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Don't separate Jussie Smollett's sexuality from his blackness

cortne bonilla

 // Jan 30, 2019

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.


"You will die black f*g." This is what a cut-out letter, stamped Jan. 18, and addressed to "Empire" superstar Jussie Smollett read.

Smollett — breakout actor and singer who plays Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson's talented son Jamal Lyon on the hit series — has long since won the hearts of viewers with his impactful performance and off-camera persona. Not only has he been applauded time and time again by fans and critics alike; but he's also been congratulated for impacting the thoughts and lives of his gay viewers around the globe.

Late Monday (Jan. 28) night, Smollett was outside of a Subway restaurant when two cowardly white men clad in identity-obscuring ski masks slowly approached him by screaming out "racial and homophobic slurs." It didn't stop there. The suspects then began to assault Smollett in a harsh, public beating; and called him "that f—got Empire n—," all while putting his head into a noose and yelling, "This is MAGA country!" According to a statement released by the Chicago Police Department, the two despicables also "poured an unknown chemical substance on the victim," which might have been bleach, before departing the scene. Smollett then transported himself to Northwestern Memorial Hospital where he received care for his injuries and is reportedly now in "good condition."



Shock and horror has since circulated on the internet with many fans and onlookers pushing the importance of standing up for gay rights, making calls to action for the LGBTQ community, and urging for the perpetrators to be held accountable. It's being acknowledged as an attack. But, what it needs to be called is a modern-day attempted lynching. One cannot look at Smollett's identity and confirm just a part of it. Smollett is a gay man. Smollett is also a black man. In many articles and posts, the obvious is noted. But, only one side is truly being looked at and accounted for.

Let's not sugarcoat what's going on here. The president's most avid supporters wear and promote that red hat to signify their hatred, ignorance and white supremacy. You can spot it, and them, a mile away in bright cherry red and with a scowl. After the racially charged confrontation between a group of MAGA-wearing teens taunting a Native American man near the Lincoln Memorial, it has become -- now more than ever -- apparent that this hat does not just boast political party preferences, but a white nationalist ideology pushed and brought to light by our current president. They're no longer a funny meme or neutral symbol. They now provide a straight forward and a reasonable presumption that the wearer has resistance to diversity, an ignorance toward homosexuality, a disdain toward women and a deep-rooted lack of compassion. A personality and way of life are inferred automatically when the hats are seen. This hat left politics in the dust when it was adopted by Charlottesville, the KKK, and angry circling teens -- similar to those pretending that the Confederate flag is a symbol and quiet reflection of sweet, honest, southern heritage. It is not.

Men (and women) of both race and gender minorities are often excluded from the narrative. A lot of times when you identify as gay, but you are also black, one cannot tell if the discrimination is due to the blackness, or the gayness, or both. Many race-based bigotries go hand-in-hand with anti-gay beliefs. However, there is one significant difference. A man can walk into a room and have his sexual preferences hidden, if he so chooses. A black man cannot walk into a room without everyone in the room recognizing him as black. Where is the refuge for those black AND LGBTQ? Where is the media outrage for the noose? The bleach splashing? The 'N-word' screamed into an innocent, black face? When a person, and a celebrity nonetheless, is publicly drenched in the street by chemicals and taunted with presidential-influenced sayings, how can it be looked at as only a "possible hate crime"?



According to People.com, a Chicago P.D. spokesperson said that no arrests have been made and there are no solid suspects at this time.

20th Century Fox TV and Fox Entertainment said in a statement, "We are deeply saddened and outraged to learn that a member of our Empire family, Jussie Smollett, was viciously attacked last night. We send our love to Jussie, who is resilient and strong, and we will work with law enforcement to bring these perpetrators to justice. The entire studio, network and production stands united in the face of any despicable act of violence and hate — and especially against one of our own."

Lee Daniels broke his silence about the attack, saying, "You are better than that. We are better than that. America is better than that." Empire co-creator Danny Strong said, "He is a kind and profoundly talented soul whom I respect with all my heart. The terror of racism and homophobia has no place in our society, it is the most indecent way to live."

Just two years ago on Presidents Day, the star released a song titled "F.U.W." which is an acronym for "Fucked Up World," along with a music video featuring a narrative about Trump and racial injustice. These injustices have only progressed.



This increase in hate, or should we say the now unveiled and unignorable hate, and violence in this country is not just a coincidence. This isn't a "possible hate crime." When a man is attacked with racially charged and homophobic words, it is the true definition of a hate crime. Call it a homophobic attack, because it is. But, don't forget to call it a racist and brutal assault by Trump-loving supporters because it was. Let's not separate Jussie's sexuality from his blackness, please.

We wish you the best of luck in physical and mental recovery, Jussie Smollett.


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