So in case you haven’t heard, Grey’s Anatomy’s Jesse Williams won Humanitarian of the Year at the BET Awards. But what has really got the media talking is the fiery speech he gave in acceptance, and all the controversy that followed.
Jesse’s speech isn’t one we haven’t heard before. But like other celebrities before him, he used his moment in the spotlight to draw attention to bigger issues of police brutality and social inequality.
While I didn’t agree with everything he said, I understood his positive intentions, which nonetheless began by tackling some uncomfortable issues most of us would much prefer to sweep under the rug.
In spite of his good intentions though, one part of his speech effected a raised eyebrow from me.
We know that police somehow manage to de-escalate, disarm and not kill White people every day.
The Truth about Police Brutality and Race
But is that really the truth? Contrary to propaganda from the Black Lives Matter campaign, police kill more Whites than any other race, each year. This makes sense, since Whites do make up the majority of the population. Anything less would not make mathematical sense.
The imbalance comes in, however, when we consider that there are five times as many Whites as Blacks in America, but Whites are killed at “only” twice the rates of Black Americans.
According to the New York Times, when studies adjusted for the percentage of the population which Blacks and Whites occupied, Black men between the ages of 15 to 19 were 21 times more likely to be killed than Whites. And even when unarmed, they were still seven times more likely to have a fatal interaction with officers of the law.
A Selfless Approach to Social Equality
What appalls me though is that any race thinks they should be killed less often than the other.
While I do agree that police brutality is a serious issue in America, and that the percentage of African-Americans killed by police officers is a great deal higher than it should be, I think people become so blinded by self-interests these days that we only care when it affects us, or ‘our people’.
There have been countless incidents of unarmed Whites and Hispanics killed unnecessarily as well, yet these never arouse as much uproar and cause for concern.
Have we resolved that since Hispanics and Whites make up the bulk of the American population, it’s okay if we lose a few – no matter how unlawful?
If we are truly asking for social equality, then as a society, we should place equal weight on all our social ills. Why are we not addressing the larger issue of police brutality, as much as the specific cases of police brutality towards Blacks?
Jesse says that “a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do”. But it can, if we’re only standing to serve our own self-interests. Social equality requires all hands on deck, as does our gripes with police brutality.
The Division in the Black Community
The fact that we don’t even have our own hands on deck was obvious with a simple glance at Twitter, where Black followers debated about whether or not Jesse Williams – with his freckled skin, and grey-blue eyes – was ‘Black enough’ to give such a speech and really make a stand.
It seemed as though, because he was of Mixed-race, many Black Americans believed he wasn’t qualified to join the movement. So basically, the very people Jesse Williams worked to uplift and respect and speak out for, didn’t even want him on their team.
black men have been saying what Jesse Williams said for YEARS lmao just say if all black men looked like Jesse you'd actually listen— THANOS SZN (@SoloDahJedi) June 27, 2016
Amazing, isn’t it?
The White Casualty
But Black Twitter didn’t stop there. When Justin Timberlake then tweeted his support of Jesse Williams’ speech, Twitter tore him to bits and pieces next.
Many accused him of being a part of the very system that Jesse Williams was speaking against. They viewed Justin Timberlake as a thief who had made a fortune off culturally appropriating African-American culture and music.
Justin Timberlake tweeting about Jesse Williams as if Jesse wasn't talking about folks like him that leave black women unprotected. #Janet— Purify🗣 (@Purify_toast17) June 27, 2016
Justin Timberlake's all like "yeah, stop stealing black culture and using it as a costume!" pic.twitter.com/hGek28w14J— Sam Roberts (@notsam) June 27, 2016
Cultural What Now?
Every time I hear about this cultural appropriation thing I can’t help but laugh.
We have a problem with White people wearing dreads and cornrows, but then buy four-feet long blonde weave to put in our hair.
We have an issue with White people, like Justin Timberlake, borrowing our sound and look. But then we too have Black and Mixed-Race stars singing country, pop, rock, and making dubstep beats without a problem.
We can’t be mad at Justin Timberlake for once looking like this:
When even Beyoncé still looks like this, after her own venture into Black Empowerment:
Or what about the fact that one of our biggest cultural icons voluntarily went from this…
The Black Patent
The real question everyone should be asking is who patented Black and African-American culture? I want to see the paperwork. Until then, it’s time we all learn to work together to achieve actual social equality – or just shut up.
We all profit from borrowing each other’s looks and sounds. It’s what helps artists to meet in the middle and appeal to a broader audience. And sometimes, as in the case of Jesse Williams, we have no choice. We are our parents’ making. He didn’t choose his European features.
But since we’re all so adamant to draw the line, let’s do it right. I’ll bring the fire and brimstone to roast Justin Timberlake, right after Nicki Minaj stops dressing like Barbie, and Beyoncé gives up her straw-coloured weave…
With all Due Respect.