So by now we’ve all seen, heard, possibly reposted, retweeted and bared witness to the glory that was Jesse Williams accepting his BET Humanitarian award last weekend. Unlike most trending topics, this speech is still wagging on the tips of people’s tongues. Whether you understood the context of the speech (I’m side-eyeing you Tomi Lahren), or don’t agree with it (really you 316 petitioners trying to get him fired) it made waves. Many are familiar with Williams from his long standing acting career on Grey’s Anatomy, but what many people didn’t know is that he is a black/white, a biracial man. Why is this important? Does it really matter? For those of us who have struggled to make arguments for political stances for either of the many cultures we may represent, it does.
You don’t understand. You’re not really black. You are privileged. You are white-washed. You are capable of “passing,” (when a person classified as a member of one racial group is also accepted as a member of a different racial group.) These are a few of many micro-aggressions I have been told in my life when it comes to making a stance on the politics concerning my ethnic background. It may sound absurd and you may think who cares, but when a multiracial person is bullied or challenged in their beliefs because they physically or ethnically don’t fully represent that culture 100%, it is. I was moved by Williams’ speech, and I know regardless of race it would have happened either way because he spoke with intellect, truth, vigor, and conviction that had me literally clapping in my living room.
In the heat of the twitter moment people were too busy quoting and praising for me to see any real harping on the fact he’s not 100% black. Then again, once the trolling finally stopped towards Mr. Timberlake, it didn’t take too long for the articles to start emerging about Jesse’s background. Some of the most telling articles thankfully showcased him owning his biracial identity and recognizing the privilege it has afforded him. In a past article with The Guardian he stated “I know how white people talk about black people. I know how black people talk about white folks. I know I am there and everyone speaks honestly around me.” There’s even been a video circulating on Facebook in which he discusses his European features and that he doesn’t ignore his privilege but instead uses it to bring awareness to racism and social injustice.
When I saw Jesse standing proudly and using his platform to speak towards the oppression of Black people, his people, who cheered and praised his eloquence, I knew it is indeed possible to speak about the injustices of my cultures without meeting constant strife. I admired him because he was bold, brave and relentless in empowering those around him to stand for a cause, and nobody questioned him, nobody booed him, nobody said “You’re not ____ enough.” I’m hoping despite the naysayers that will always feel the need to tower over multiracial people for not being 100% anything that this will at least give pause to the comments and allow us the space to speak our truth first. You won’t know what we have to say if you don’t let us say it. You won’t be able to hear our empathy and understanding if you can’t see past our skin tone. You won’t know that we want to help provide support and equality for every culture we may represent if you can’t move out of our way and allow us to walk with you.