manage to deescalate, 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 in ours.”
Williams addressed head-on one of the most political issues to face America in the last decade, how black men are killed in police custody at an alarmingly disproportionate rate compared to white men in police custody. The Guardian reported that black men were nine times more likely than any other American to be killed by police.
According to the NAACP, black people as a whole make up 13.3 percent of the United States population, but make up 43.4 percent of the population of those incarcerated in U.S. prisons.
2. Cultural appropriation
“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.”
In short, white people love everything about us except us. Williams is done and done with cultural appropriation. He alluded to how black culture is rich, valuable and something to be sought after like oil and black gold. But unlike oil and black gold, black culture is not a commodity. This includes everything from Miley Cyrus allegedly making twerking famous to the Kardashians bringing back “boxer braids.”
3. Invest in ourselves
“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.”
This was simply a spoken-word piece that was deeper than the deepest caves of the deepest oceans. Williams called out the very black celebrities in the room by letting them know that it’s not enough for just them to be on top.
He brought attention to the cycle — black celebrities are dedicating their lives to get money that they end up feeding back into the hands of the system that oppresses them in order to rock the latest styles and brand names.
4. Myth of freedom
“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.”
Freedom is a myth for the black people, according to Williams. He noted that blacks have a great track record of putting in the work and participating in civic duties: They have fought in wars, died in wars, paid taxes (even the unfair ones) and so on.
But yet somehow in the land of the free, freedom becomes conditional and sometimes deadly, he said, even alluding to Sandra Bland, the 28-year-old black woman found hanged in a Texas jail cell last year.
5. Stay mad
“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.”
Williams offered a pointed argument to critics of the Black Lives Matter movement. If white people are uncomfortable with the idea of black liberation, black resistance and/or black movements, he seemed to say, oh well, too bad, so sad.
Basically, if you have been silent every time blacks have been mistreated, abused or oppressed, then there is no space or place for you to be outspoken about black people’s resistance.
Watch the entire speech above.