Hey, black people, come close. Let’s chat.
You know I love us, right? So that means I have to be honest with you. The truth is we worry about the WRONG things.
Just when thought Beyonce’ and Kendrick’s performance of “Freedom” had given us the biggest dose of black power and pride for the night during the BET Awards, Jesse Williams made an acceptance speech for the books as the recipient of the Humanitarian Award. You’ve seen, heard or read it by now.
Every word was as eloquent as it was true, and he was intentional about calling out a few things we KNOW, but don’t always acknowledge: 1) Our culture and bodies are used for commercial value and entertainment then tossed aside, dead or alive, 2) black women should be protected because historically, we have always been on the front lines fighting for justice, particularly on behalf of black men and 3) celebrities should use their influence to push the equality agenda ahead, instead of hoarding money and fame for no greater good.
We were proud that someone said in just a few minutes what we’ve been preaching, teaching, tweeting, writing, shouting, marching for what seems like forever. For those already familiar with Williams’ activism work, it was yet another reason to admire him (this ain’t his first, second or third time at the rodeo). For others, it was an introduction to the other side of the “hot guy on Grey’s Anatomy.” And others were thinking, “Who is this dude??”
Social media immediately exploded with posts from memes with my favorite line of the night, “That’s the thing: Just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real,” written transcripts and essentially, electronic praise for his heartfelt words.
Here we are two days later, and it’s another story. Several actually, and I’ll paraphrase what I’ve read with my own eyes.
Williams, who is biracial, complete with stereotypical features: light skin, green eyes and curly hair, isn’t black enough to make such statements on race. What racial injustice has he experienced being of a light skin tone and half-white?
Black women are going berserk over his comments only because of his looks. David Banner, Nate Parker and other “real” black men have been saying this for years. His light skin privilege is what made his speech pop.
As a result, there’s another conversation about colorism, and it’s a needed one, no doubt. Colorism and privilege do exist along the color spectrum of black people — people of color, period. No need to discuss, EBONY has taken care of those arguments (Williams has publicly acknowledged his privilege as both a light-skinned African American and celebrity with access to predominantly white spaces. So there’s that.)
It’s an attack on black women (apparently, those who find him attractive or awe-inspiring). His wife, a natural-haired black woman, is the exact opposite of the stereotypical black woman who wears weave, artificial body parts and a lower level of consciousness. No need for us to compliment his intellect or looks because he wouldn’t want us anyway. We are beneath his “wokeness.”
*counts to 10*
Black people, why can’t we stay focused on what’s important?
There’s no reason we should be accessing someone blackness or suggesting our admiration for an outspoken activist is all for naught because we’re supposedly not desirable. I also want to point out how a great moment was twisted into a social media bashfest on black women further proving Williams’ point of black men needing to “do better” where we are concerned.
We have yet to master the art of focusing on the message, rather than the messenger. When we pick apart a pivotal teaching moment or a movement with silly critiques and criticisms, that further divides us and dilutes the greater message (See also: any influential movement in the last 50 years working towards civil rights where African American freedom is at stake) Time, in turn, is lost. While we’re discussing what his wife looks like or his complexion, we’re missing opportunities to talk about his comments with our children, with friends or coworkers who turn a blind eye to both systemic and covert racism, which can sometimes be more dangerous than blatant racism. We should be working in some capacity, big or small.
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Regardless of agreement, we should atleast respect someone of celebrity who is unafraid to use his platform to speak what won’t be spoken by others. Someone who knows that his occupation is acting, but his life’s work is service. I imagine similar things were said about Muhammad Ali and Harry Belafonte, to whom he is often compared, social media just wasn’t available to spread disdain virally.
If you know someone who has a criticism, yet no solution, deflection from the work that is being with or without them, stop them, talk to them. Ask them if it adds to the information that has been shared in a positive way? Would it be better if they closed their mouths in public spaces and forums, put their devices away or back away from the keyboard rather than spread baseless arguments to others who could easily be influenced.. Maybe that person is you. If so, kindly watch the action from the sideline. Those too busy working can’t hear the chatter of naysayers.
Oh, I forgot…Stay woke.