The Jussie Smollett attack: Hate in America

Ben Borrok, Senior Writer

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“Empire” actor Jussie Smollett was the victim of a hate crime on Jan. 29 in Chicago. He was beaten, had an unknown chemical substance poured on him, and then the attackers put a noose around his neck and yelled, “This is MAGA country!” Smollett is black and openly gay, making him a vulnerable minority in more than one way, and making him an obvious target for hate. Despite documentation of his bruises and a filed police report, many on social media refused to believe that Smollett was telling the truth despite him having no reason to lie. Soon enough, the hashtags #JussieSmollettHoax and #JussieSmollettLied were trending on Twitter–propagated by the Gateway Pundit, Diamond and Silk, as well as numerous other right-wing hate accounts known for spreading false narratives.

The denial from these accounts was instantaneous and clearly attempted to spread anger and resentment against Smollett,  ignoring hate crime trends in our country. If anything, the hashtags seem to prove Smollett’s accusations to be true. Many of the responses were racist and homophobic, so why would it seem so far-fetched for individuals, conditioned to this line of thinking, to take matters into their own hands? This response is also why Smollett was hesitant to report the incident in the first place–it can be mentally draining to take a stance against something that remains ingrained in American culture: hate. The FBI reported that hate crimes against African Americans increased by 16 percent in 2017 and that hate crimes against gays increased by five percent in 2017. In addition, anti-Semitism increased by 37 percent and there is an epidemic of transgender murders spreading throughout the nation.

These statistics are not an anomaly. When the President of the United States refuses to disavow white supremacists, spreads false information regarding minorities, and revokes workplace protections for the LGBTQ+ community, is it any surprise that parts of the population will follow suit? U.S. President Donald Trump has given tacit permission for these events to take place, though he would never admit it. When Heather Heyer was killed in Charlottesville in 2017, Trump made sure to sympathize with the white supremacists who were involved. He is extremely proud of his transgender military ban and he consistently tweets false information regarding Muslim terrorists arriving in droves to the Southern border. Smollett’s attack is not rare; it happens every day, but this time, the perpetrators had a specific, high profile target.

Whereas attacks of this nature are often random, Smollett said that his attackers knew him by name. It was a clear attempt to silence a famous actor and activist on civil rights issues. News of the assault also corroborates reports of a suspicious white powder being sent to the “Empire” set just days before Smollett was injured. Despite all of this, Smollett said he would not shy away, and made it clear that he fought back against his attackers. If we are to make a real attempt to fight hate, we need to fight back. Before Trump, hate hid in the dark corners of the Internet because we, as a nation, made a conscious effort to instill ideals of acceptance in one another. It starts with each person’s own individual effort, as we cannot expect hate and violence to go away if we are too afraid to speak out against these events that occur in front of us. Your White friend cannot say the N-word, your cis friend should not make transphobic comments, and no one around you should be making hateful generalizations on any religious group. If you truly cared, you would not stand on the sidelines while Smollett and others bear the brunt of the consequences.

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