TV Icon Norman Lear Defends ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Star Jesse Williams in Wake of Petition to Have Him Fired

Lear lauds the star for his BET Awards speech, while a petition for the actor's firing expands its demands to now also boycott ABC.

Jesse Williams

Jesse Williams


TV legend Norman Lear is putting his full support behind “Grey’s Anatomy” star Jesse Williams, as critics of the actor float a petition demanding his firing.

Norman Lear

Norman Lear

Alex Berliner

“I’ve seen and attended a ton of awards shows in my time, and no one has ever put his soul and his ass on the line so fully and so truthfully as Jesse Williams did at the BET Awards last week,” Lear told IndieWire in a statement. “Wither thou goest, Mr. Williams, I will follow.”

Lear is an executive producer on the upcoming Epix documentary series “America Divided,” which takes a look at inequality in the United States. Williams, a former teacher, is featured in a segment as he looks at the battle to address this in education.

READ MORE: Jesse Williams’ BET Speech Sparks Petition To Get Him Fired From ‘Grey’s Anatomy’

“Grey’s Anatomy” executive producer Shonda Rhimes is also an executive producer on “America Divided.” Earlier Tuesday, Rhimes expressed her support for Williams via Twitter: “Um, people? Boo don’t need a petition. #shondalandrules.”

Williams made headlines for his impassioned speech about racial inequality while receiving the Humanitarian Award at the BET Awards.

The speech received a standing ovation in the room, and plenty of praise on social media. But later, a petition launched by user Erin Smith called it “racist” and demanded that the actor be fired from “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Smith, infuriated by Rhimes’ Tweet, decided to escalate her demands: “Unfortunately, a necessary escalation is warranted. Please sign the petition to fire Jesse Williams from Grey’s Anatomy AND boycott the entire ABC Network. Don’t forget to unlike all ABC programs/shows on Facebook pages, unfollow all on Twitter and separate from all social media that has anything to do with ABC, their shows, news, etc.”

As of 7pm PT on Tuesday, more than 14,000 people had signed Smith’s petition.

READ MORE: Watch: Jesse Williams’s Fierce BET Awards Speech is Life-Changing

But meanwhile, a counter petition, “Don’t let the racists win! ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ don’t fire Jesse Williams,” had garnered more than 24,000 signatures at the same time.

User Dawn Murphy wrote: “Jesse Williams is a bright man, passionate spokesman and a committed advocate of black people and #BlackLivesMatter who took a public stand on BET Awards show, risking his job and career for his beliefs. Now is the time for us to stand for Jesse and petition Shonda Rhimes and the other decision makers at ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and ABC to support this brave leader, not just by not firing him or in any way diminishing his role or pushing out, but by openly standing with him and speaking against hate in any form. Don’t just tell the racists, ‘No.’ Show them!”

Rhimes, Lear and Common are executive producers on “America Divided,” which premieres this fall, timed to the Presidential election. Solly Granatstein, Lucian Read, and Richard Rowley created the series. Besides Williams, Common and Lear are also featured in segments, along with America Ferrera, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Poehler and Peter Sarsgaard.

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I would not be surprised if the entire thing was constructed to gain publicity for their documentary. He knew the speech would get people talking, then Shonda and Norman continue keeping it in the press while their documentary gets mentioned. Typical Hollywood.

    Alvin Grimes

    At no point did this young man tell a lie, and speaking the truth should never be penalized. God bless Jesse’s Williams.


      Correct! While the truth may hurt, it should never be considered offensive.

My festering sausage collection.

Isn’t this dude white?


    Yes and…the truth is the truth no matter who says it, even if he was 100% white like the significance of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis or Charles Morgan Jr or Norman Lear. He’s both black and white and his white mother appeared to be just as proud as his black father.


He used “whiteness” in his speech. Offensive as hell. Racism is not a one-way street. Could you imagine someone using “blackness” in a speech? Racial equality not “shifting power” to other ethnicities.


    How was he to explain that whites offend blacks, whites discriminate against blacks, whites use and abuse blacks. I thought he found a passive way to say white people without sounding offensive, it was a truth that needed to be addressed. But how do you talk about this particular situation of racial inequality without referencing white people? I thought he did a great job with his delivery.


he’s white. SURELY


Usually agree with norman lear. I dont this time. Arrogance is frothing over on this one. Justin termberlake got skewered for supporting black culture. So looks like hate is colorblind. And americans are freaking dumb.

    Whitney Warden

    Americans are not all dumb ; and that’s part of the problem right there ! Let’s stop lumping up everyone with a label because of the actions of some . I’m sorry Justin Timberkake feeling were hurt ; and I think music is universal so that’s too bad some people feel diffent . But what African Americans are going through in this country is a little more important. People are angry because Jessie said ” Whiteish ” Well I’m upset about the dead Father , Husband , etc in Baton Rouge !! It’s such a game ; I swear ! Blacks are disrespected on So Many levels for YEARS through racsisim ; with the laws that are put in place and just overall bad treatment and EVERYONE IS JUST OUTRAGGED by the word ” Whiteish ” Think about some of the things your friends and associates have said about Black peoples and stop the nonsense !


    While I agree with some of the backlash of what people were saying to JT, I don’t think that was the time for it. He obviously was expressing that he was inspired by the speech but in his position and his love for blacks, after a speech like that, dude you need to speak up or hush. Inspired by what? He was obviously scared and his silence was betrayal because it’s high time now. However, I would’ve let him express his little scary “inspired” post because he obviously didn’t mean any harm initially and it was his way of expression. He deserved that much at that time and he did not deserve such backlash at that time.

Nan Rivera

All of these white people who feel that blacks are treated equal I proposition you to try being black for one week or even a day and then repost your thoughts on this page again… Most whites are clueless and racists. You can’t help it you’re brought up that way to feel you’re better than any other race. Well your not and you oppress blacks to make them feel inferior but we’re not.


    ” Most whites are clueless and racists. You can’t help it you’re brought up that way to feel you’re better than any other race. Well your not and you oppress blacks to make them feel inferior but we’re not.”

    In 2014 there were roughly 198 million white people in America yet you sit here claiming to know that “most” are “clueless and racist”. Really? Talk about making sweeping generalizations about a group of people, the very thing you seem to be accusing “most” white people of doing. I guess I’ll just believe that is how “most” non-white people are – you can’t help it, you were brought up that way.


      Black people didnt put white people, on a pedestal. White people, put themselves, up there. I do not recall, ANY slave begging to be hung in a tree by the kkk. I don’t not recall, slaves begging the massa to beat the skin off their back. I do not recall, slaves asking to pick cotton…..alllll day in the hot sun, with their babies on their backs. I do not recall, slaves asking to be bought and sold like cattle. I do not recall, the black woman slave, asking the massa to get rid of her children…FOREVER, so that she can be aunt Lizzie and aunt jimima to the white mans children. I do not recall Indians, asking the white man to take their lands, and put them in god forsaken reservations. If you can find , someplace in a history book or journal….ANYWHERE. I will say I’m sorry. And don’t think, to look in the school libraries. They only bring out Martin Luther King stuff, once a year. The Black woman, has been DEGRADED, Put down, Ghettoized, called uggly and less desirable all around the world. Its ridiculous. Jamie Foxx, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Dr Dre…it goes on and on….After awhile, you start thinking….what’s wrong with ME? I live in Phoenix, where its a waste of time. To even Look at a black man. Because, we KNOW who they are with……Its a deep hurtful feeling, when you are rejected by the men you love . Least they forget, they didn’t get here on their own. A Black woman, carried the Black Man in. But, won’t give you the time of day…because in their eyes we BLACK women are all the same….and the white woman is the definition….of success and beauty….So, for every NON Black person, getting all in their feelings, about what Jessie Williams said….TO/About Black Women….Walk in our shoes for a week….You WILL see……..and on side note, last year, I’m sitting in my car, at a left turn lane stop lite…there is a car to the right of me, with some some white men…as the light turned green…I hear them scream out…NIGERRRRRRRR as they gunned it. It HURT me to my soul and I was embarrassed. But, that’s life, right?

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