Jesse Williams was honored at the 2016 BET Awards on Sunday night.
A social activist prominent in the Black Lives Matter movement, the Grey’s Anatomy actor accepted the show’s Humanitarian Award and proceeded to give a stirring speech on stage.
Referring to Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old shot dead by a white police officer in Cleveland in 2014, Williams said the following:
“Yesterday would have been young Tamir Rice’s 14th birthday.”
“So, 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.”
After citing the “black women who have spent their lifetimes dedicated to nurturing everyone before themselves,” Williams went further.
He took critics of Black Lives Matter to task, adding:
“If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression.”
“If you have no interest in equal rights for black people, then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.”
It was a terrific speech. Watch it above.
Among those who hailed Williams for his moving words was Justin Timberlake.
“@iJesseWilliams tho… #Inspired #BET2016,” the artist Tweeted.
Pretty strong response, right? Pretty basic praise, no?
Not according to a few Timberlake critics on Twitter.
JT’s seemingly harmless Tweey prompted one follower to write:
“So does this mean you’re going to stop appropriating our music and culture? And apologize to Janet too. #BETAwards.”
The latter is a reference to the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show in which Timberlake performed alongside Janet Jackson.
The singer pulled off a piece of her ensemble, briefly exposing her nipple in front of tens of millions of viewers.
The move resulted in stricter broadcasting standards across television and backlash aimed at all those involved.
We had no idea this was still a thing to some people.
Timberlake quoted the critical tweet, replying as follows:
“Oh, you sweet soul. The more you realize that we are the same, the more we can have a conversation. Bye.”
Things just snowballed from here, as users called out Timberlake for not using his celebrit7 platform to speak out for black rights.
And also for the damage he caused to Jackson’s career more than a decade ago.
“I feel misunderstood,” Timberlake wrote in reply.
“I responded to a specific tweet that wasn’t meant to be a general response. I shouldn’t have responded anyway… I forget this forum sometimes…
“I was truly inspired by @iJesseWilliams speech because I really do feel that we are all one… A human race.”
“I apologize to anyone that felt I was out of turn. I have nothing but LOVE FOR YOU AND ALL OF US.”
In his speech, Williams did condemn cultural appropriation, saying:
“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, 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.”