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Jessie Williams Speech Black Lives Matter #blacklivesmatter

As a teenager, this stunning young man with piercing blue eyes would periodically appear at my door to collect his little brother from a visit with mine. You may have heard of him, Jessie Williams?

Yes, the Jessie Williams.

Even if you aren’t a huge Grey’s Anatomy fan, you may have seen Jessie pop up in the news recently for his impassioned speech while accepting BET’s Humanitarian Award. Jessie caught a lot of flak for his sentiments, which some have referred to as “nothing short of an attack on white people.”

I watched the video of his speech but felt like I’d missed something. Jessie’s language was strong, but his message rang true to me. Feeling that I had missed something potentially offensive, I went back and watched it again. I read the full transcript. And still nothing.

I had to go back this week and watch the video once more in light of two more senseless deaths of black men in just two days. I also watched the videos of Philando Castile’s and Alton Sterling’s shootings. I watched President Obama’s response in which he cited irrefutable statistics “symptomatic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system” and explained Black Lives Matter. And this morning, I woke up to more terrible news about a sniper killing five police officers at a Dallas protest of…police shootings. This all has to stop. 

This week, I’ve been reading and reading more, trying to educate myself. I recognize that I’m viewing these shootings as an outsider. I may be sickened over what I’m seeing, but I know I don’t truly get it as a white woman who would never meet a fate like Philando Castile’s and Alton Sterling’s. I don’t get it as someone who doesn’t have a loved one in the line of duty. So I’m reading and watching and getting educated about what it means to support #blacklivesmatter, peacefully.

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In case you’re doing the same, here are a few pieces worth your attention (I will update this list as we learn more about what happened in Dallas and commentary emerges):

“I don’t know where we go from here because those of us who recognize the injustice are not the problem. Law enforcement, militarized and indifferent to black lives, is the problem. Law enforcement that sees black people as criminals rather than human beings with full and deserving lives is the problem. A justice system that rarely prosecutes or convicts police officers who kill innocent people in the line of duty is the problem. That this happens so often that resignation or apathy are reasonable responses is the problem.”

“In the wake of police executions, you are bound to hear a few things that distract from the real issues. One of those storylines is that “he was no angel,” wherein the media will outline the various ways in which the victim behaved inappropriately in the past. None of this matters, and it certainly does not change the fact that the police killed the person outside of any legal process. I smoked pot when I was in high school, for example, and if the police used that as justification to murder me, that would be ludicrous.”

“There are already white people who want to change, and want to help spur change in their communities. Many people are reticent to speak out, for fear of misspeaking; others want to do something, but don’t know what to do. Instead of continuing to unconsciously reinforce structural racism in America, there are many white people who want to consciously help deconstruct and dismantle it. But how?”

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“As so often is the case in the death of black people, Sterling’s body is used for shock value, to get eyeballs and to sell papers. There’s something so incredibly sad about this. There’s a long history in this country of black lives and black death being used for economic gain. This situation is no different.”

“You cannot know how we secretly curse the cowardice of whites who know what I write is true, but dare not say it. Neither will your smug insistence that you are different — not like that ocean of unenlightened whites — satisfy us any longer. It makes the killings worse to know that your disapproval of them has spared your reputations and not our lives.”

“…saying ‘all lives matter’ is willfully going back to ignoring the problem. It’s a way of dismissing the statement by falsely suggesting that it means ‘only black lives matter,’ when that is obviously not the case. And so saying ‘all lives matter’ as a direct response to ‘black lives matter’ is essentially saying that we should just go back to ignoring the problem.”


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