Jesse Williams: More Than Just a Pretty Face

Unless you’ve been off the internet for the past week, you might have seen people talking about actor Jesse Williams’ speech at the BET awards show. He had been accepting the Humanitarian Award at the ceremony. He was being recognized for his work in raising awareness of racism in America and the Black Lives Matter movement (his BET speech can we found here).

I have been a fan of Jesse since I saw him in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, where he played Lena’s love interest, Leo. Though I was slightly disappointed in the how rushed the film was, he definitely made it less disappointing. He had a few small roles before landing the role of Dr. Jackson Avery on Shonda Rhimes’ Grey Anatomy (my love for the show should be known by now).

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(that’s him in Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2)

I have also known about his experience in activism because let’s face it; I’m kind of a stalker and he’s really amazing (and I guess handsome as hell). So when I heard his speech, I was moved but not surprised by his words. He’s been filmed (here) and has spoken on other shows (here) discussing police brutality in America. I follow his tumblr, where he shares interesting and insightful articles and videos. He also starred in and produced “Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement,” a documentary that premiered last month on BET.

Since his speech at the BET awards, I have seen many positive responses to it. Most people I follow on Facebook and Tumblr were in agreement of how powerful and most importantly, honest his speech was. But, I have also seen several ignorant comments questioning the authenticity of his speech because of the fact that he is biracial:

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Jesse, who identifies as a Black man, is the son of an African American father and White mother (check out his wiki page). The fact that the person above called him a “half breed” hurts my brain and pisses me off as a fellow biracial (black/white) person. Also, apparently his mom is self hating for raising him to love his blackness. OK.

Jesse constantly talks about colorism and acknowledges his privileges as a biracial black man (article). Being half white does not water down our blackness and it does not mean that we cannot critique race in America.

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In a Guardian article, he stated, “I have access to rooms and information. I am white and I am also black. I am invisible man in a lot of these scenarios. I know how white people talk about black people. I know how black people talk about white folks. I know I am there and everyone speaks honestly around me.” Like Jesse, I have also experienced the “you’re not like other black people” treatment. I remember once being told by someone that they “like black people like me.”

As a kid, I felt almost invisible and I think for a long time, I tried to make myself invisible. In high school, I managed to go unnoticed by most of my peers. I did not speak up as much as I do now when it comes to racism, sexism and homophobia. It was mainly due to self esteem issues, but also because I did not feel as though my opinion mattered. On top of everthing else,  I felt, and often still feel, as though I have to prove my blackness. I felt like could never really be my authentic self because I was afraid of being stereotyped or looking stupid. Many black people and other people of color can attest to the fact that when you’re the only person representing your race, whether it is in a classroom or a workplace environment (or really being in a fuckin elevator) you are always consciously aware of your difference.

I also did not grow up with my black family and did not know anything about my father until I was 15 and learned he had died. I remember feeling sad as a read the letter from the state (who had been looking for him for child support sadly) and at the same time thinking, “How will I ever know about my history?” And all that is sad and tragic, but I quickly learned that my blackness did not have to be defined by my family members. My blackness did not have to be defined at all because there is not one way of being black. And this is what I love so much about being black. I spent so many years being told that because I was black, I was less than and I had to teach myself that my blackness is beautiful.

In Shayla Pierce’s Clutch Magazine article, “Why Saying I Look “Mixed” Isn’t A Compliment,” she writes,”We aren’t beautiful in spite of our Blackness, we are beautiful because of it. So don’t dare try to give the credit to anything else.”

Author Alice Walker recently wrote a poem dedicated to Jesse and inspired by his speech:

Here It Is

2016 by Alice Walker

Here it is
the beauty that scares you
-so you believe-
to death.
For he is certainly gorgeous
and he is certainly where whiteness
to your disbelief
has not wandered off
to die.
No.  It is there, tawny skin, gray eyes,
a Malcolm-esque  jaw.  His loyal parents
may Goddess bless them
sitting proud and happy and no doubt
amazed
at what  they have done.
For he is black too.  And obviously
with a soul
made of everything.
Try to think bigger than you ever have
or had courage enough to do:
that blackness is not where whiteness
wanders off to die: but that it is
like the dark matter
between stars and galaxies in
the Universe
that ultimately
holds it all
together.

Jesse’s BET speech was not an attack on white people, as Stacey Dash’s irrelevant ass claims, and have you seen Tomi Lahren’s video? Apparently Jesse is someone who “perpetuates a war on cops.” But like Jesse said in his speech:

“If you have a critique for our resistance then you’d better have an established record, a 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.”

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