It’s the noose that messes with my head the most.
While there can be no guarantees of absolute safety when living in a society with a hierarchy predicated on one’s proximity to white, straight manhood, Jussie Smollett has it about as good as any gay Black man can. He is a famous, accomplished entertainer seen weekly by millions on a long-running series that airs on a broadcast television network. Still, this country has a habit of reminding people of their place, no matter their status.
And in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, two cowards in ski masks and Make America Great Again hats sought to remind Smollett of his place when one of them yelled, “Aren’t you that faggot Empire n*****?”
I should know better. It’s not like this country hasn’t long made it abundantly clear that no matter what any of us achieve in this life, there are some people who are going to see men like us as nothing more than a n***** and/or a faggot. I understood this inconvenient truth years before Donald Trump became president of the United States for a variety of nefarious reasons, but most assuredly, because he was able to serve the American electorate one of its favorite vices—bigotry—in terms so plain that they could be summed up on a hat.
My head is screwed up all the same.
With that noose, those two cowards tried to take Jussie Smollett, this talented, kind, generous, beautiful, bright gay Black man, and reduced to him to a n***** hanging from a tree. Someone kind and supportive to so many others—myself-included—who doesn’t appear to want to be anything but a light to others. They wanted to dehumanize him and sought to do so with one of the oldest symbols of America’s intolerance and lack of regard for the humanity of Black men. They did so while declaring “This is MAGA country!” which confirms that while the catchphrases and accessories that go with it may change, racism remains.
They were unsuccessful in their efforts—he reportedly fought back. But the intention,and vitriol behind the intention, have weighed on me. I have really struggled with what exactly to say. I don’t have any comforting words that don’t sound repetitive, and frankly, boring to me at this point. So many Black people suffer from the trauma that is having to bear witness to repeated unjust attacks on Black women, men, and children in this country. Then quite a few of us get reminded that our queerness makes us even less safe and more susceptible to torment—including from those who look just like us.
Yes, I encourage each of us to keep going, but even that feels hollow.
I am so sorry for what happened to Jussie. I am sad and angry for him. I am sad and angry for the other queer Black people in this world being reminded of how the contempt for our existence is two-fold. I am sad and angry over the reality that this really proves it could be any one of us on any given day of the week.
In trying to process this news, though, I will say that I have grown angrier by the second over the failure of some who either fail to call evil by its name or refuse to own their part in helping it spread.
What in the hell does “racially charged” even mean? I keep seeing it in headlines about Smollett’s suspected hate crime attack. These headline writers wouldn’t dare say “sexually charged” to describe homophobia, so why do it with racism? Are we so paralyzed by white folks’ fear that being called racist is worse than actually being racist that we cannot agree to describe two men calling a Black man a “n*****” and placing a noose around his neck a racist act?
If we cannot call a problem by its name, how can it ever be solved?
In the midst of outpouring of support to Smollett, I noticed Kevin Hart’s post on Instagram, where he asked, “Why are we going backwards?” I know Hart meant well, but considering he cracked jokes about beating the gay out of his kid and took years to offer something even close to an actual apology over it, he probably should’ve sat this one out.Why are we going backwards? Because many people like Kevin Hart refuse to do the work to move us forward.
If you are Black and queer and struggling right now, know that you are understood, valued, and supported by your community. And if you are reading this and not a part of that community, I hope you are doing your part to make things better.