Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images for BET
Apparently, God woke up one fine mornting and she said you know what it’s a Friday and I ain’t got shit to do. Except it was actually Wednesday, August 5, 1981. On this day I shall give y’all Earth heathens a man. He will be smart. He’s gon’ be famous. And y’all don’t say “woke” yet, but you will in, ohh, 20 or so years, so he will be woke AF. He will have an unparalleled amount of ordacity. AND because I give absolutely no damns, he’s gone be wrapped up in a fine package that coincidentally aligns with the clusterfuck beauty standards white peepo created and y’all continue to uphold, but nevertheless here this nicca is. And Jesse Williams was like, “thanks fam.”
My timelines during Jesse Williams’ speech last night as he accepted BET’s Humanitarian Award at their annual awards show was saturated with female feelings about the actor-turned activist-turned perfect human. But it was a particular kind of woman reacting to him. It was the good type of woman yo mama says you better lock down before somebody else does. And probably very few of these women were surprised by any of the bars he was spitting last night after he glared solemnly at Debra Lee and her introduction like, as one Twitter use put it, a guest pastor getting introduced at Sunday Service.
It’s appropriate to conjure up images of the church here, given that so many of our civil rights leaders used the pastoral platform to get black people primed for work in social justice. But while the message was just as forceful, impassioned, and spiritually moving as anything in the church, the delivery was like that of a seasoned rapper who might drop a Tidal exclusive next week. It was the Drake album we never got. It was the Warriors’ Larry O’Brien trophy that shattered beneath LeBron James’ wings.
With an already small group of important lightskints, including Drake and Steph Curry (and also arguably Barack Obama, but we know how confused we get about the color wheel and for argument’s sake doesn’t include him), Jesse pushed through like The Block, delivered the championship to his team, and is now the MVP of #teamlightskint.
But more than that, Jesse moved himself from great to greater-er in the eyes of most woke black people, not just the woman ones, and regardless of skin tone, really. And, judging from the captivated faces of those in the crowd, perhaps he enlightened a few non-woke ones who were the subject of his social justice evangelisms.
And the man wasn’t just preaching to the choir. He got on BET’s stage in front of a crowd of celebrities, many of whom with more money and fame than he has, and had the nerve to say:
[We dedicate] our lives to get 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.
It’s one thing to say this at the Black Student Union house during the Kwanzaa planning meeting. It’s quite another to get on Viacom’s stage and tell them about the very shit they’re guilty of while informing millions of viewers, many of whom are probably not black, that:
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. Ghettoising 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.
It would be ironic to invoke Eminem and “Renegade” here, but Viacom really went and got this man to body them on their own network.
His words are only matched by how active he is in materializing his consciousness. He’s had his boots on the ground in Ferguson and Flint and as a board member of the civil rights group the Advancement Project. He has facilitated media projects to raise our people’s consciousness and elevate the stories of black people, including his latest film documenting the Black Lives Matter movement and his Question Bridge project focusing on black men. And he manages to do all this with his black ass wife and giving props to black women on a regular. It’s like he was made in the bougie black girl factory that usually only produces unicorns but then one day decided to pop out the collector’s edition man version.
What Jesse showed last night is that he is a once-in-a-generation famous person. His mom and pops were looking at him like they know it. His wife knows it. And now a significantly greater number of people do too.
We are truly grateful that Jesse is out here preaching the good word when so, so few of his peers are doing the same. Hopefully some of them, and the rest of us too, receive the message.