The actor and activist received the Humanitarian Award at the ceremony for his efforts to raise awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement and continued those efforts in his acceptance speech, touching on racial issues, social justice and cultural appropriation.
“A system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do. It’s kind of basic mathematics. The more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize,” he began, dedicating the award to the “real organizers all over the country, the activists, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers and the students.”
He mentioned Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy who was fatally shot by a Cleveland police officer in 2014; Rekia Boyd, a 22-year-old who was shot and killed by a Chicago police officer as she walked with a group of people in a park, CNN reports; Eric Garner, a New York father who was choked to death by a police officer in 2014 and Sandra Bland, who authorities alleged committed suicide in a Texas jail cell last summer after an apparently routine traffic stop led to her arrest.
5 Things You Need to Know About Actor and Activist Jesse Williams
“We know that police somehow manage to de-escalate, disarm and not kill white people everyday,” he continued. “So what’s going to happen is we are going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function and ours.”
He urged the public to take action and condemned those who critique the social justice movement but “have no interest in equal rights for Black people.”
“There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the front lines of. There has been no job we haven’t done. There is no tax they haven’t levied against us and we have paid all of them,” he continued.
“But freedom is somehow always conditional here. ” ‘You’re free,’ they keep telling us freedom is always coming in the hereafter, but, you know what though, the hereafter is a hustle. We want it now.”
Amid a storm of applause, Williams touched on cultural appropriation.
“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,” he said in the speech.
“Ghettoizing and demeaning our creations, then stealing them, gentrifying our genius, then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit. The thing is though, just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.”
In the hours after the speech, social media users took to Twitter to discuss and applaud Williams’ words. However, Justin Timberlake found himself facing backlash after tweeting that he was “#inspired” by the speech.
Many accused Timberlake of cultural appropriation and urged him to use his platform to take action about social issues.
The 35-year-old singer soon posted a series of apology tweets writing that he feels “misunderstood.”
“I apologize to anyone that felt I was out of turn,” he wrote. I have nothing but LOVE FOR YOU AND ALL OF US –JT.”