When the story of Jussie Smollett’s attack came out, I was horrified. I immediately believed him. Why wouldn’t I? He had a stellar reputation in the industry, was an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ rights and has often spoken on issues of race and social justice. I had no reason to doubt him based on his character. Here I am weeks later stunned at the turn of events and left with more questions than answers. My timeline was full of doubt from fellow Chicagoans who couldn’t believe this story for a number of reasonable reasons. We were in the middle of a polar vortex and most people were staying off the streets. We also are a liberal city where Trump supporters hide in plain sight. You see a few MAGA hats and/or bumper stickers but for the most part the racism here is passive aggressive. Many others used this story as a platform to display their homophobia and hate as well.
“ I guess I’m someone who will always choose to believe victims until proven otherwise. I don’t believe in shaming victims. I don’t regret that at all. I am disheartened that I was wrong”. -D. Sanders
Members of the LGBTQ community, particularly black members, are often plagued with society’s judgement and hate. Black members of the LGBTQ community are often the victims of hate crimes and homophobia that go unreported, and if they are reported, they are often unsolved. There are a number of murders and assaults of transgender women of color that have received almost no attention from the press happening all across the county. Black people are still dealing with issues of blackface and lynching’s in this country. In spite of the media circus and complete spectacle of this story, Racism and Homophobia are still very much alive in this country. It is a double whammy especially if you are black and queer in this country because you are often left unprotected and overly scrutinized in your own community who refuses to accept your sexuality. Even in discussing this case, most of my “reasonable”, “non-homophobic” friends still spewed plenty of Black Queer sterotypes in justifying their doubt. Black people have always had a level of homophobia that is often swept under the rug and often left unaddressed.
Today a press conference was held where the Chicago Police Department explained the charges and their reasoning for filing them. According to them, Jussie Smollett was unhappy with his salary on his show, Empire and paid 2 Nigerian men, $3500 to stage his attack. All of this was done to draw attention to himself. The police have described it as a publicity stunt. My heart sank at this revelation and it left me begging the question of “Why”? Why would someone so actively involved in the rights of queer people of color do something like this? Why would he be so irresponsible to the community that has uplifted him from the very beginning? Is he narcissistic? Is he mentally ill? You ruin your life, career and reputation forever because of a contract? SMH!!! I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. Honestly, none of this makes any sense to me and I’m still looking at CPD with a side-eye. (It’s not like they haven’t lied to shape a narrative either…IJS). I still want to hear and see more evidence.
The real crime of Jussie Smollett is the irreparable damage he has done to his own community, the Black LGBTQ community. Hate crimes are very real and happening in a Trump controlled political climate today. Often victims are not believed or even acknowledged, especially by black people. . As I scrolled through my timeline on Facebook and twitter, I witnessed even more homophobia, stereotypes, and hatred. If this story is true as the CPD says, Jussie is guilty of being a liar but that is not indicative of the black queer community. This hoax doesn’t mean hate crimes towards black gays doesn’t occur on a regular basis, even in “progressive” cities like Chicago. . Unfortunately many are using this as a sweeping incitement on a community already under attack.
There are those who say he’s done damage to real victims of these crimes and I agree to a certain extent. He absolutely has. However, let’s not act like real victims are believed, especially black victims. They often are not. Victims of hate crimes, especially Black Victims, must deal with the humiliation of having to “prove” their case instead of given the benefit of the doubt. That was most certainly the case with this story from the very beginning. I saw more people use the presumption of innocence with R. Kelly in spite of an actual video tape that showed him committing the crime. I saw more people use the presumption of innocence with Bill Cosby, despite the increasing number of women who came forward as victims. In both cases the victims were demonized and heavily scrutinized but the criminal was given a the benefit of the doubt especially by the black community.
“We live in a time where the court of public opinion is more important than the facts”-D. Sanders
The journalism covering this case was abhorrent. I’ve never seen so many “click baiting” headlines using “unnamed sources” and “leaked info” as factual information and in the age of social media, that’s all it took to run like wildfire through the internet. It’s unfortunate that in the age of instant information, everything can be taken as fact. Rumors, “alleged information” etc., are promoted without any fact checking all in the name of increasing engagement on various platforms. That doesn’t relieve Jussie of his crime. Yes he lied but the real crime is the damage he has done by emboldening homophobes and racists. Just take a look at twitter and pull up his name in the trending topics and watch the hate unfold. Even the person in the White House is using the story to shape the narrative of the hardships endured by MAGA hat wearers! SMH!!!
The road is long and hard if you are black and queer in this country and it just got harder thanks to Jussie Smollett.
Happy Black History Month! (insert sarcasm)