Jesse Williams: Black People Should Take Ownership of Language Since Our Culture Drives Everything

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Jesse Williams is no stranger to standing up for the value of Black culture and he’s sharing how he leveraged that to develop his Ebroji app at a summit exploring technology and inclusion.

The political activist and “Grey’s Anatomy” star served as the opening keynote speaker at the “Future of Wealth Summit: Technology, Inclusion and Social Change” Wednesday, April 26. The event featured leaders across various industries, including business, philanthropy and government, coming together in Washington D.C. to discuss the fundamental hurdles to opportunity and equality in the U.S, including the lack of racial diversity in tech.

Williams explained that, after the resulting discussion in the wake of his 2016 BET Awards speech, he was left to answer questions about how to solve the issue of Black oppression.

“Language is inherently political, language is inherently a reflection of culture or cultures intertwining and intermixing, as is dialect, slang,” Williams said of what he decided to look into next. “What is ghettoized, what is revered, what is sophisticated? What is too simple and reductive? … Who owns language and whose is it? When is it okay to appropriate it?”

Williams and his now-estranged wife ultimately developed the Ebroji GIF keyboard app, which is designed to improve the way people communicate, heavily utilizing Black pop culture.

“We wanted to look at this new wild, wild West that is tech and this space of social media where, like everything else in America, Black culture really drives what the trending topics, conversations, phrasing, the way we speak, how we dance, different trends,” he said. “It is a reflection of American culture and is very often turned into something that we should be ashamed of until it filters through white pop culture and [is] then sold back to us with some jeans that are on fleek.”

“Folks of color, particularly Black folks in this country, are used to having to squeeze ourselves into the body of the white protagonist to relate and feel like we’re included in the story because we’re very rarely that protagonist,” he added.

Williams said he and his development team were able to use language to see the online impact of the movement for Black lives and the importance of Black Twitter, Instagram, Vine and other social media websites to shaping Black culture.

“We don’t own any of those things,” he said. “They’re not designed for us or by us. We aren’t in any positions of power or in the decision-making process in those [tech] corporations.

“But we add so much value to them to keep them afloat in many ways.”

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