Jesse Williams’ Speech at the 2016 BET Awards

On June 26, actor Jesse Williams took the stage at the 2016 BET Awards to accept BET’s Humanitarian Award. What followed was a bold and powerful speech which condemned the black oppression and exploitation the United States has thrived on since its inception. It was a brave act of defiance against the system in which he called on the oppressed and their allies to force an end to the oppression in this society, or to rise up and create a new society.

This is a courageous moment that deserves to be celebrated in its own right, but it is also important to view this speech in the context of the continued brutality faced by black people on a daily basis in America, the supposed “land of the free.” Just this week there have been two more high profile police murders of black people, and just 3 days prior to Williams’ speech the second cop tried for the murder of Freddie Gray was acquitted of all charges.

What is so powerful about Williams’ impassioned plea is that he doesn’t speak of a “broken system.” Rather, he recognizes that the system is functioning exactly as it was intended – that it was designed to oppress people of color for the benefit of a white elite – and he articulates the need to rise up against it. “A system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do.”

Please take a moment to watch Jesse Williams’ powerful acceptance speech. The full transcript is below.

 

Full Transcript:

Peace peace. Thank you, Debra. Thank you, BET. Thank you Nate Parker, Harry and Debbie Allen for participating in that.

Before we get into it, I just want to say I brought my parents out tonight. I just want to thank them for being here, for teaching me to focus on comprehension over career, and that they make sure I learn what the schools were afraid to teach us. And also thank my amazing wife for changing my life.

Now, this award – this is not for me. This is for the real organizers all over the country – the activists, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do.

It’s kind of basic mathematics – the more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize.

Now, this is also in particular for the black women in particular who have spent their lifetimes dedicated to nurturing everyone before themselves. We can and will do better for you.

Now, what we’ve been doing is looking at the data and we know that police somehow manage to deescalate, disarm and not kill white people everyday. So what’s going to happen is we are going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function in ours.

Now… I got more y’all – 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.

Now the thing is, though, all of us in here getting money – that alone isn’t gonna stop this. Alright, now dedicating our lives, dedicating our lives to getting money just to give it right back for someone’s brand on our body when we spent centuries praying with brands on our bodies, and now we pray to get paid for brands on our bodies.

There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the front lines of. There has been no job we haven’t done. There is no tax they haven’t leveed against us – and we’ve paid all of them. But freedom is somehow always conditional here. “You’re free,” they keep telling us. But she would have been alive if she hadn’t acted so… free.

Now, freedom is always coming in the hereafter, but you know what, though, the hereafter is a hustle. We want it now.

And let’s get a couple things straight, just a little sidenote – the burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That’s not our job, alright – stop with all that. 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.

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.

Thank you.

Kanye West Needs to Learn the Difference Between the Cry of Rebellion of the Slave (New or Old) and the Frustrated Rage of the Wannabe New Slave Master: OR WHY YOU CANNOT BREAK ALL THE CHAINS EXCEPT ONE

Reprinted from Revolution Newspaper

by Sunsara Taylor and Carl Dix | June 27, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us

In his new song, “New Slaves,” Kanye West evokes the seismic brutality and grinding oppression inflicted on Black people since they were first dragged to these shores in slave chains. He indicts the cradle-to-prison pipeline that steals the lives of Black youth and rails against the cold, hard reality that no matter what one accomplishes, if one is Black they will continue to face dehumanizing and even life-threatening racism. Through this song, he declares himself in open rebellion against a racist industry that seeks to neuter and profit off his artistic talents and a broader society which has, as an expression of this very racism, repeatedly written off or dismissed Kanye’s rants and anger as simply an outgrowth of “his oversized ego.”

But where does Kanye take this? Unfortunately, instead of the cry of rebellion of the slave (new or old) who wants to not only get out of this madness himself but fight for a world where no one is oppressed, exploited, and degraded in this way, Kanye rages at the ways this ongoing oppression keeps him from being able to fully integrate himself into, and assume his place at the top of, the modern-day slave system.

This is expressed not only in the way Kanye constantly boasts of obscene wealth and conspicuous consumption in a world where so many suffer so endlessly (including those whose modern-day slave labor has produced all that material wealth). Even more, this comes through in Kanye’s inability and/or unwillingness to envision a world that is not divided into oppressors and oppressed, exploiters and exploited, those on top and those on bottom. Encased within these terms, Kanye ends up making a principle—even an anthem—of fighting to be on top. As he puts it crudely in the chorus of “New Slaves”: “I’d rather be a dick than a swallower.”

Think about what this chorus is saying. That essentially this world is made up of two kinds of people. On the top are the “dicks,” i.e., “real men” who get off on fucking over others. On the bottom are the “swallowers,” i.e., women, as well as men who are being cast as women (the biggest insult that can be hurled at men today), who are viewed as nothing more than receptacles for some “dick’s” semen. Kanye doesn’t object to this dehumanizing division. Instead, he openly brags about and claims his place in it as a “dick.”

And look at what actually goes on in this world where the half of humanity that is born female are treated as “swallowers.”

Look at the way that women and girls are bombarded from a very young age—including by songs like this one—with the notion that their highest purpose in life is to be of sexual service to men. Look at the way men—trained in this same outlook from a very young age—routinely beat, rape, pimp, purchase, and otherwise insult and demean women on the street, in the homes, in the schools, in their relationships, and at workplaces. Look at the way women, if they actually have sex or even if they are sexually abused or raped, are considered “sluts” or “hos” and treated like soiled and unworthy garbage. Look at the millions of women and young girls throughout the world who are preyed upon and pimped out, drugged and beaten into submission, and sold as mere bodies to be violated and demeaned on the street or through the Internet. Look at the whole Christian fascist movement in this country that has assassinated abortion doctors and passed outrageous restrictions, all out of their desire to reduce women back to breeders of children and possessions of men. Look in the shelters and on the streets where poor and especially Black women have been evicted from public housing by the thousands, along with their children. Look at the desperate women who make up the bulk of the modern-day slave system of sweatshop exploitation all around the world.

Calling women “swallowers” accepts this enslavement and oppression. Bragging about being a “dick” celebrates being a wannabe slave master. Not only is this utterly unacceptable for how it views women, this kind of approach ultimately leads Kanye away from consistently challenging even the horrendous oppression of Black people he legitimately and powerfully indicts.

We see this very sharply in the closing verse of Kanye’s song. Kanye rails against the way corporations have tried to control him and draws parallels to the private prison contractors making enormous profits off stealing the lives of Black youth. He calls out those who are sitting back in the Hamptons (one of the most elite and wealthy vacation spots) bragging about the wealth they made through this exploitation of Black people. But then, he rhymes, “Fuck you and your Hampton house, I’ll fuck your Hampton spouse, Came on her Hampton blouse, And in her Hampton mouth.” Here Kanye reduces his “rebellion” against the oppression and exploitation of Black people to a vision of revenge against this racist elite that has denied him full entry by defiling and degrading this elite’s property, which is all that women in this view are deemed to be.

It is simply a fact that there is no fundamental difference between this view of women and the brutality and degradation and terror, imprisonment, and foreclosed futures of those who are born Black or Latino or other oppressed nationalities in this country. Indeed, the roots of both these forms of oppression are woven deep into the structures and culture of this capitalist-imperialist system and the struggle to end both these, and all other, forms of oppression are also bound together in the struggle to make real revolution to get rid of this system. How this is so is something that people need to get deeply into and a good place to start are the special issues of Revolutionnewspaper which deal in great depth with “The Oppression of Black People, the Crimes of this System, and the Revolution We Need” and “A Declaration: For Women’s Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity.”

Today’s modern-day slaves do NOT need the cry of revenge and degradation flowing from the frustrated aspirations of the new wannabe slave master. Humanity desperately and urgently needs the deepest cry and act of rebellion of the slaves who are determined to free not only themselves but all of humanity. This is the fight for real, all-the-way communist revolution as it has been re-envisioned by Bob Avakian (BA). And we need art and culture which celebrates this genuine rebellion and the strivings for really breaking free of all this enslavement, degradation, and self-degradation.

All this drives home the tremendous truth and significance of BAsics 3:22, a statement made by BA many years ago, which Kanye West, oppressed people everywhere, and all those who yearn to get free must learn from today:

“You cannot break all the chains, except one. You cannot say you want to be free of exploitation and oppression, except you want to keep the oppression of women by men. You can’t say you want to liberate humanity yet keep one half of the people enslaved to the other half. The oppression of women is completely bound up with the division of society into masters and slaves, exploiters and exploited, and the ending of all such conditions is impossible without the complete liberation of women. All this is why women have a tremendous role to play not only in making revolution but in making sure there is all-the-way revolution. The fury of women can and must be fully unleashed as a mighty force for proletarian revolution.”

Reprinted from Revolution Newspaper

The New Wave of Post-Apocalyptic Sci-Fi

As is often the case in Hollywood, several movies with similar themes and plots are being released in close proximity. This year, it’s post-apocalyptic sci-fi, and the films are Oblivion, After Earth, and Elysium.

Each of these films look to be made with a very high standard of technical quality, each is a vehicle for a major A-list star, and I’m positive that they will all be very entertaining. What I’m more concerned about is what each of these films has to say about the human condition and society.

The first of the trio to be released will be Oblivion (April 19) starring Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman. The premise is that Earth was attacked 60 years ago (the trailer doesn’t say by who or what), and humanity was forced to flee the planet. Left behind on Earth is a skeleton crew of maintenance workers who just want to finish their duties so they can “go home.”

What most intrigues me about Oblivion is the inclusion of drones in the plot. Cruise’s character’s job is to service automated drones, until something goes wrong and he encounters a group of survivors still living on Earth.

Given the rise of drones as a major tool of imperialist power and their growing use in domestic law enforcement, the fact that Oblivion‘s story involves these unmanned death machines is, in and of itself, significant, and the film’s verdict on this technology’s use is potentially very important from a sociopolitical perspective. I’m hopeful that Oblivion will cast drone warfare in an appropriately negative light, considering the death and horror they rain down on innocent people.

Next up, the Will Smith vehicle After Earth (June 7), which takes place at least 1000 years in the future. This film seems to be a “man against nature” survivor tale. A father and son (Will Smith’s actual son Jaden) crash land on Earth long after humanity has abandoned the planet, and since then it’s become a wilderness of death traps they have to overcome.

All films say something about the world and reflect the worldview of the people who make them in some way. I have a feeling that this film, After Earth, will have a more subtle social/political content than Oblivion and Elysium. On the surface, it might not seem very political at all, but it’s possible that it could have some things to say about family dynamics,  survivalism, and humanity’s relationship with nature. We’ll see.

Finally, Elysium drops on August 9, and of the three this is the one I’m most interested in. Directed by Neill Blomkamp (District 9) and starring Matt Damon, Elysium appears to be the most overtly political of these post-apocalyptic films, zeroing in directly on class oppression.

Set 141 years in the future, the wealthy have built a massive space station that orbits the planet, a sanctuary away from the poverty, war, and disease of Earth. The film appears to create an obvious divide between rich and poor, and shows the people left on Earth to be dirty and oppressed while the elite have escaped to a manufactured paradise called Elysium. They can even cure cancer just as easily as getting an MRI while everyone else back on Earth struggles to survive on a polluted, dying world.

Damon’s character lives on Earth, recognizes the injustice of the class segregation, and decides to fight for equality. He acquires some sort of mechanical body suit and takes a mission to break into Elysium and “override their whole system.”

What I find so intriguing about this film is not only the bold and daring way it appears to be speaking out against the way the poor are exploited and oppressed, but also the way it seems to be embracing the righteousness of actually fighting against the system that creates this injustice. I only hope that I’m not somehow deceived by the trailer, because my expectations are officially high for Elysium.

It’s also intriguing that all of these films are being released so close together. It says a lot about the current state of society that there’s such an obvious pattern emerging, a noticeable upsurge in post-apocalyptic films, especially considering that they’re all sci-fi films that likely have a lot of social and political messaging embedded into their narratives.

There is something very wrong with the core of capitalist society, an inherent unfairness based on exploitation, and deep down I think people can sense that this system is unsustainable, even if they aren’t actively aware of it. And therefore, it’s interesting that so many films are emerging in popular culture that speak to this underlying fear of society’s decay and collapse. I’m looking forward to seeing what these films have to say about the times we live in, and seeing how they’re received.