No, Jesse Williams, I Will Not ‘Sit Down’

Jesse Williams (Matt Sayles / Invision / Associated Press)
Matt Sayles / Invision / Associated Press

Actor Jesse Williams of Grey’s Anatomy is being celebrated by like-minded left-wingers across the Internet for delivering what is being called a courageous speech on race at the Black Entertainment (BET) Awards on Sunday evening. The truth: it takes no courage to tell an audience of black entertainers that white America is the problem.

If Williams had dared tell them not to use the N-word; not to glorify violence; or to honor cops protecting black communites — that would have been courage.

Williams, who won BET’s Humanitarian Award, began his acceptance speech by thanking his parents, appropriately enough. The camera focused on his white mother and black father — a symbol of racial transcendence, not at odds with black identity. So far, so good.

But then Williams launched into a political diatribe, praising the activists marching in the streets against “a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us.” What system? The one run by Barack Obama? Williams did not say.

Next, Williams declared, in an apparent non sequitur: “Now, this is also in particular 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.”

All well and good, except that the woman who nurtured him in particular is white. That does not mean he owes a debt to all white people (how absurd), or cannot appreciate black women, but it does suggest he feels a need to prove his own racial authenticity.

He continued: “Now, what we’ve been doing is looking at the data and we know that police somehow manage to deescalate, disarm and not kill white people everyday.”

Really? Which data? Not the data available to most other people, which suggest, as one writer noted, that “fatal police shootings make up a much larger proportion of white and Hispanic homicide deaths than black homicide deaths.” The reason?: “[T]he lamentable black-on-black homicide rate,” about which Williams said nothing.

Williams went on: “I got more y’all – yesterday would have 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 12 year old playing alone in the park in broad daylight, killing him on television and then going home to make a sandwich.”

The Tamir Rice shooting was terrible — but Black Lives Matter leaders have been distorting the story. And why was Rice playing with what looked like a real gun?

Hollywood, BET included, celebrates and sells depictions of violence. Williams left that out of his critique of the industry.

Instead, he said, black entertainers debase themselves by praying “to get paid for brands on our bodies,” whatever that means. BET is a brand, too: maybe Williams should have declined the award on that basis.

But don’t you dare call Williams out for his hypocrisy, or suggest that he focus on changes in our culture that might actually make a positive impact on black lives.

He warns: “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.”

In other words: you cannot criticize the “resistance” if you are not loyal to it. And you are presumed to be a racist if you dissent. Not only that, but you ought to have no free speech rights whatsoever.

Williams closed with a rant against “this invention called whiteness,” which he accused of appropriating black creativity — “extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil – black gold, ghettoizing and demeaning our creations then stealing them…”. How odd to complain about “ghettoizing” at an event like the BET Awards.

So, no — I will not sit down. I refuse to be silenced by people so hostile to complexity, in the country or themselves.

Read Williams’s full speech here.


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