For anyone trying to stop racial justice, Grey’s Anatomy actor Jesse Williams has one message: "Sit down."
Williams took racism to task Sunday during an impassioned, politically charged acceptance speech when he received the Humanitarian Award at this year’s BET Awards.
"A system built to impoverish, divide, and destroy us cannot stand if we do," Williams said.
Over the past two years, Williams has become a formidable activist both on and off screen. Williams met, marched, and organized with activists in Ferguson, Missouri, following the extrajudicial killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown. More recently, he was the executive producer of Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement, a documentary chronicling the birth of the black millennial social justice movement that premiered in May on BET.
Yet, for Williams, the award was not about him. Instead, he dedicated the honor to the work of those on the front lines of social justice. He honored activists, with particular attention to black women, without whom Black Lives Matter would not exist, when he pledged, "We can and will do better for you."
In his speech, Williams lambasted racist policing practices and cultural appropriation, demanding — like Martin Luther King Jr., James Baldwin, and other civil rights activists before him — that black people’s humanity and productive labor be recognized right here, right now:
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 side note. 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.
Watch and listen to Williams’s full speech here.