Jesse Williams, actor, activist, former teacher in the Philadelphia school system, born 1981, American
received the humanitarian award at the BET Awards on June 27, 2016. Bending his tall frame forward and downwards, the actor thanked his parents and wife.
Then, referring to the award in his hands, he said the following.
He has been attacked for ‘attacking white people’. But, of course, he is also white and so that is a strange accusation. He is attacking certain persistent American viewpoints and behaviours. Persistent and pernicious as in hundreds of years.
“This is not for me. This is for the real organizers all over the country: the activists, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do.
Detail of a mural at 49th and Baltimore in West Philadelphia. Part of the Mural Arts Program, this was painted in 2008 by Daniel Gunn.
A Farwell Feast, gouache on paper, 1988. Willie Birch, born 1942, American. The Harold A. and Ann R. Sorgenti Collection of Contemporary African-American Art shown at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia in 2016.
“It is kind of basic mathematics: the more we learn who we are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize.
Woke, wood, acrylic. Charles Hall, born 1963, American. In the artist’s collection loaned to Woodmere Museum, Philadelphia in 2016.
“This is also, in particular, for the black women who have spent their lifetimes dedicated to nurturing everyone before themselves. We can and will be better for you.
Portrait of Black Madonna, 1987, oil and collage on canvas. Benny Andrews, 1930-2006, American. Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Washington, DC
A Pastoral Visit, oil on canvas, 1881. Richard Norris Brooke, 1847-1920. American. Corcoran Collection of the National Gallery, Washington, DC
“Now: what we’ve been doing is looking at the data. We know that police somehow manage to de-escalate, disarm and not kill white people every day.
Untitled (Police Beating), 1943, watercolor, ink, graphite on paper. Norman Lewis, 1909-1979, American. Rodney M. Miller Collection shown in a retrospective at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, 2015-2016.
“So what is going to happen is that we are going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function and ours.
By Any Means (after Malcolm X), 2008, acrylic and book pages on canvas. Tim Rollins, born 1955, American.
This work was done by the artist with teens served by K.O.S. (Kids of Survival) which the artist started in 1982 in the South Bronx, New York. The artist and K.O.S use influential texts to make politically charged art. Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Washington, DC
“Yesterday would have been Tamir Rice’s 14th birthday. So I don’t want to know how far we’ve come when paid public servants can pull a drive-by on a 12-year old in a park in broad daylight, killing him on television, and then going home to make a sandwich.
“Tell Rekia Boyd how it is so much better to live in 2012 than it is to live in 1612 or 1712. Tell that to Eric Garner, tell that to Sandra Bland. Tell that to Doreen Hunt.
Threnody 2, 1987, acrylic on linen. Leon Golub, 1922-2004, American. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia.
“Now the thing is, though, all of us in here getting money: that alone isn’t going to stop this.
“Dedicating our lives to getting money just to give it right back for someone’s brand on our body when we spent centuries praying with brands on our bodies?
We Know, 1986, welded steel, one of a series begun in 1963 called Lynch Fragments. Melvin Edwards, born 1937, American. Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, Delaware.
“And now we pray to get paid for brands on our bodies?
The cover of a 1999 book, No Logo, taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, by Naomi Klein, born 1970, Canadian about the consequences of the corporate worldwide practice of branding.
“There has been no war that we have not fought and died in the front lines for. There is no job we haven’t done. There is no tax they haven’t levied against us. And we have paid all of them.
Patinated plaster mold for the Memorial made in bronze in 1894 for Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachussets Regiment. 1900. August Saint-Gaudens, 1848-1907, American. The original bronze is on the edge of Boston Common. This plaster cast is at the National Gallery, Washington, DC.
Shaw, a white man, volunteered to lead a regiment of African-Americans who themselves volunteered to join the Union cause despite the threat of enslavement if they were captured or if the Union lost.
Allies Day, May 1917, oil on canvas. Childe Hassam, 1959-1935, American. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
“But freedom is somehow always conditional here. ‘You are free’ they keep telling us. But she would have been alive if she had not acted so………free.
Untitled (Statue of Liberty), c. 1989, sand, mud and paint on board; Jimmy Lee Sudduth, 1910-2007, American self-taught, folk artist, born, lived and died in Alabama, USA. Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Washington, DC
“Now freedom is always coming in the hereafter. But, you know what, though, the hereafter is a hustle.
Shotgun, 3rd Ward, no. 1 and detail; tempera and oil on canvas, 1966. John Biggers, 1924-2001, American. Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C
A church is burning. Again. The street is water-soaked. Children are playing and are oblivious. The adults do not look at each other.
The summer of 2015 saw six church burnings in the south of the United States only one of which was later classified as accidental from lightning.
We Have Been Believers, 1949, lithograph. Charles White, 1918 – 1979. Smithsonian Museum of American Art. After Margaret Walker’s poem We Have Been Believers, 1950; Margaret Walker, American poet, 1915-1998.
This is the poem’s last verse:
We have been believers believing in our burdens and our
demigods too long. Now the needy no longer weep and
pray; the long-suffering arise, and our fists bleed
against the bars with a strange insistency.
“We want it now.
I love Liberty, screenprint on paper, 1962. Roy Lichtenstein, 1923-1997. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia
“And let us get a couple of things straight. Just a little side note: the burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That is not our job. Stop with all that!
“If you have a critique for the resistance, our resistance, then you had better have an established record of critique of our oppression.
Thurgood in the Hour of Chaos, photo lithograph from the portfolio America, America, 2009. Whitney Museum of North American Art, New York
“If you have no interest in equal rights for black people, then do not make suggestions for those who do.
A mural of the Philadelphia Mural Program at 6th and South, Philadelphia, representing W.E.B. Dubois, 1868-1963, and his study of 1899, The Philadelphia Negro, the first case study in the United States.
“We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries.
Images of Labor, 1980, gouache on paper; Jacob Lawrence, 1917-2000, American. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia
Jazz Musicians, oil on canvas, 1948; Norman Williams, 1909-1979, American. On exhibition in 2015 and 2016 at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, Philadelphia
“And we are 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 and stealing them. Gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit.
Homage to Billie Holliday, 1964, wood and paint. Pino Pascali, 1938-1968, Italian. On display in 2016 at the International POP! exhibition at the Philadelphia Art Museum.
“The thing is, though………….the thing is that just because we are magic does not mean we are not real.”