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.

The Political Battleground of the 2015 Academy Awards

In 1978, Vanessa Redgrave won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for the film Julia, about a woman who is murdered by the Nazis for her anti-fascist activism. That same year, Redgrave also produced and narrated a documentary called The Palestinian about the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO). In protest of her nomination, the Jewish Defense League picketed the Academy Awards and burned effigies of the actress. When Redgrave took the stage to accept her Oscar, she used the opportunity to take a political stand.

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She thanked her co-star Jane Fonda and Julia‘s director Fred Zinnemann, and then went on to express gratitude to the millions who sacrificed in the struggle against fascism and the Nazis. Redgrave then thanked the Academy for resisting intimidation from “Zionist hoodlums whose behavior is an insult to the stature of Jews all over the world and their great and heroic record of struggle against fascism and oppression.” But she didn’t stop there. She continued, “I salute all of you for having stood firm and dealt a final blow against that period when [Richard] Nixon and [Joseph] McCarthy launched a worldwide witch-hunt against those who tried to express in their lives and their work the truth that they believe in. I salute you and I thank you and I pledge to you that I will continue to fight against antisemitism and fascism.”

Two hours later during that Academy Awards ceremony in 1978, Paddy Chayefsky took the stage to present the awards for Best Writing, and he fired back at Redgrave, “I would like to say, personal opinion, of course, that I’m sick and tired of people exploiting the occasion of the Academy Awards for the propagation of their own personal political propaganda. I would like to suggest to Miss Redgrave that her winning an Academy Award is not a pivotal moment in history, does not require a proclamation, and a simple ‘thank you’ would have sufficed.”

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The Oscars in 1978 provided a clear example of how conflicting political attitudes and ideologies compete on stage in front of millions. Under the surface, the Academy Awards always reflect the prevailing politics of Hollywood at a given moment in time, but sometimes these ideological struggles bubble over for all to see when participants in the ceremony seize the opportunity to speak out, or to condemn those who do.

Like the Oscars in 1978, last night’s 87th Academy Awards were also defined by politics, starting long before the ceremony even took place. Immediately following the announcement of the nominees on January 15th, a Twitter hashtag was created (#OscarsSoWhite) to mock and protest the Academy for failing to consider a single non-white actor or actress in any of the four acting categories. All 20 nominees were white for the first time since 1995. Many were also outraged that Ava DuVernay, the black, female director of Selma was also not nominated in the Best Director category. After the diverse Oscar ceremony from the previous year, it was clear the Academy was taking a step backwards, and controversy swirled leading up to the Awards, amplified by the context of recent events in Ferguson, MO and the social awakening in the wake of a rash of cases of police brutality.

When the Academy Awards broadcast began last night, race was an obvious elephant in the room. In an apparent attempt to compensate for the lack of black nominees, host Neil Patrick Harris conspicuously incorporated black people into the show, as if to say, “See, we’re not racist!” He enlisted Oscar winner Octavia Spencer to participate in a gag that ran throughout the broadcast, and she was also an award presenter. Harris also interviewed David Oyelowo from his seat in the crowd, and later on, when Oyelowo and Jennifer Aniston appeared on stage to present an award, Harris announced them as people “who absolutely deserve to be here,” in a not so subtle reference to their snubs by Oscar.

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But despite a drastically less diverse field of nominees this year, several of the winners rose to the occasion and spoke out on relevant and important progressive political issues, just like Vanessa Redgrave did in 1978. Patricia Arquette made the first bold statement of the night. On the issue of women’s equality she said, “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America,” she demanded from the stage, which got the audience fired up. Most notably, Meryl Streep jumped out of her seat, cheering and pointing at the stage in approval. Arquette won Best Supporting Actress for the film Boyhood, which depicts a single-mother struggling to raise two children over the course of 12 years, while suffering from a pattern of domestic abuse and financial difficulties.

The ceremony was also marked by a pointed political conflict in the style of Redgrave and Chayefsky, with a progressive speaking out on an issue, followed by the voice of the establishment responding. Laura Poitras’ Citizenfour won for Best Documentary Feature, a film about how she and Glenn Greenwald worked with Edward Snowden when he came forward to leak classified documents about the NSA spying program. During her acceptance speech she said, “The disclosures that Edward Snowden reveals don’t only expose a threat to our privacy, but to our democracy itself. When the most important decisions being made that affect all of us are being made in secrecy, we lose our ability to check the powers in control. Thank you to Edward Snowden for his courage, and for the many other whistle-blowers. I share this with Glenn Greenwald and the other journalists who are exposing truth. Thank you.”

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Immediately following Poitras’ speech, cameras cut back to host Neil Patrick Harris, who right before a commercial break said, “The subject of Citizenfour couldn’t be here for some treason.” The pun was not funny and the crowd did not laugh. There was an uncomfortable silence in the room, perceptible even on TV, for a few moments before ABC faded out for commercials. The “joke” was reprehensible, especially after the meaningful speech by Poitras to raise awareness about the crimes of the government and the vital importance of both whistle-blowers and independent journalists. Even if Harris’ rebuttal was simply a poor attempt to improvise a joke while under the enormous pressure of live TV being watched by millions (which is giving him a tremendous benefit of the doubt), there can be no doubt that what he did, in a single sentence, was defend the establishment and mock the bravery of people like Edward Snowden while endangering future whistle-blowers by publicly floating the idea that what they’re doing amounts to treason, which is one of the most serious charges that one can have leveled against them.

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Later on, Graham Moore took the stage to accept the Best Adapted Screenplay award for The Imitation Game, about Alan Turing, a gay man who helped develop methods to crack Nazi codes during World War 2. Turing was later prosecuted for “Homosexual Acts” which were illegal in the UK at the time. He was chemically castrated, and not long afterward in what was a possible suicide Turing died from cyanide poisoning. Graham Moore used his moment in the spotlight as an opportunity to speak about those who are made to feel different in society being driven to suicide. “I tried to commit suicide at 16 and now I’m standing here. I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she doesn’t fit in anywhere. You do. Stay weird. Stay different, and then when it’s your turn and you are standing on this stage please pass the same message along.”

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However, given the controversy surrounding the all white slate of acting nominees, perhaps the most cathartic moment of the night came during the performance of “Glory” by John Legend and Common, the nominated song from Selma. The crowd was flooded by an emotional release in which many in attendance were reduced to tears, culminating in a standing ovation. Shortly following the performance, “Glory” won the award for Best Original Song. During his acceptance speech Legend said, “We wrote this song for a film that was based on events that were 50 years ago, but we say that Selma is now! Because the struggle for justice is right now. We know that the voting rights that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised in this country today.” He continued, “We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were in slavery in 1850.”

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Of course the ceremony also had its negative moments, such as when Sean Penn yelled “Who gave this SOB his green card?” before announcing Alejandro G. Iñárritu the winner of the Best Director award, but at least in that instance Iñárritu had the opportunity to get the last word, using his time on stage to shine a light on immigration policy. First, in direct response to Penn’s “joke”, Iñárritu said, “Maybe next year the government will inflict some immigration rules to the Academy. Two Mexicans in a row, that’s suspicious, I guess.” He was referring to Alfonso Cuarón winning Best Director the year before for Gravity. He then concluded by saying, “Finally, I just want to, I want to take one second, I just want to take the opportunity, I want to dedicate this award for my fellow Mexicans, the ones who live in Mexico. I pray that we can find and build government that we deserve. And the ones that live in this country who are part of the latest generation of immigrants in this country, I just pray that they can be treated with the same dignity and respect of the ones who came before and build this incredible immigrant nation. Thank you very much.”

The 87th Academy Awards will be remembered for the way winner after winner used the stage to bravely take a progressive stand on one of many important political issues. There will likely be detractors who come forward to denounce this type of acceptance speech activism. They’ll say things like Paddy Chayefsky said in 1978, the essence of which is that people shouldn’t “abuse the platform” to drag whatever their “pet political cause” may be into the spotlight; that they shouldn’t “bring politics into it.” But when detractors make arguments like this, what they’re really saying is that they don’t want progressive politics brought up, because of course the dominant ideology in this society is the reactionary default of the ruling elite class, and that default isn’t considered “political” by the same standard. So, given this, that’s actually all the more reason why it’s important for progressive people to step forward and make their voices heard, both through their art, as well as on stage at the Academy Awards.

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