The BET Awards on Sunday night brimmed with the urgency of the times. Acceptance speeches were peppered with calls for exercising voting rights and taking a stand for gun control; Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar set the stage ablaze with a fierce performance of Freedom; the multiple tributes to Prince were raw and heartfelt. But the pivotal moment of the event came from actor Jesse Williams, whose impassioned speech confronting systemic racism is making the rounds on the internet many times over the morning after.
Williams, who has actively participated in the Black Lives Matter movement, was receiving the Humanitarian Award from BET Chairwoman and CEO Debra Lee. After thanking his family, Williams went on to dedicate the award to organizers, activists, struggling parents, teachers, and students.
He also mentioned the familiar names of some victims of police brutality. "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 going home to make a sandwich," Williams said to applause and cheers. "Tell Rekia Boyd how it's so much better to live in 2012 than it is to live in 1612 or 1712. Tell that to Eric Garner. Tell that Sandra Bland. Tell that to Dorian Hunt."
It was a speech as poetic as it was passionate. Williams called out detractors — "If you have no interest in equal rights for black people, then do not make suggestions to those who do" — and capped it all off with this:
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, just because we're magic doesn't mean we're not real.
Watch Williams' full speech here:
Cover image via Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com