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“The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander”: Jesse Williams’ electrifying speech on American racism

Jesse Williams at the 2016 BET Awards
Reuters/Danny Moloshok
"The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander."
Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Last night’s annual BET Awards featured tributes to Prince and a lifetime achievement award for Samuel L. Jackson, but perhaps the most powerful part of the ceremony was a passionate acceptance speech from Jesse Williams. The actor, known for his role on Grey’s Anatomy, was honored with the network’s humanitarian award and used his acceptance speech to remind the audience that racism is not fixed and there is still work to be done for racial equality.

“We know that police somehow manage to de-escalate, disarm, and not kill white people every day,” Williams said. Tamir Rice, the 12 year old boy who was shot and killed by Cleveland police in 2014, would have turned 14 on Saturday, a fact Williams pointed out, going on to say, “I don’t want to hear anymore 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.”

Williams also addressed those outside the Black Lives Matter movement: “If you have a critique 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.”

Others praised Williams for his honesty and courage:

But Justin Timberlake caught some backlash on Twitter after he tweeted about Williams’s speech:

Critics responded with accusations that the multiple-Grammy award winning R&B singer frequently appropriates black culture, a practice Williams referred to as “gentrifying our genius” in his speech. Timberlake eventually apologized for his series of tweets on the topic.

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