The 2016 BET Awards was jam-packed with empowering images of Black Magic, and has helped raise the conversation around what it truly means to be “woke”.
In 1970 Gil Scott-Heron wrote “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”
You will not be able to stay home, brother
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag
And skip out for beer during commercials
Because the revolution will not be televised
Scott-Heron said that the revolution would not be televised because it would be live. Last night the revolution was broadcast to millions and it was all the way live and came in the form of the BET Awards.
For decades many, myself included, have lambasted the BET Awards and BET in general for presenting the most stereotypical anti-woke presentation of blackness. They have for quite some time chosen to appeal to the bottom with wig pulling and liquor fueled foolishness rather than to use Black Entertainment Television to elevate the black community.
Last night was different. Last night BET reminded us why we need them, and why we need us now more than ever.
Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar opened the show with the most soul awakening version of “Freedom” that even the original on LEMONADE couldn’t hold a candle to. Since that album dropped I felt that it was the siren call that we needed. LEMONADE is more than an album, it is a revolution. It makes us take pause, breathe deep and it asks us to reflect the power in us back out into the world.
We are living in a moment when we as a community have had enough. We are done asking to be free. We are finished being polite. We are over being asleep. We are WOKE.
What does it really mean to be woke? It isn’t shoving a black fist in the air and wearing said black fist on a t-shirt. It isn’t humming the melody of the latest Kendrick Lamar album. Being “woke” is a spiritual uprising. Being woke is recognizing that you have been operating under a system of oppression that was built to destroy the very presence of you—slowly and with your consent. Being woke is understanding that you have the ability—by being conscious, to disrupt the status quo.
The status quo that tells us that Freddie Gray died at his own hands, Sandra Bland was too “mouthy” and didn’t know her place, and that Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Rekia Boyd, Jordan Dunn, Eric Garner all had it coming and that nothing except their blackness is responsible for their unarmed deaths.
Last night in the midst of the glamour and pomp and circumstance of awards shows—actor and activist Jesse Williams was the complete embodiment of what it means to be truly be woke—choosing his Humanitarian acceptance speech to sound an alarm:
Yesterday would have been young Tamir Rice’s 14th birthday so I don’t want to hear any more about how far we’ve come when paid public servants can pull a drive-by on 12 year-old playing alone in the park in broad daylight, killing him on television and then going home to make a sandwich. Tell Rekia Boyd how it’s so much better than it is to live in 2012 than it is to live in 1612 or 1712. Tell that to Eric Garner. Tell that to Sandra Bland. Tell that to Dorian Hunt.
With each not guilty verdict on case after case of unrelenting over-policing that leaves too many of us dead and too many families without justice they try to quiet us and sing us the swan song of “it’s better now than… fill in the blank.” You know when it’s better? When we say it’s better. When we stop burying innocent black men, women and children for doing nothing other than daring to be black and free in America.
Jesse continues and reminds us that money and fame doesn’t distance you from your blackness:
Now the thing is, though, all of us in here getting money – that alone isn’t gonna stop this. Alright, now dedicating our lives, dedicating our lives to getting money just to give it right back for someone’s brand on our body when we spent centuries praying with brands on our bodies, and now we pray to get paid for brands on our bodies.
I wiped tears from my eyes as I listened to his words and watched the faces of the black celebrity elite let it fill them up and quench their thirst like a cool glass of lemonade.
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 is no tax they haven’t leveed against us – and we’ve paid all of them. But freedom is somehow always conditional here. “You’re free,” they keep telling us. But she would have been alive if she hadn’t acted so… free.
Now, freedom is always coming in the hereafter, but you know what, though, the hereafter is a hustle. We want it now.
We want it now. We want our freedom now. Our ancestors prayed and died for it. We’re done waiting for it anymore.
Beyoncé and Kendrick’s performance coupled with Jesse’s speech was what we have been waiting for and countless advocates have been fighting for—for our black elite to utilize their platforms to do more than hock albums, and use their entertainment to lull us into complacency as we buy “bling” to be just like them—shining to be seen instead of shining to create a pathway and lead the way.
The BET Awards was lit. And it lit the pathway for us to walk down.
Each performance stoked the flames that Beyoncé sparked with the black-woman-love-letter that is “Formation” and then fanned with “LEMONADE.” Kendrick ignited said LEMONADE with the #BlackLivesMatter theme song of “Alright” and the exaltation began.
The revolution was televised, streamed, and will be placed on instant replay until the freedom bell is rung for all to hear, see and feel. The alarms have been sounded—it’s time to get woke and stay woke.