Jesse Williams on Acting and Activism: “We Absolutely Can Do Both”
2010 MTV Video Music Awards – Arrivals
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Jesse Williams

Jesse Williams on Acting and Activism: “We Absolutely Can Do Both”


Jesse Williams has gone from Grey’s Anatomy heartthrob to hardworking humanitarian, as the world witnessed when he gave a galvanizing speech at last year’s BET Awards speech.

Does that mean he’s giving up his TV career?

Nope. He enjoys both roles, and both are vital to his existence, as he explains in a new interview…

In his BET Humanitarian Award acceptance speech on June 26, Jesse railed against the systemic and pervasive racism in our country — saying, for example, “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.”

He was immediately praised by some… and vilified by others, many of whom seemed to imply that a celebrity doesn’t get to speak out about injustices.

“Let’s listen to this well-paid TV actor tell us just how bad he has it,” TheBlaze’s Tomi Lahren seethed on her show.

Talking to GQ now, however, Jesse invalidates that argument, saying that it’s possible — and even crucial — for artists to be socially responsible.

In fact, he reels off the names of other famous black artist-turned-activists: “Bob Dylan, James Brown, Zora Neale Hurston… James Baldwin, for Chrissake!”

Jesse Williams
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And, for the time being, at least, the 35-year-old is giving up neither his acting nor his activism.

“I’m more comfortable around social-justice work. I’ve been doing it much longer, and it means more to me,” he says.

“But I need both to sustain a balanced life. One is more dire and academic. And the other is an absolutely necessary creative outlet for me to stay sane.”

Credit: ABC/Adam Taylor    

“You can have your cake and eat it too. You can walk and chew gum at the same time,” he continues.

“You can definitely f—k things up. But it’s feeble-minded to say that just because you’re a basketball player, you can’t care that your tax dollars go to an organized patrol force that kills people.

“We absolutely can do both — give me a break.”

In an NPR interview this December, Jesse said he approaches activism with intentionality.

“I’m certain that I’m making a difference. That’s clear to me by the effects that I’ve seen it happen in the public consciousness and discourse,” he said.

“And I would say that I hesitated because I work in a space that’s around celebrity and attention and that’s something that’s delicate and often misused so I want to be careful to avoid that. But having an impact is something that doesn’t require vanity.”

In fact, in a very un-vain move, Jesse praised the work of his fellow activists nationwide.

“I’m inspired by other people, right? I’m not doing anything alone. I’m just a reflection of the incredible — as I said in the speech, that award, I took that on behalf of a great number of people.”

“We don’t have this movement without the incredible courage of black women and the black LGBTQ community being on the front lines,” he elaborated.

“Not at [an] award show, not on the weekend — [365] days a year, full-throated with no positive support or connective tissue around them that has trained them for these things. It’s a real heroic effort happening collectively. And that’s something I’m proud of.”


Montblanc Honors Quincy Jones At The Montblanc de la Culture Arts Patronage Award Ceremony
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