Elie Wiesel, Jesse Williams, JEOPARDY!

“…trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit.”

elie wieselSaturday, I was watching the previous Monday’s game show JEOPARDY! while checking my email on my tablet – and they say I can’t multitask! – when I read that Elie Wiesel had died. I believed his powerful witness to our inhumanity to each other was a necessary reminder of our need for addressing persecution, wherever it may take place.

I mentioned aloud the news of his passing, and someone asked who he was. I was about to try to assemble my thoughts when this JEOPARDY! showed up on the TV screen: “‘Night’ is this author’s autobiographical work about a 12-year-old enduring Nazi camps.” I paused the DVR recording to say, “THAT’S who Elia Wiesel was.”

One of my favorite quotes of his was this: “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Also this: “When a person doesn’t have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity. A person can almost be defined by his or her attitude toward gratitude.”

It was a bit startling how that TV clue about Elie Wiesel popped up nearly simultaneous with that news item.

jesse williamsAs you may know, Jesse Williams, who has been on the long-running ABC-TV nighttime medical soap opera Grey’s Anatomy since 2009, gave an impassioned speech at the BET awards last month. Williams has been involved in Black Lives Matter, as well as other activism, a fact I wasn’t aware of until recently, and was receiving BET’s Humanitarian Award.

The latter part of the address:

“We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, yo, and we’re done watching and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us, burying black people out of sight and out of mind while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil – black gold, ghettoizing and demeaning our creations then stealing them, gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit.”

Lots of comments on social media, pro and con. From the latter, someone started an online petition “to fire Jesse Williams from Grey’s Anatomy for racist rant,” which early on, had about 10,000 signatures, In response, another person devised a counter petition, “Don’t let the racists win! ‘Grey’s Anatomy’, don’t fire Jesse Williams,” which had over 20,00 signatures, including mine. In fact there were at least 10 other petitions in support of Jesse, with anywhere from a dozen to about 1,000 signatures.

Interestingly (to me), there was a question, with a photo, on the TV game show JEOPARDY! on May 5, 2016: “Seen here, former Philly high school teacher Jesse Williams is Dr. Jackson Avery on this TV drama.” NO one got the question correct, or even rang in. I suspect that would be different now.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

One thought on “Elie Wiesel, Jesse Williams, JEOPARDY!”

  1. We’ve talked about oppression, reactions (or lack of) to it, and how puzzling people’s silence is in the face of the obviousness of that oppression. But I do try to understand. I saw stories reaction to Jesse Williams’ speech, and since I had no idea who he is (I’ve never watched Grey’s Anatomy), I Googled it. I watched the entire speech, beginning to end, and I thought to myself, “how could anyone argue with what he said?” To be completely honest, I was truck more by his use of the phrase “strange fruit”, as you quoted, because I thought it was a great allusion to the song/poem. Much of his remarks continued a lot of such references and allusions. Maybe White people just don’t get it?

    As for Elie Wiesel, I well remember him often on television decades ago, especially when the Holocaust miniseries was broadcast. I back everything you said about him.

    One thing I think connects those two people is that good people need to do something to combat oppression, and we can’t leave the job only to those who are oppressed. But how do we do that when we”re so divided against ourselves? I’ve seen racist gay men, anti-semitic Black people, sexist Brown people, homophobic Jewish people—this list is endless. I honestly don’t know what the answer is, though I doubt there’s just one. But maybe part of it is to start standing up to those of our own “kind” who excuse or deny oppression. If we’re so decided against all the “others”, maybe we need to start by having an honest talk with the “us-es”. It’s not much, but I honestly don’t know what else to do.

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