Jesse Williams Discusses Biracial Privileges and Social Justice: ‘Black Americans Are Not Angry. They Are Hurting’

Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele
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Actor Jesse Williams
Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images

It has always been a pet peeve of mine when biracial people seem to ignore their white side and act as if the world perceives them as black through and through. I always felt that in their determination to identify solely and sternly as black, they were missing out on an opportunity to share some of the insight they may have about how white people feel and think about race relations. That they might be missing out on an opportunity to act as a conduit between both racial groups.

In an interview with The Guardian, Grey's Anatomy star Jesse Williams does a fantastic job of articulating the privileges and insights that being biracial affords him, and how he uses that knowledge to inform his work as an activist in working-class black communities. Williams' mom is white, and his dad is black. 

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"I have access to rooms and information. I am white and I am also black. I am invisible man in a lot of these scenarios," Williams said, referring to the Ralph Ellison classic. "I know how white people talk about black people. I know how black people talk about white folks. I know I am there and everyone speaks honestly around me.” 

And boy, did white people keep it completely 100 with Williams when he was growing up. He recalled how he cringed when an older white woman basically told him that his brand of blackness was better than that of people who are fully black. 

"I remember a mom of a friend of mine in the suburbs made some comment about a black person and—I had to be 12, about 60 pounds—I said something and she said, 'Oh no, not you. You are not black. You are great.' It was real. That f—king happened. And she meant it. And she meant it sincerely and sweetly. She was paying me a compliment," Williams recalled. 

Williams is even aware of how some of his European features, like his blue eyes, open doors for him. He's bringing his social-justice work through those doors and is simultaneously unraveling the idea that his European features are better than any others. 

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"We are programmed to believe that someone is attractive because they told you that blue eyes are hot. I am not going to participate in that s—t," Williams said. "I aim to do what I can with what I have. And I have my [looks]—you know, European beauty standards give me access to things."

Williams is using all of those experiences and privileges and putting them to work. He works with an advocacy group called the Advancement Project—a group of "social-justice ninjas," as he calls them—that uses social media, the Internet, and art and traveling exhibits to provide a safe space for black people—especially black boys and men—to come together as a village to share information with one another and grow. 

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He says they're especially careful about not preaching down to these communities but, instead, working with them. 

"We can't just show up and tell people what they should be doing in a condescending, bulls—t manner, which is common for a lot of organizations," Williams said. "We are just like your husband, son, your father, your brothers. We have the same fears and worries."  

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He's also sick and tired of hearing about the angry-black-person stereotype, and instead wants people to understand that it's a hurt that they're sensing from black people—not anger. 

"There is zero evidence—zero evidence—that black people are more inclined to be angry in [a] vacuum than anybody else," Williams said. "It doesn't begin with rage, right. It's a community that's f—king hurting and is really disappointed in itself, in the people that it trusted, in the government it paid taxes to," Williams argued. "That is where the frustration comes from."

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It's so refreshing to learn about his style of advocacy. It's a departure from the "I'm just like you" and "We're all alike" rhetoric that I think is doled out way too often and way too disingenuously in social-justice discussions.

For more of black Twitter, check out The Chatterati on The Root and follow The Chatterati on Twitter.

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Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele is a staff writer at The Root and the founder and executive producer of Lectures to Beats, a Web series that features video interviews with scarily insightful people. Follow Lectures to Beats on Facebook and Twitter.

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