Notes on News: Why petitioning against Jesse Williams is ridiculous

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At the BET Awards on the 26th June, awards that celebrate all things successful in the world of black entertainment, Jesse Williams of Grey’s Anatomy fame picked up the Humanitarian Award. Upon his win, he made a speech which has been heralded as inspirational- his blunt and honest discussion about the ways in which black people in America are discriminated against, being a well needed wake-up call to many. However, on the 1st July, less than a week later, somebody set up a change.org petition to get Williams fired from Grey’s Anatomy; due to his racist speech against white people and law enforcement. Right… That doesn’t sound idiotic, does it? Not at all.

Personally, I already feel the white privilege tears rolling down some Trump supporting American in the deep South’s face. Let’s not jump the gun though; maybe this person has a point. However, Jesse’s speech is from the perspective of a black man, who has seen the oppression of his people in his home country and is calling for change. Considering the fact he was being awarded for humanitarian work; and the fact that Williams himself is actually biracial; I really doubt that the man is racist against white people.

Before I go into a bit more detail, this link has the full speech. Let’s get down to analysing the racist hate against law enforcement and white people, shall we?

So first, he dedicates the award to all the everyday heroes, and black women in particular. Pretty legit; often people do start awards speeches by dedicating them to someone. Then the first mention of white people comes in, and he is saying that they aren’t getting killed everyday. That’s a positive surely; not something for white people to get upset about.

Yes he is comparing that alongside the countless deaths in the US of black people murdered by white police officers. I hate to break it to you, petitioners- that’s not hate against the law enforcement… That’s fact. According to a study by the Guardian in 2015, young black men are nine times more likely to be killed by police officers than any other American. I don’t see him using any sort of hateful slurs towards police officers here; he is merely stating the truth of what he sees in his country- and that is some police officers, supposedly enforcers of the law, getting away with murder.

Then he moves on to talk about consumerism, and the irony that we live in such a consumerist culture. This is relevant to the descendants of black slaves in America; though I think that the point he makes about our willingness to be paid to be able to afford to brand our bodies is very relevant to all of us.

Next Jesse Williams talks of all the things that black people have done, but must continue to do to achieve full freedom. I don’t see any mention of white people here. I see a black man talking with pride about what his people have done, and speaking with ambition about what he wants to see them next. As aforementioned, white people aren’t really relevant here, apart from the referral to them as the ‘they’ that falsely tell black people they are free.

If the problem is them being told to “sit down” instead of telling those campaigning to change how to do that- well, I think they need to take Jesse’s advice and sit down.

The last paragraph of this speech is probably what the petitioners are finding the most problematic. However, again, I just see a man sharing his truth of what he sees of the world. Yes, he has bias, but if that’s what he sees- that’s what he sees. That prejudice and inherent fear is still taught in places today, yet the world seems to capitalise black originating music, like hip-hop and rap, they love African and Carribean restaurants, and white people these days are just as likely to dreadlock their hair. This is exactly what he describes- that Ghettoization and gentrification working alongside each other in a sick sort of harmony.

As you can see, throughout this speech, yes it is clear that is biased, but he is showing integrity and standing firm in his beliefs about what he sees every day] The comparison of Williams in this scenario to Isaiah Washington, who was fired for using homophobic slurs in 2007, seems unfair and completely far left off field. Williams did not say anything explicitly racist of hateful; therefore it seems strange to expect him to have the same treatment as somebody who did.

In an age of political correctness, it seems that everyone in the limelight really does have to choose their words carefully, otherwise, like this- it will come back to haunt them- I mean this petition is getting plenty of signatures after all. However, I do think in this situation, things have really spun out of proportion, and the whole petition is unnecessary.

The real problem here, is that this isn’t about law enforcement or white people. This is about black people, and them garnering the change they wish to see. For once, this is not about white people. The marginalised are important, and focusing on them over the privileged every now and then is not a problem, and it never should be. In the update of the petition description, the author said that this is nothing to do with politics. However, it’s all about politics, because this is about institutional racism, and those who are being affected cannot do anything unless those in power support it.

To conclude, all of this is yet another distressing sign that the world we live in really need to embrace that thing called diversity. A biracial man being fired from a TV show, is not going to change the fact that white police officers are not doing their job properly; and it’s certainly not going to stop them being criticised.

Watch Jesse Williams’ speech below:

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Film and English student. Lover of YA novels, Netflixing, fluffy blankets, all things Musical Theatre and modern Shakespeare adaptations. Life goals include writing a novel and being best friends with Emma Stone. Deputy Editor 2017/18 - or so they tell me.

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