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Keke Palmer calls out racism and police brutality in moving VMAs speech

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Anna Brech
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Enough is enough: that was Keke Palmer’s powerful message in support of Black Lives Matter as she opened the MTV VMAs in New York last night, with social justice appearing as a central theme throughout the event. 

Normally, awards ceremony opening speeches are littered with risqué quips or elaborate dance routines. But in a year in which social justice has become a rallying call for thousands worldwide, MTV VMA host Keke Palmer brought a more profound note to proceedings.

The presenter of last night’s semi-virtual MTV VMA ceremony – the first of its kind since coronavirus swept across the States – used her welcoming speech to deliver a powerful message in unity with Black Lives Matter and an end to systemic racism

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The awards come at a tumultuous point of social and political reckoning in America. The country is still struggling to contain one of the world’s fastest-growing coronavirus outbreaks, as it continues to reel from the economic and public health fallout of the pandemic. 

Meanwhile, protests are continuing in the Wisconsin city of Kenosha, where Black father Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back by a white police officer last week. It comes just months after the killing of George Floyd, whose death after being pinned to the floor by a white police officer was caught on camera, sparking global protests and the start of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Palmer, the first Black woman to host the VMAs solo, began last night’s event by joking about how terrible 2020 has been, before striking a more serious tone.

“As rough as it’s been, there have been incredible moments of inspiration that have given my generation hope,” she told a mostly virtual audience, from the event’s outdoor broadcast set in Manhattan. 

“We’ve seen heroes go above and beyond whether they drive a delivery truck, work at a grocery store or serve on the frontlines in our hospitals.

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“And with the Black Lives Matter movement, we’ve seen our generation step up, take to the streets and make sure our voices will be heard,” Palmer continued.

“Enough is enough. What we just witnessed in Kenosha, Wisconsin is yet another devastating reminder that we can’t stop, that we can never tolerate police brutality or any injustice. We must continue the fight to end systemic racism. The leaders of the movement are you. Us. The people watching tonight. It’s our time to be the change we want to see.”

The Hustlers actor and talk show host ended on a plea for unity, saying: “We need to come together. And music – music has that power. Music can help us heal. 

“It’s all love and that’s what tonight is about. We are making the impossible possible, pushing the boundaries of music performances, because that’s what we do on the VMAs!”

Last night’s awards ceremony played out in a new post-Covid format: performances took place without live audiences and many artists accepted awards via video link. Meanwhile, Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande wore masks to perform on a stage taped with distancing guidelines, while special categories were created to honour best music video from home and best quarantine performance.

The deaths of Floyd and Breonna Taylor – an African American medical responder who was shot and killed by police in her flat in March, and whose name is often invoked as part of the Black Lives Matter movement – were a prominent theme at last night’s ceremony following Palmer’s opening address.

Rapper DaBaby performed on a police car with a sign that read “Stop Killing Us”, while the The Weeknd accepted the award for Video of the Year, the biggest honour of the night, with the words: “like I said, hard to celebrate, so I’m just going to say: justice for Jacob Blake and justice for Breonna Taylor.”

Palmer is no stranger to making her voice heard as part of Black Lives Matter. In June, a video of the actress hit headlines (above) after she urged members of the National Guard to show solidarity with protesters at an anti-racism march in Los Angeles. 

“March beside us,” she said. “Let the revolution be televised and show us that you’re here for us. Make history with us, please.” 

“Sometimes, going against authority is the only remedy for change, especially when we have seen, too often, those authority figures step over the line,” she later said.

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Palmer also dedicated last night’s MTV VMA show to Chadwick Boseman, the Black Panther star who died on Friday following a four-year battle with colon cancer.

“We dedicate tonight’s show to a man whose spirit touched so many,” she said. “He is a true hero, not just on screen, but in everything he did. His impact lives forever.”

Top image: Getty

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.

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