Jesse Williams’ speech while accepting the 2016 Black Entertainment Television (BET) Humanitarian Award, spawned an outpouring of praise, cheers, and even inspired a poem from celebrated author Alice Walker. The speech, which characterized cultural appropriation and micro-aggressions against Black Americans as a function of White privilege and denial, has also landed the Grey’s Anatomy star into hot water with those who term his words as hate speech.
In one Change.Org petition, started by Erin Smith, Williams is taken to task as a racist, who should be fired from the popular television drama in the same manner as former fellow Grey’s Anatomy actor Isaiah Washington for making comments against LGBTQI community.
“If this was a White person making the same speech about an African American, they would have been fired and globally chastised, as they should be, but there been no consequences to Williams’ actions. There’s been no companies making a stand against his racist remarks and no swift action condemning his negative attitude,” the petition read in part.
Williams condemned the country for creating whiteness using it to objectify blackness. “ abuse and bury 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. The thing is though… the thing is that just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.” Williams said.
Over the past two years, Williams has become a formidable activist both on and off screen. He met, marched, and organized with activists in Ferguson, Missouri, following the extrajudicial killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown. More recently, he was the executive producer of Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement, a documentary chronicling the birth of the black millennial social justice movement, which premiered in May on BET.
Reactions to the petition have been swift and mostly in favor of Williams’ comments. Social media outlets, including Twitter exploded with comments from Williams’ supporters, many urging Grey’s Anatomy to ignore the petition.
“Seriously, I’m getting sick and tired of who publicly speak out against discrimination, prejudice and overt racism, (and who promote equality) being regularly labeled as being racist (this labeling coming from angry hate filled people, primarily of European decent),” one supporter, Miguel Molina wrote. “When did critiquing and expressing disdain, against those who find a fictitious superiority within a social construct, become racist? When did demanding action to end race-based superiority, become an act of racism itself?”
Another supporter, Lance Thompson, lamented the double standard of having a free speech and being a person of color.
“If Trump can speak his mind about “immigrants” then Jesse certainly can about how it is to be a person of color in America.”
In response to the petition, Shonda Rhymes, creator of the TV series tweeted, “Um, people? Boo don’t need a petition. #shondalandrules” on July 4.
According to a July 5 USA Today article, the petition garnered 2,300 signatures for Williams’ removal, but was countered by 5,000 signatures in a petition to keep him on Greg’s Anatomy.
Grey’s Anatomy has announced no plans to punish or terminate Williams.