Actor Jesse Williams brought the energy of a civil rights rally to the BET Awards Sunday night as he accepted the humanitarian award, demanding equal rights and called for an end to police brutality against black people and white appropriation of black culture.
The "Grey's Anatomy" star brought the Microsoft Theater audience to its feet with his passionate speech.
"A system built to impoverish, divide and destroy us cannot stand if we do," he said, adding, "We know that police somehow manage to deescalate, disarm and not kill white people every day."
Williams compared spending money on brand-name clothing to the days when slaves were branded with their owners' markings. He said it's not the job of the brutalized to comfort the bystander.
"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 and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit," he said.
Backstage, Williams said he hopes his remarks during the show remind people "just because we get to be here tonight doesn't mean we made it. "What I'd like to see us do is return to a space where it's OK for folks to be proud and outwardly black in public," he said, "and not have to feel like we have to be safe to live in white spaces and to make everybody comfortable when we've spent centuries being uncomfortable. It's time to shed that fear."