Is Jesse Williams too light-skinned to speak about black issues?
The Grey’s Anatomy star drew widespread praise for his speech at the BET Awards: a clarion call for social justice in an America still deeply divided along racial lines.
But it wasn’t all love. Williams’ eloquent speech also exposed a divide within the black community: one where light-skinned privilige remains a sore point.
“Black men have been saying what Jesse Williams said for YEARS lmao just say if all black men looked like Jesse you'd actually listen,” read one tweet. Another accused women of being more enamoured with Williams because of his blue eyes than with anything he had to say.
“Maybe more women are paying attention to Jesse Williams because he's a light skinned man with blue eyes, maybe not. Who knows...”
On some level, these detractors and Williams are in agreement. The actor has never shied away from the fact that his lighter complexion may have offered him the kinds of opportunities that are denied to others, purely on face value.
“European beauty standards have given me a better seat at the table and the favor of the microphone over my darker brothers and sisters my entire life,” he told The Guardian in October.
“To some people, I might be a celebrity because I'm physically attractive. 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. 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.”
But does the skin he was born in disqualify him from addressing the injustices visited upon his own people? Other commenters praised the star for using his privilege for good, citing the example of famous, light-skinned, black figures.
“Y'all saying that Jesse Williams can't be Pro black because he is light skin?” read one tweet.
“But Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Angela Davis, Kathleen Cleaver ...
“Funny part is we ask ppl with privilege to use it to uplift us all, but when Jesse Williams uses his light skin privilege y'all dismiss him.”