The country listened in horror as “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett released news that he had been the victim of a vicious hate crime. He claimed that two individuals approached him, hit him, poured chemicals on his face and hung a noose around his neck, all while yelling racist and homophobic slurs, as well as chanting “MAGA country.” Things quickly took a turn when Smollett was charged with a felony for filing a false police report and turned himself in to the Chicago Police Department on Feb. 21.
After both the Chicago PD and FBI began investigating the alleged hate crime, two brothers were arrested as persons of interest. The two stated that Smollett, whom they knew through a personal training partnership, paid them to stage the attack.
Speculation as to what prompted Smollett to stage the attack has ranged all the way from dissatisfaction with salary to being upset with the lack of response when he received a threatening letter just a week before the alleged attack.
The way this story has unfolded is strange, to say the least. The story went from horrific attack to shameful hoax at breakneck speed. Investigations are still in progress, but even I have to admit that as more details are released, things are looking worse for Smollett. Smollett being found guilty would raise an immense number of issues.
Whether he was upset about his salary or had concerns about his safety, this was the absolute worst way to go about addressing his problems. Furthering your own personal position at the expense of marginalized groups is unacceptable, even if you are a member of said groups. Not only do Smollett’s actions hone in on the already hateful spotlight often placed on LGBTQ individuals of color, I can guarantee that his case will be used as a tool to place doubt on survivors of real hate crimes. What he did will make things so much harder for everyone else. Perhaps the worst part of the situation is that he likely knew how the public would react; he played on people’s fears and the current political climate to further the coverage of the story.
If the allegations are true, Smollett used his personal identity as a biracial gay man to his advantage. Maybe he felt that being a celebrity would give him a parachute that separates him from others, but that is not the case. Everyone is made up of different characteristics and identities, all of which play a role in defining us — but that is only a part of the truth. While there is so much about us that isn’t defined by race, sexual orientation or gender identity, there is no part of your identity that allows you to have a “free pass” when it comes to discrimination. You can be LGBTQ and be racist; you can be a person of color and be transphobic; you can be disabled and be classist; mix and match any of the above and it still rings true. Smollett attempting to exploit himself only reflects poorly on him. If convicted, he’ll get the notoriety he desired — not for his work, but for being a terrible person.
Elizabeth Short is a sophomore double-majoring in biology and English.