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"We’re going to have equal rights": Grey's Anatomy actor gives impassioned speech on racism

Jesse Williams was collecting a BET award.

Source: Alona Ballard/YouTube

GREY’S ANATOMY ACTOR Jesse Williams has given a powerful speech on racism in America.

Collecting the humanitarian award at yesterday’s BET Awards, Williams said that black Americans are still not equal in their own country.

The actor last year produced a documentary called Stay Woke, focusing on the Black Lives Matter campaign. BET’s Debra Lee said he was being given the award for “his continued efforts and steadfast commitment to furthering social change”.

After thanking the US TV station and his parents, Williams railed against racism and inequality.

“This is for the real organisers all over the country, the activist, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students that are realising that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do. It’s kinda basic mathematics: the more we learn about who we are and how we got here the more we will mobilise.

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’re going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function and ours.
Yesterday would have been young Tamir Rice’s 14th birthday so I don’t want to hear any more 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 1612 or 1712. Tell that to Eric Garner, Sandra Bland.”

Getting money

2016 BET Awards - Show Source: AP/Press Association Images

He went on to say that just because a number of black entertainers in the crowd were wealthy, the reality for many black Americans was hugely different.

The thing is though, all of us here are getting money, that alone isn’t going to stop this. Dedicating our lives to getting money just to give it right back to put 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 is no job we haven’t done, there is no tax they haven’t levied against us, and we have paid all of them.

But freedom is always conditional here. ‘You’re free!’ they keeping telling us. ‘But she would be alive if she hadn’t acted so… free.’ Now, freedom is always coming in the hereafter, but the hereafter is a hustle: We want it now.


The speech has gone viral in the hours following the show.

Let’s get a couple of things straight. The burden of the brutalised is not to comfort the bystander – that’s not our job so let’s stop with all that. If you have a critique for our resistance then you’d better have an established record, a 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, 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 – ghettoising and demeaning our creations and stealing them, gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit.

“Just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real. Thank you.”

Read: Row over naming UCC building after professor who made ‘racist and misogynistic’ comments

Read: On the death of Jo Cox: Racist rhetoric contributes to the rise in violence

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