The actor, who received the network’s humanitarian award from BET chairman and CEO Debra Lee, for his prominent role in the Black Lives Matter movement, dedicated his award to “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.”
The former history teacher, who sits on the boards of civil rights and social justice organizations The Advancement and Sankofa, also honored “black women, in particular, who have spent their lifetimes dedicated to nurturing everyone before themselves. We can and will do better for you.”
Williams, who portrays Jackson Avery on the hit ABC medical drama, said the African American community will reclaim their country in the face of police brutality.
“We know that police somehow manage to deescalate, disarm and not kill white people every day, so what’s going to happen is, we’re going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function and ours,” he said.
He also questioned how much progress African Americans have actually made and whether they’re truly “free” (“‘You’re free,'” they keep telling us. But she would have been alive if she hadn’t acted so … free”).
“I don’t want to hear anymore about how far we’ve come when paid public servants can pull a drive-by on a 12-year-old playing alone in a park in broad daylight, killing him on television and then going home to make a sandwich,” he said, citing the deaths of Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland and Darrien Hunt.
Williams concluded his speech on a poignant note by taking aim at those who exploit black culture.
“We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries 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 strained fruit. The thing is that just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.”
Watch the full speech below.
Justin Timberlake received social media backlash for his response to the speech Sunday night on Twitter.
Journalist Ernest Owens asked “So does this mean you’re going to stop appropriating our music and culture? And apologize to Janet too,” to which Timberlake responded “Oh, you sweet soul. The more you realize that we are the same, the more we can have a conversation.”
After being accused of being dismissive, condescending and dodging the question, the pop star — blamed for leaving Janet Jackson to take the bullet for her Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction” — tweeted an apology.