Nonfiction Pop Culture The Word 6 minute read

Jesse Williams’ Speech Gave Me Life

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Mandatory Credit: Photo by Buckner/Variety/REX/Shutterstock (5736944lw) Jesse Williams BET Awards, Show, Los Angeles, USA - 26 Jun 2016

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Buckner/Variety/REX/Shutterstock (5736944lw)

Sometimes words are arranged so beautifully that they evoke a physical reaction because they please your ear, intrigue your brain, touch your heart, and ultimately soothe your soul.  Like honey-laced tea when you have a sore throat, words laced with the right ideas can make you feel warm, cared for and comforted.

Feelings that were trapped in the deepest parts of you are freed because a song, book or speech connected with them, made them real, so that now they can be seen, considered, analyzed and handled.

Jesse Williams’ speech gave legs to Black folks’ innermost sentiments and then allowed them to boldly, nakedly, unapologetically and slowly saunter across the stage at the BET awards for the world to see.  The truth was bare.  Absent, too, were the usual accompanying scarves of shame, complacency, and fear that cloak our rage and only allow it to come out as a whisper of “please.”

Please… can Black Lives Matter?  Can you value our lives as much as your value yours?  Can you stop, police officers, killing our people for the very same crimes, even lesser crimes, that you are able to resolve without incident with White people?  Could you please teach our full history in schools?  We were — and are — more than slavery.  Could you please acknowledge our great contributions to this county?  Could we please have the same rights as you, get the same pay for the same job, be compensated or at least acknowledged for the talents you steal from our culture?

Please “suh” — most respectfully “suh . . .

We ask nicely lest we be accused of being loud, ghetto, ungrateful, difficult, unmanageable, aggressive or angry.  Out of 46 million Black people in America, how many successful ones do you know who have been publically vocal about the injustices against Black people in America?  Exactly.  We have been trained to be quiet or to whisper if we want to “make it” in America.  America’s secondary curriculum covertly taught us that if we are a “good Black”, wherein we mimic their culture, don’t complain or ever make them feel uncomfortable with our difference, we may have what they have (true freedom).

So Black folks live an existence of suffering through the injustices of institutionalized racism, the undercurrent of people’s prejudice and unconscious bias, and the threat of outward racist brutality, with the inability to show any discontent lest we be ostracized, fired, broke, and ultimately killed.  We are battered and mute.

And then Jesse Williams spoke for us.  He acknowledged our pain and our strength. His words made them both real.

Each Black person who watched him last night possesses pain that they’ve buried deeply within, so they can function each day.  Were the pain easily accessible, perhaps they couldn’t tolerate the boss who talks down them; the colleague who must always touch their hair or asks them to explain one of Drake’s songs; the attendant who follows them around the store, having to ask the sales lady to get a key so that they can buy a basic hair product, the waiter who gives them subpar service while they see others receiving superior service, or the police officer who asks you why you are where you are (when you are in your own neighborhood).  If the pain were easily accessible, our people may accidently scream instead of whisper.  Please…

And then Jesse Williams screamed for us.

He didn’t ask, whisper or say please.  He demanded.  He told us and the world that we, Black folks, are worthy and deserving.  Saying please means you are asking for something you want; when Black people should be demanding what they are due.  And we demand it now.  We as a people have been trained to be patient.  Prayer, good behavior and hard work will get us to the promised land by and by.  Now, freedom is always coming in the hereafter, but you know what, though, the hereafter is a hustle. We want it now.

Who knew that the word “now” had the ability to fill your lungs with more air; to immediately make you lighter—immediate possibilities making the world seem brighter.

And his words didn’t just give our feelings legs, but also arms.  Those arms lifted the weight of White people’s sins off of our backs and placed them squarely on theirs.  He freed us from the responsibility of making them feel comfortable with their sins and our battle against  the legacy of them.  The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander.

Finally, his words gave our feelings eyes to look out and within.  He saw me, us, Black women.  And I didn’t realize until he said, …the Black woman in particular who have spent their lives nurturing everyone before themselves—we can and will do better for you . . . how badly I needed, we needed to be seen.  We Black women toil.  We are the most educated, second best employed, biggest entrepreneurs in the country, while oftentimes simultaneously raising little Black boys and Black girls.  We have held it down for not just for Black women; but for Black people only to have the beauty industry tell us we aren’t pretty enough, the fashion industry tell us our bodies aren’t thin enough, corporate America tell us we aren’t friendly enough.  We are told that we are too Black, too curvy, too loud, filled with too much attitude to even be considered by most Americans,  including Black men.  Yes, that one hurts the most.  So, when Jesse Williams, a Black man, stood on the stage and his words acknowledged us and promised us that they will do better by us—I was able to see my beautiful self, fully.

Jesse’s words gave me permission to be Black, to be a woman– boldly and unapologetically and to slowly saunter to my new expectations of now.

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