The controversy surrounding Justin Timberlake's response to Jesse Williams' powerful speech at the 2016 BET Awards Sunday has threatened to overshadow Williams' message. But the data suggests that Americans should be paying more attention to what Williams had to say.
Williams, an actor and activist best known for his role in the popular ABC series "Grey's Anatomy," accepted a humanitarian award at the ceremony Sunday and spoke at length about the struggle African-Americans still face in achieving equality. In particular, Williams called out those who criticize the tactics and goals of movements such as Black Lives Matter and other civil rights activists without acknowledging the problems those groups are trying to address. Williams' speech speaks to a stark disparity in how black and white Americans see the state of race relations in the country.
“If you have critique for the resistance, of our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression,” Williams said. “If you have no interest in equal rights for black people, then do not make suggestions for those who do. Sit down.”
In response to a Twitter comment about Williams' speech, Timberlake tweeted that "everybody is the same," drawing rebuke from critics who said he benefited from embracing African-American music while not doing anything for black rights.
But a new Pew Research Center survey might provide some context for why Williams perceives so much opposition in the fight on issues like systemic racism and police brutality in America. According to the survey released Monday, 88 percent of African-Americans believe the country needs to continue making changes to achieve true equality, but only 53 percent of white Americans agree. Furthermore, only 57 percent of African-Americans believe the country will actually make the necessary changes, while more than 89 percent of white Americans believe that equality will come.
On the issue of Black Lives Matter specifically, over 60 percent of African-Americans support the movement, compared to only 40 percent of whites.
Blacks are also far more likely than whites to say black people are treated less fairly in the workplace, when applying for a loan, in dealing with law enforcement, in the criminal justice system, in stores or restaurants and when voting in elections, according to the survey. Pew Research Center polled 3,769 adults (including 1,799 whites, 1,004 blacks and 654 Hispanics) on Feb. 29 through March 8.