By Ryan M.Leach
When the news broke that actor Jussie Smollett had been attacked by two men in Chicago, I was shocked. Reports shared that the attackers jumped Smollett around 2 a.m. near a Subway, where he had gone to get a late night bite. The two men beat him, doused him with bleach and left him with a noose around his neck. Then, according to the Smollett, said without irony in Obama’s hometown, “This is MAGA country!”
To quote President Trump, I thought to myself: “ It’s horrible. Doesn’t get worse .” Also without irony.
As an American I was saddened. As a gay man in America I was terrified. This scenario has played out thousands of times in my community and in communities of color. Smollett, an out, black man lives precariously at the intersection of two communities familiar with hatred and violence. You might say he is twice as likely, in spite of his celebrity, to fall victim to violence born out of hate. Perhaps less likely than of course a black, trans woman — but vulnerable nonetheless.
In the ensuing days of this story breaking my lawyer brain began interjecting. This aspect of my super-ego sees the world more skeptically than my emotional id. It was this part of my intellect that cautioned me to see how this unfolds before sharing my feelings on social media.
That lawyer brain asked the following:
- Why was there no footage of this in a busy part Chicago?
- Why did the perpetrators have a noose and bleach with them? That would indicate premeditation?
- If this was a spontaneous outing to Subway then how would they know where he would be?
- Were they stalking him?
- Why again isn’t there any footage?
- “MAGA country”…I get it…but…in Chicago?
There were more questions I had but I kept my skepticism to myself out of fear of being dog-piled by everyone who had so unabashedly come to Smollett’s cyber-bedside to stand strong with him and stand strong against hate, and Trump, and homophobia, etc.
Also, the attack seemed plausible even if the facts appeared less so. The hate that created that plausibility has always been there. It isn’t somehow more believable because of Trump. Things weren’t perfect before January 20, 2017. The world does seem less safe than it felt before then. I personally feel more exposed and vulnerable than I did before, be it to violence or discrimination. Prior to Trump I had become inoculated from the truth that the country, for all of it’s progress, still isn’t safe or equal for queer people and people of color.
So, what’s worse? The fact that this alleged victim is (probably)lying or the fact that we live in a country where an attack like this is not only plausible but is in fact happening to lesser-known people and with significantly less fanfare.
Where was Chrissy Teigen’s sympathy tweet when Candice Elease Pinky was shot in broad daylight in Houston in January 2019? Where was Alyssa Milano’s outrage tweet when Tristan Perry and Spencer Deehring had the shit beat out of them in Austin for holding hands in February 2019?
I cannot answer why Smollett would stage this attack and who knows, like an episode of his hit show Empire, maybe he didn’t. But this story gives us a lot to chew on as Americans. A country where it’s still dangerous to be different and a country where we don’t let reason get in the way of our knee-jerk condemnation of whatever flashes before us on the screen.