Watch Jesse Williams give a powerful speech on racism in America at the BET Awards

'Just because we're magic doesn't mean we're not real'

Justin Carissimo
New York
Monday 27 June 2016 04:53 BST

Jesse Williams left audience members in tears while giving a moving acceptance speech at the 2016 BET Awards. Williams, who’s best known for his role as Dr. Jackson Avery in Grey’s Anatomy and for his outspoken activism, received the Humanitarian Award on Sunday and slammed the unfair treatment of black folks across the United States.

Williams began by thanking his family and friends, and apologizing to black women, who are often overlooked for their work in the community and country as a whole. He then chided everything from the police killings of unarmed black citizens to the commodification of black culture and the idea that this treatment can somehow fit the definition of “freedom.”

“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,” Williams said while accepting the award.

“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,” Williams continued.

“Now the thing is though, all of us in here getting money, that alone isn’t going to stop this. Now dedicating our lives, to get money, 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.”


Williams kept on, receiving a continuous round of applause, while leaving some audience members, Jamie Foxx included, in tears.

“There has been no war we have not died in the front lines of. There has been no job we haven’t done. No tax they haven’t levied against us. And we’ve paid all of them. But freedom is somehow conditional here. ‘You’re free,’ they keep telling us. ‘She would’ve been alive if she hadn’t acted so… free.’”

“Freedom is always coming in the hereafter, but, you know what the hereafter is a hustle. We want it now. And let’s get a couple things straight—the burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That’s not our job. Stop with all that,” Williams said. “If you have a critique for our resistance then you better have an established record of your 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.”

The speech was simulcast on most Viacom channels including: MTV, MTV2, VH1, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon.

“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. Ghettoizing and demeaning our creations and gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit.”

“The thing is, just because we’re magic, doesn’t mean we’re not real.”

Watch Jesse Williams’ acceptance speech at the 2016 BET Awards above.

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