A LOT of people are talking about actor, model, teacher, and business owner Jesse Williams’ acceptance speech at the 2016 BET Awards for the Humanitarian Award. I took in Jesse’s speech, and I think it was inspiring.
Everything he is saying has a basis in fact and truth, especially about the part where he says, “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, if you have no interest in equal rights for black people then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.” Here is where EVERYONE, regardless of race, needs to listen and SIT DOWN.
On YouTube alone, there are hundreds of response videos to Jesse Williams’ speech from random YouTubers, news outlets, social media platforms, everyone. Everyone? Literally, everyone has something to say. It is all random opinion after opinion, which is all well and good, but 75% of it is uninformed and copied from Williams himself! Williams had “vim and verve” (look it up) and it was poetic, informed, educational, and artistic.
You can clearly see his history as an educator as well as his work as an actor melded together. On YouTube, now you see a whole bunch of responses from many different people trying to do the same thing and emulate his style while responding to his ideas, albeit nowhere near as well thought-out as his. This is where people need to SIT DOWN.
Socrates once said, “Thus far then we are pretty well agreed that the imitator has no knowledge worth mentioning of what he imitates. Imitation is only a kind of play or sport, and the tragic poets, whether they write in iambic or in heroic verse, are imitators in the highest degree”. Many of those who are responding to Jesse Williams’ speech are not listening to a word he’s saying; they are not understanding that he is saying Black people should not be treated with more force than other races while under police custody, money should not be the new slavery for Black people, Black people shouldn’t have to work towards equality it should be automatic as part of our human rights, and Black culture shouldn’t be exploited, discarded, and appropriated for White supremacy to benefit from.
People are not responding to that. Just like bugs to a bug zapper, people are responding and gleefully reveling in the conflict. “Why are people listening to Jesse Williams when ‘so and so’ said this months ago?”. My personal favorite is, “People are only listening to him because he’s light-skinned”. People who fall into this line of thinking and action, i.e. commenting for the sake of commenting, need to SIT DOWN.
What Jesse says is true: if you don’t have an established history of critiquing the racial oppression of those African descent, not just in America, but the world, you should not be trying to critique the struggle of Black people bringing attention to the issue, as so many people do. Ultimately, those who do are “imitators”, people who emulate the actions of others, but have no knowledge of what they are imitating, or talking about. There needs to be less reactive, “Well, I (it’s bolded, highlighted, and italicized because people are just being self-aggrandizing at this point) think that…”, and more people need to take in Jesse’s conversation and his level of conversation.
Don’t take a page out of his book and don’t accuse him of taking a page out of someone else’s book. If half the people who are taking the time to “respond” to his speech would actively try to contribute something positive to it and take in the ideas of what Jesse and many other thinkers have said, we wouldn’t be exploited. We wouldn’t be unnecessarily brutalized. We wouldn’t be in an evolved system of micro-aggressive slavery. Instead of commenting and imitating, people need to listen, take it in, SIT DOWN, and then, STAND UP.