How Do We Black Queer Folks Talk About Jussie Smollett?
We were right in our willingness to believe Jussie’s initial account, given the propensity of white violence and the dystopian reality QTBIPOC live in.
This morning, Jussie Smollett turned himself in for arrest and was charged by the Chicago PD with filing a false police report. In January, the “Empire” actor and singer allegedly sustained injuries in what he described as a physical attack. According to Jussie, two white men assaulted him, poured bleach on him, and tied a rope around his neck while shouting racist and homophobic insults at him, including, “This is MAGA country.” From the moment news of the apparent hate crime broke, there were doubts from multiple demographics about whether or not the attack really occurred, and if it did, whether or not it was staged.
These past few weeks have been marked by both an outpouring of love on Jussie’s behalf and a sea of deniers insisting that this kind of violence just doesn’t happen. Yesterday, many of our fears came to a head when it was revealed that the story we were told was allegedly a yarn spun collaboratively by Jussie and the Osundairo brothers, two men apparently drafted by the actor to stage the attack. Video evidence shows them purchasing the materials used in the assault. In addition, sources state that Jussie instructed the brothers to buy these specific items and multiple phone calls between them signify detailed planning. Jussie is now being charged for public disturbance and filing a false police report, a felony.
I’m hurt, and disgusted, and angry, and numb, and tired. This alleged lie of Jussie’s, it’s ugly. It is complicated and baffling. It’s something I will never really understand, that a lot of us will never understand, but we have to deal with it. We have to face it, ugly as it is, and contend with every bit of it. It has been difficult to watch this story unfold and to see how irresponsible some of the coverage has been, but it has also been painful to witness people having difficult conversations about it, conversations that now will continue and that will only become more difficult. They will require us to acknowledge that multiple truths can exist at once, and that the absence of one thing does not negate the presence or severity of another.
Hate crimes exist. They happen every day. Black people do experience racist violence at the hands of non-Black people. Visibly and openly queer people do experience queerphobic violence at the hands of bigots. Trump’s rhetoric, platform, and administration have all been transparently racist and anti-LGBTQIA+ since the very beginning. The FBI reports that the number of hate crimes in the U.S. have increased steadily in the past three years, with some noting how the rising numbers coincide with Trump’s increasingly violent rhetoric. Trump is a Stochastic Terrorist who encourages violence against the people he hates, subliminally and even sometimes overtly deputizing his followers to enact violence in the name of white supremacy and nationalism. All of these things are true and would still be true whether Jussie lied or not.
But if he did, it’s devastating. I am angry that it was never considered how this would hurt us. I’m angry that it was never considered how seeing reports of the ordeal he described on an endless loop across countless publications would be triggering for those of us who have experienced that kind of violence and/or live in fear of it every day, exhausted by our involuntary hypervigilance. Or how we would have to wade through the immediate anti-Black, queerphobic responses from MAGA hat-wearing Trump supporters who already refuse to be honest about the violence inherent to their political position or who acknowledge that violence and believe that we deserve to be harmed and that they should have the right to inflict that harm without consequence. Or maybe it was considered, but ultimately determined unimportant.
It’s important for us to remember that, even though we may have been wrong, we were also right. We were right in our willingness to believe Jussie’s initial account, given the propensity of white violence and the dystopian reality QTBIPOC live in. We were right in our response to speak loudly and publicly about the fact that racist and queerphobic hate crimes occur more often than most people would like to admit. Black trans women have a life expectancy of only 35 specifically because of this kind of violence. Ed Buck is an active serial killer targeting gay Black men—two have already been found dead in his home in less than two years, but charges have yet to be filed and may never be. And the stories of these victims, and of the everyday victims, never get as much exposure and pedestaling as Jussie’s did in the media.
We were right to have intra-communal conversations about the pro-Black folks who refuse to support queer Black folks, and about non-Black LGBTQIA+ folks who refuse to speak up about and address their own anti-Blackness. We were right to acknowledge that our fear of being on the receiving end of this violence, especially from white supremacists, is completely valid and warranted. We were also right in our skepticism of the Chicago Police Department when the narrative began to shift, given the history of law enforcement and the criminal justice system and their relationship with queer Black folks, and given that CPD is known to be corrupt. And we are right to be critical now about how CPD has handled this case versus how they have handled others, and how this still feels somewhat unbalanced in comparison to their incompetence and apathy displayed elsewhere.
We were right in our response to what we thought was true. I cannot express that enough. Because even though this story may not be true for Jussie, it was and is true for so many others. As this continues to unfold and we continue to sit with it, we may not know how to feel or how to articulate what we feel. Know that you are not required to engage or perform. Know that you are allowed to save your energy and your sanity. Know that it is okay to be confused and upset and frustrated. It is okay to just take time to process it all, and I hope you will care for yourselves and protect your spirits as best as you can during this time.
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