Did The Clinton Campaign Appropriate The Good Words of Jesse Williams?

Jesse WilliamsSo, I want to add my reaction to the many out there re: Jesse Williams’ fiyah spoken word piece at the BET awards, and actually not his words, those I appreciate and recognize from social media, but to the backdrop of his speech, to the people I feel like benefited as much as us at home watching and that is the Democratic Party and presumptive Democratic Party Presidential Candidate, Hillary Clinton. To my eye, clearly the folks at BET have returned to the side of Hillary Clinton for the 2016 election (you’ll remember the former owner, Bob Johnson, endorsed Clinton over Obama). In most years, the musical performances dominate the discourse of the BET Awards, but this year the noteworthy performance was not the performance featuring both Kendrick Lamar and Beyonce, but from an actor – Jesse Williams – giving a speech reflecting his continued commitment to speak out against police violence. In the past days, the New York Times, LA Times, Time Magazine, and countless other media outlets (not to mention Twitter and Facebook) have spotlighted Williams’s speech, and of course I agree with all of Williams’s words, how could I not??, but I have been thinking a lot about the frame within which I saw his words and of course frames affect pictures.

For me, the core message of the evening didn’t come into view w/ Williams’ really well crafted combination of speech, spoken word and informal chat, but rather started with Terence J, who prior to introducing the hosts Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross, told the audience “Your vote is your voice.” Shortly thereafter, Tracee Ellis Ross shared that the most important demographic in this fall’s presidential election was single women and that her vote (because she is a single woman) would decide the election and concluded by stating “Welcome to the White House, Hillary Clinton.” Throughout the show BET would include more messages on the importance of voting (and due to Ross’s quote – it was clear these messages are pro-Clinton) all of which set the stage for Williams to really put it down for the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

To reiterate, everything Williams said was true and was quite poetic, “Just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.” However, it is impossible for me to not see his words inside the context of the Clinton advertisement that was running throughout the 2016 BET Awards. So, the current Democratic political climate has ostensibly embraced the rejection of bigotry – in fact, the rejection of bigotry has become profitable (Apple was sure to announce they would not sponsor the RNC due to Trump). Clinton, despite her own history of bigoted politics (which were on display in her last attempt to secure the Democratic nomination and the mass incarceration policies of the 90s), has somewhat successfully turned herself into the candidate whose bigotry is acceptable while running a campaign that argues Trump’s bigotry is not. BET’s endorsement of Clinton from Black Girls Rock to this BET Award show assists in that cause. Still, without Williams, the night’s endorsement is incomplete.

Ashley Williams demonstrating at 2016 S.C. Fundraiser

Ashley Williams demonstrating at 2016 S.C. Fundraiser

Williams’s poetry legitimized the BET Awards as a “woke” platform as he bravely denounced whiteness and police brutality, gave deserved props to black women, and spoke against the appropriation of black culture. However, following Williams’s performance, Samuel L. Jackson, stated “That brother is right and he’s true.” He then added an interpretation Williams’ had not even remotely implied and said, “Make sure you vote and take eight more people with you. We gotta fix this. Don’t get tricked like they did in London.” So, who is the benefactor of the call to vote? What Jackson ignores (or doesn’t see) is that the whole Award show is part of the trick because by placing Williams’s spoken word in the context of this larger call to vote, Clinton benefits from Williams’ words without taking any of the risk or committing to any of what he offered. Williams made the BET Awards “woke,” and since BET is down with Clinton she is thus also “woke” or maybe more accurately “woke enough” or “not a Trump nightmare”. In case we had somehow missed the message, the show concluded with Usher dancing with an anti-Trump message on the back of his vest (i.e. a pro-Clinton one and since when is Usher making explicit political criticisms?) as social media pounced on Justin Timberlake’s cultural appropriation, I was also seeing the Clinton campaign’s appropriation of the evening, the kind of appropriation that Williams had just rebuked.

10 thoughts on “Did The Clinton Campaign Appropriate The Good Words of Jesse Williams?

  1. Negus SugarcaneSlim (@CypressMoss)

    I was expecting something different, but this was a reach. A further reach than predicting the NY Knicks would win the Championship because they have Derek Rose when they know damn well that boy will be sitting on the bench recovering from another “injury” like a migraine. Look, I get the criticism of Clinton, but the far left always oversimplify history for this false sense of altruism of being “woke.” How is encouraging people to vote not being “woke”? What is your solution? And how did Hillary Clinton appropriate Jesse’s message? That word “appropriate” is becoming trite. How could BET be more “woke” than encouraging people to vote? As I see the far left becoming the obstructionist of the far right, which makes you nothing more than self-righteous.

    1. kuferelaing Post author

      I never said encouraging people to vote is not woke. I used Williams’s speech in which he rebukes cultural appropriation and argue if BET’s endorsement of Clinton was a form of appropriating his words. Appropriate was only used because Williams used it and I see a clear example of his words being exploited in a way to support Clinton. My solution is simple – don’t take what Williams said to support a Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president because A) he never said he supports Clinton and B) if Clinton wishes to align herself with Williams allow her to do that and assume the risk herself, don’t do it for her. To be honest your response got a tad personal and disrespectful (in reference to the self-righteous) when in actuality I am not sure you read what I said as the questions you pose I either answered or had nothing to do with what I said.

      1. Negus SugarcaneSlim (@CypressMoss)

        I still don’t get how Jesse Williams being honored by the BET Awards and speaking about appropriation at the BET Awards equates to BET appropriating his words to endorse Hillary Clinton. Did they snippet his speech into a commercial endorsing Clinton? I just don’t get it. I’m concerned that people are gonna get so discouraged that they think not voting is a valid form of protest or somehow makes them altruistic at some level (being self-righteous). This is nothing personal, just an assessment.

    1. kuferelaing Post author

      Did you watch the award show? I only ask because the show was so full of Clinton messages and how tv shows are nothing more than advertisements that, yes, BET did snippet his speech into a commercial endorsing Clinton. The award show to me was a long Clinton commercial, and following the Williams speech we saw Samuel L Jackson, connect Williams’s words to a vote for Clinton. The decision to vote or not I leave to the individual – to some it is a valid form of protest, to others it isn’t, but that’s not the connection I am making to what I saw from the BET Awards.

      1. kuferelaing Post author

        To be clear, Clinton was not the only product being sold in the BET Awards, but it was certainly one of the main products being promoted.

      2. Negus SugarcaneSlim (@CypressMoss)

        Yes, I watched the show, and didn’t get that same impression. Too me it was a call to vote/action and the obvious person they would rally behind would be Clinton a la Usher and Traccee Ellis Ross. Who else would they rally behind? I didn’t see BET nor Samuel Leroy Jackson (blackest middle name ever) using or “appropriating” Jesse’s speech as a promo for Clinton just because other people pledged their vote to Clinton. PS I still strongly believe not voting is an invalid form of protesting because it doesn’t bring about any change. I guess we just disagree on this subject. I’m just scared I’ll live through 8 years of someone worse than Bush.

    1. Justin

      Hey, thanks, Etta, this was actually written by Kufere Laing. Can you edit that comment to give proper credit? thanks for sharing!!


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