SpeedontheBeat.com guest contributor True God shares his thoughts about the Jesse Williams speech at this year's BET Awards, the fallout from it, the fallout from Justin Timberlake's retort/approval of the message, and more in this Op-Ed. The thoughts expressed do not necessarily represent the views of Speed on the Beat or SpeedontheBeat.com. However, I damn sure agree with a lot of them. So, without further ado, True, I'll hand the floor to you.
There was a time where I believed the words of the activists of today. There was a time where I felt like I was an activist of today. There was a time where I felt the culture of hip hop was my everything and I had to fight for it. There was a time where I felt like the hip hop landscape was changing and the world should learn to accept it. There was a time when I felt the political process mattered, and there was a time when I felt as if the political process was nothing more than a smokescreen and one big lie.
Now, these times all occurred at different periods of my life, but they all seem to clash together. They all seem to coincide. They all seem to share the same component of belief, whether a lack of, or a full fledged supporting belief. As I watched the full speech from actor turned activist Jesse Williams on the BET Awards, a number of thoughts ran through my head. As I watched Desiigner perform his hit song "Panda" on the same award show, a number of thoughts ran through my head. As I watched the Prince tribute, a number of thoughts ran through my head.
I'd like to share some of those thoughts with you.
First off, I didn't actually watch the BET Awards live. I never really have. There's a reason for that, but that's not important. What captivated me first was the Jesse Williams speech.
I remember my initial thought when he began speaking out about issues affecting our people was that he was yet another White actor with privilege behind him, speaking from a place of oppression that he had NEVER really experienced.
He was a star of Grey's Anatomy, on multiple films, and while he wasn't necessarily a top tier actor, he certainly wasn't dealing with the type of oppression that everyday people are. However, I understood that you can feel and sympathize with the plight of an oppressed people without truly feeling the pain of it. You won't understand it fully, but you'll still sympathize and acknowledge that wrong is wrong.
With my first assumption that Jesse was a White man, I was half right. He was mixed. Born to a white mother and a Black father, I couldn't possibly know the struggle that Jesse had coming up, as I know in school, some mixed children are treated differently, for better or worse. There's a syndrome within our brains that's been forced through indoctrination over the years and decades. It seems to be the basis of the idiotic battle of lightskin versus darkskin, which is honestly the dumbest thing I've witnessed our people fight over. It was even brought up in Twitter critiques of Williams' speech. But, why do we fight over something as miniscule as our skin color and skin shade?
In a society much like ours, the least of our problems is battling EACH OTHER over the shade of our skin. I figured that sure, everything is subjected to a joke, but sometimes, you have to look a little deeper, or just bypass the joke. Plus, there's a point where that joke really isn't a joke anymore. Deep-seeded hatred tends to rise up through even the most simple of jokes, from a psychological standpoint.
The concept of the joke you make about someone's ethnicity because they're mixed, or because they're lighter or darker than you sits well under the guise of self hatred and insecurity. There's the stupid notion that lightskin people act a certain way because of their color or tone, that darkskin people act a certain way because of their tone or color. All this does is create a divide between us as a people, as we attack each other and create a suppression and resistance to unity.
While once again, I'm always up for a good joke or two, there's just certain things that I've never understood as a real joke, and that would include lightskin versus darkskin. It's corny, always has been, and always will be.
But back to Jesse Williams. As I logged back onto Twitter after completing a very huge radio show for one of our brands, I was catching up on some of the happenings of the TL, and then I noticed a few tweets that said "I wish more Black men thought like Jesse Williams."
I instantly cringed. Then, I watched his full speech. I admire his speech, it was well-worded, delivered in a perfect manner, and it hit all the talking points that I'm sure he needed to cover to truly justify his Humanitarian award. Now, I'm not doubting the sincerity of his words, as I believe he truly means what he says to an extent. He's fighting a battle by promoting awareness, making efforts to help improve this world as best he can, and trying to get his message across. With two beautiful Black children and wife by his side, he must face the reality that his kids will be subjected to the racism that a majority of us have felt.
I would ignorantly think that due to his mixed heritage, he would somehow get a pass for having a White mother. But, I know a few brothers who had White mothers and Black fathers and got the same unfair treatment as the rest of us. At the end of the day, Jesse doesn't need his Blackness to be validated. It's in his blood. The situation on social media however is always full of comprehension errors and lack of context, so I was treated to seeing people comment that Jesse isn't really Black (much in the way they said Shaun King wasn't. But, a lot of us, we don't acknowledge the existence of Shaun King because of the things that were brought to light against him).
Inversely, I also saw people saying Jesse is a straight, lighter version of Deray (another one we don't acknowledge because it's always felt like he was a part of some sort of hidden agenda. Now, I don't mean that offensively. It's just the way it was presented that rubbed many people wrong), or that he was speaking from a perspective of privilege (which is true, because as a successful and presumably well-paid actor, your reality is a bit different from the man who was choked out selling cigarettes or the innocent man wrongfully shot). But I got the message of what he was trying to say loud and clear.
My issue with the speech wasn't really with Jesse himself or his words. It's with the reaction and the response.
|Photo Credit: BET/SheKnows.com|
Okay, Jesse Williams made a great speech at the BET Awards. That's one thing. That's not the defining speech of a new generation. That's not our next MLK moment, nor should we be searching for it. Truth be told, America loves to play up the MLK "I Have A Dream" speech because it's friendly in some ways to all facets of America.
In reality, the most vital speeches of MLK's life came as he awakened to see what was going on around him and took a much more aggressive tone in being pro-Black and leading with unity amongst each other, not with integration as the key. Those were speeches that really don't get a lot of mention in the history of MLK, and they all took place coincidentally in the months before his murder. Malcolm is infamous for some of his most famous speeches, but there was groundwork being laid, constant speaking engagements, continuous rhetoric being embedded to awaken the black minds of society.
While the Black Panther Party itself was, honestly, flawed, who could truly argue against self improvement, self preservation, and unification along with programs set up by our own to teach our children and to protect our women? That's been a belief and a system that Black men for years have employed, or have tried to at least. We've always believed in protecting our children and women, it's been a part of our DNA in some way and for all the talk of Black men not stepping up or not doing better, there are shining examples. For all the talk and negativity towards Black women, there are shining examples of beautiful and successful Black women of all shades and all backgrounds of life.
Where the aftermath of the speech rubbed me the wrong way was in the instant divide between us.
Jesse's speech wasn't meant to end in a finger-pointing contest or anything of that sort, it's just a footnote and a reminder of the goal that we have had for years and years to keep growing, shining, getting better, and sticking together. And as I said, he may not have meant to say it this way. But, his comment about us Black men having to do better and loving our Black women more almost gave off this feel that we don't love Black women, which I have never saw as true.
This is where my thoughts tend to go away from his point, IF THAT WAS was his point. As a Black man, born to a Black woman and raised by her my entire life, my appreciation and love for the Black woman is endless. The mother of my child, though we aren't on the best of terms, is a beautiful Black woman, who despite our personal issues, is a queen forever in her own right. My daughter is a beautiful Black princess, and I would give my life and everything I have to protect her at all costs. This is just my personal story. I have family, friends, brothers, and just people that I know in general who appreciate, love, and honor our Black women.
I always want to be a better man, a better Black man at that, but the truth of the matter is that my sole motivation for wanting to be better is not the Black woman. My highest motivation for wanting to be better is my child and my mother, both Black women who inspire me and push me daily, but my biggest motivation is self. This comes into self-love, self-worth, and self-value for all of us. The Black woman shouldn't solely be motivated by the Black man either.
Women are strong, sometimes stronger than men, and Black women especially have shown some amazing strength over the years. Regardless, the motivation to want to be better and be the greatest you can be should always start with self. There's nothing wrong with using energy and love from others to motivate you and help carry you through, but at the end of the day, no one can truly motivate you LIKE YOU. I said all that to close this point out, and move on to the last issue in this fallout, and the message is this: black men and women not only need each other, but we also need ourselves. There's an internal power in finding yourself, your kingdom, and bettering your life for YOU and the motivations you have around you.
Now, one thing that bothers me about the fallout was the Justin Timberlake ordeal.
Now, let me just express this first and foremost: Justin has some great music. I'm a fan of his work. I look at him like I look at any other artist: as an artist. I don't know this man personally, nor do I care to, I just know when the sounds of "Until The End of Time" comes on, I'm inclined to want to sing along usually. I love that song. Now, if you missed it, JT made a comment about being inspired by Jesse's speech, which was fine. Some guy responded to his comment and asked him to stop appropriating our culture, to which JT felt compelled to respond to on this particular night. Let me just point out this: I've seen what just one tweet can produce in response from a celebrity, and aside from the weird-ass "fuck me," "hi," "DAD," "you suck," and other troll like tweets that come, you'll get some strong opinions as well from a lot of people.
Shit, having 20 million followers will likely spawn 25,000 stupid responses and who has the time to respond to any of those stupid and negative responses, right? Well, Justin obviously did on this night. And that's fine. It's his choice. I just think it spoke volumes that he decided to respond to that instead of letting it pass. Celebrities take the high road often, ignoring a number of senseless tweets and ignorance, but JT had time today.
I don't think his response was really that bad, and I'll leave it up to you to look for the response, but what bothered me was that he responded anyway. He really meant what he said about us all being one people, and he was correct. At the core of this whole thing, we are all just humans, born male or female, who come into this world with a chance to do many great things. That's at the core. However, at the core of America, those with a skin tone or perceived by society as lesser, have a tougher road to success usually. Not always, but usually. We all have the power to take our destiny in our own hands, and that goes back to my earlier point about self motivation. Despite our setbacks and hardships, we preserve and we survive. That's one of the most admired things about our people anyway. Our resilience. However, let's go back to JT and his comment.
His comment rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, and then of course all the "stay woke" people would commence with their opinions. Now, I would consider myself somewhat "woke," as opposed to, I guess, "sleep?" But I am also realistic and objective, or I try to be at least. I wasn't offended by what JT said specifically, more so annoyed he took the time to respond, likely thinking he would get an out pour of support from the Black community for his statement.
But it backfired and he was forced to play PR, and apologize. What led me to be more so offended, was the fallout. Whenever a celebrity makes a blunder, there's three people on social media: the troll who just makes bad jokes at the expense of the blunder and uses it to bait some sort of repetitive pointless dialogue, the misguided "too woke" person who lacks perspective, and then there's the person who completely takes up for the celebrity, or feels betrayed by the celebrity for their comments. In reality, all those perspectives are extremely strange, especially the one that takes up for the celebrity or feels betrayed by the celebrity, which leads me to an even bigger point about JT and just white artists in general.
As I stated, I'm a fan of JT and his music. He invokes some soul spirit and his falsetto is very smooth listening. Once again, I do not know this man personally, nor do most of those who are reading this, so I can't say what his intentions are, but he's an entertainer. He's always had the white crowd and the pop crowd since the N'Sync days, and he won't ever lose them. Somewhere along the line, he went solo and enlisted Timbaland and Pharrell to help him construct his albums. They provided him with the right sounds and the right feel, and instantly it just took off.
He took shades of a Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, Al Green, Sam Cooke, and all of these amazing BLACK soul artists and utilized it to make great music. He makes good music that's rooted in the basis and influence of Black soul. Justin has been very charitable to many organizations, been slightly outspoken on certain political issues that fit for his public image, but he's never really felt like the type of guy to really understand your plight as a Black man or woman, or really grasp what we go through. At the end of the day, he's an artist. He sells records. That's what he's supposed to do.
He's going to donate to bigger causes like Hurricane Sandy, he's going to put up money for this national tragedy, but we didn't really get that much of a fight from him over Eric Garner, Mike Brown, or Freddie Gray, and nor should we have expected to. He's an artist. A white artist who invokes BLACK soul to help his music sound better and to also capture the Black audience as well. JT, without any semblance of Black soul in his music, would be *NSYNC, which was cool If you enjoyed that, but it just didn't work for the larger Black audience I'd say (it did, but didn't).
So, where does this notion of betrayal come from or the notion of taking up for your favorite singer or celebrity here? And what is the basis of this "White person that's invited to the cookout" shit that I keep seeing? White people who make a comment or two for Black acceptance and utilize our culture for their own advancement, but they do it well get passes, correct? That's just as bad as saying White people who "aren't racist" should be allowed to say the N-Word, just because they're "cool." That's really one of the dumbest things I've ever heard.
But, back to this "invited to the cookout" nonsense. I get the joke. But, just because a White person utilizes our culture, gets success from it, and makes good music, doesn't mean all of a sudden he's an honorary Black person or gets a pass for anything. The "Honorary Black" concept has always made me cringe. And, while it is the reverse of the "Token Black," both still end with our people somehow still seeking acceptance from Whites.
We'd praise the people who want to use us or use our culture so to speak, and allow them in. Why? At the end of the day, JT has never expressed his love for Black women (nor does he have to), never stood with us in battle against oppression (nor does he have to), never really highlighted our plight and issues (nor does he have to). Hell, he left Janet high and dry to save his ass at the Super Bowl (which is cool, he doesn't have to stand with her in it) as well.
So, where is he an Honorary Black? Or invited to the cookout? Now, a lot of black people are done with him. Sort of like they were when he made a reference to the N-word in a tweet to Madonna right after the Ferguson ordeal. These celebrities aren't our heroes. They aren't our friends. They're artists. They're actors. They're people who are here to do their job and get paid, and speak on what they feel they should in the media.
For JT, maybe his tweet was overblown by the media, maybe not. Regardless, he isn't an honorary Black or at the cookout table either with his to-go plate (Jesus, that's a stupid analogy anyways). He's a celebrity. He's an artist. He's a White artist. A damn good White artist that relies on the feel and sound interpretation of Black soul to thrive. And he succeeds at it.
So, kudos to him. Kudos to Jesse Williams for being outspoken at the BET Awards and being active in the movement that is for Black lives. Kudos to our brothers and sisters fighting side by side to battle injustice, oppression, and more. Kudos to objectivity. Kudos to diminishing the divide, ending the search for acceptance from white people, and awakening to unify as one.
Oh wait, we're still working on that one. In due time, they say. In due time.