A moving moment for many. The Color Purple author Alice Walker was so touched by Jesse Williams‘ headline-making BET Awards speech that she wrote a poem inspired by it, which she published on Thursday, June 29.
As previously reported, Williams, 34, was honored with the Humanitarian Award at the star-studded show, which took place at the Microsoft Theater in L.A. on Sunday. The Grey’s Anatomy star has been a pioneer for the Black Lives Matter movement and is a board director with the civil rights advocacy group Advancement Project.
“This award, 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,” he told the crowd at the time. “There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the front lines of. There has been no job we haven’t done, there’s been no tax they haven’t levied against us, and we’ve paid all of them.”
Williams went on to speak about appropriation, receiving several rounds of applause from the audience throughout his speech.
“We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, yo, and 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,” he continued. “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.”
Many have supported Williams in the aftermath. Walker, 72, wrote her poem about “fear of blackness in white culture.” At the end of the piece of writing, she appeared to call Williams a “beautiful son.”
“Try to think bigger than you ever have or had courage enough to do: that blackness is not where whiteness wanders off to die: but that it is like the dark matter between stars and galaxies in the Universe,” she wrote. “That ultimately holds it all together.”
Williams’ big night wasn’t without controversy, though. Justin Timberlake supported the actor on Twitter, but was accused of being a hypocrite.
“So does this mean you’re going to stop appropriating our music and culture? And apologize to Janet too?” one commenter wrote. Timberlake replied: “Oh, you sweet soul. The more you realize that we are the same, the more we can have a conversation.” After his remark, he received even more backlash. “I feel misunderstood. I responded to a specific tweet that wasn’t meant to be a general response. I shouldn’t have responded anyway…” he wrote. Additionally, Clueless actress Stacey Dash blasted Williams’ speech and called him a “plantation slave.”
Read Walker’s poem in full here.