Jesse Williams Delivers Powerful Speech on Race at BET Awards

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ICYMI, the 16th annual BET Awards aired live Sunday night, and it was full of yaaas-worthy performances and epic Prince tributes. Yet, despite the show opening with Beyonce-induced pandemonium and a semi-awkward “Hamilton” spoof courtesy of hosts Tracee Ellis Ross and Anthony Anderson, all anyone can talk about Monday is Jesse Williams and his show-stealing acceptance speech.

The “Grey’s Anatomy” star, who has long been an outspoken human rights advocate and recently was the executive producer of the documentary “Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement,” took the mic to accept this year’s Humanitarian Award. Shortly after uttering a few gracious name mentions, he capitalized on the opportunity to deliver a powerfully moving speech on racism, police brutality, and cultural appropriation.

At one point, Williams poignantly referenced the deaths of Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, and Dorian Hunt–all black people who died during confrontations with the police–saying,

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. Tell Rekia Boyd how it’s so much better than it is to live in 2012 than it is to live in 1612 or 1712. Tell that to Eric Garner. Tell that to Sandra Bland. Tell that to Dorian Hunt.

Williams concluded his speech with thoughts on racial oppression and cultural appropriation, including  a reference to  Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”–a haunting musical metaphor for lynchings.

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.

Afterwards, Williams’ words were met with a standing ovation from the audience of distinguished guests and praised by thousands of viewers on Twitter.

Click here for the full transcript of Williams’ speech, courtesy of Time.

Watch Jesse William’s full speech below.

Alexis Evans
Alexis Evans is an Assistant Editor at Law Street and a Buckeye State native. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and a minor in Business from Ohio University. Contact Alexis at



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