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Black Exhaustion and The Jussie Smollett Case

Espolòn Celebrates Day of the Dead

Yesterday the Chicago Police Department “officially classified” actor Jussie Smollett as a suspect in a criminal investigation for allegedly filling a false police report, according to Chicago police communications Officer Anthony Guglielmi as reported by Variety. It is a Class 4 felony and that detectives are currently presenting evidence before a Cook County grand jury. This morning, Smollett has surrendered his person to Chicago PD and at the press conference the CPD reported that they believe Smollett allegedly did this because he was disatisfied with this pay on Empire.

There is no way, in one post, I will be able to sum up all of my feelings and emotions about what has happened, this post would be even longer, but I felt the need to try cover as much as I could because the entire story has been a drain on my emotional charge. Smollett’s story came after the Covington students story, the Kevin Hart dialogue around homophobic “jokes,” before Liam Neeson’s “confessional” and around the anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s birthday.

It came like a perfect storm of highlighting several things about the state of the country: the rising hate crimes and racialized violence, the embodiment of alt-right people to showcase their racism, the homophobia that exists in the Black community, and the realities for people like Smollett that intersected between Blackness and queerness. As someone who also lives at that intersection, it pulled a cord with me.

Watching the above Trevor Noah monologue, I thought back about my reaction to the Jussie Smollett case. I was sad, I was angry, and I was frustrated. Everything about the attack triggered something visceral in me—because as someone who studied American History and continues to do so, just the idea of a noose around a Black person’s neck makes me want to cry. It is an image that lives in the hearts of many as a symbol of hatred.

The reason I believed Jussie Smollett is simple. I believe victims. The statistics reflect that mentality is more often than not the right one and if a person claims to be the victim of a hate crime with police evidence of an attack, I’m going to believe them. We live in a time where the racism many white people and younger Black people may have once felt was buried is all too above ground. From the thread that began with Birtherism about President Obama to Charlottesville, there has just been reminder after reminder that we live in a hateful society and very often are unable to deal with our past and our present.

Also, being vigilant and against hate crimes shouldn’t be an agenda-driven thing. We should be opposed to those on all sides, no matter where it comes from.

It also seemed absurd to me, and honestly still does, that in the age of CCTV that you would stage something like this incident. With Smollett’s history of activism, with his visibility, with the climate that we live in, how could he ever believe this could fly? And when the initial element of the “he didn’t give his phone to the cops?” thing came up I was like … bruh I’ve watched enough true crime to not only never feel comfortable giving my phone to the police, regardless of my race, but I wouldn’t even saying anything without a lawyer present.

Why would someone who heads a huge show, with a huge platform, with a sister who is about to star in a bunch of major projects do this? It is a question only Smollett can answer. And it is the reason why, even with all of the evidence, I still feel the need to put the if in front of what Smollett is alleged to have done. I’ve seen articles from white journalists attempting to explain “why,” and all of them ring false. What it comes down to, it seems, is that he did it for money and that to me is the most sickening aspect of it.

Not to mention for the Chicago PD to have so many leaks, to be so fast at getting this story locked down, and the almost certain possibility that they will indict Smollett—when they manage to stay silent on police shootings and their own well-documented human rights and civil rights violations just smells bad. I don’t begrudge people, especially Black LGBTQ people, for having their doubts and suspicions and wanting this to be untrue. Smollett could end up serving more time if found guilty of false reporting at the maximum sentence than some people get for rape.

Being the only Black person on the staff of The Mary Sue, currently, is a double-edged sword at times for me. I feel the responsibility to tackle issues of race when they are in my lane (and have dealt with stumbles when they weren’t), but at the same time, I feel that nagging ax around my neck like Anne Boleyn of being afraid of being perceived as perpetually angry and with an agenda. Yet, the same people who think I have an agenda will say that I’m a libtard who hates white people. They have a vision of me, of this site, as one that takes glee in the sexism, homophobia, and racism that we talk about. The majority of writers on this site are geeky women, the majority of us are queer. We don’t need an agenda: we have lived these things. Besides, if it were just up to me, I would write about EDH, anime, classic novels, history, and mythology all day long.

We talk about having conversations about race, but it is so often a one-sided conversation. People will read the experiences of Black people of fandom, of queer women in fandom, and other minorities and then just be like “well I never see this, I only see the outrage.” Or they will find the minority voice that co-signs their opinion so that they can feel secure in dismissing their feedback. Do I agree with every Black, queer, feminist take ever? No. But unless we are having some productive discourse I don’t see the need to say, “eh, I’m not offended by the blackface in Tropic Thunder” because me saying that doesn’t add anything to the conversation.

Look, I’ve been the token Black friend who acted like she wasn’t offended when her white friends said nigger … a lot. I’ve been the only Black student in class when U.S slavery or Civil Rights comes up and having the whole class look to me as a reference point (even though I’m a first-generation American). And I’ve been the Black kid who through living in a mostly multicultural city went through a whole culture shock when I realized that my best friend in college hunted deer with her family for food and sport. I have been flexible and have often bent myself completely out of sorts to make other people comfortable, while those same people, even in their most well-meaning moments, never did the same for me.

Following the election in 2016, I read stories about Trump supporters and why they felt isolated, I listened to podcasts and stories about coal and other mining areas to try and understand the pain and parts of life that I do not experience every day. I asked my white friends if they really felt like they had no culture. They never asked me how I felt about Black culture. I asked my guy friends how they felt about consent and the new dating culture. They never asked me if I’d been assaulted or made to feel uncomfortable. I read stories about 20-something-year-olds who resented undocumented workers because they were taking factory jobs and only spoke Spanish, but none about the Black and brown poor NYC families who were being pushed out of their neighborhoods by white kids from Indiana, Texas, and other places.

The reason I think MAGA/Trump supporters are racist is that they elected a man and praise a man who is racist. They supported him because they could excuse the racism for abortion, border security, and Supreme Court justices. I went to school in Upstate New York. I have looked in my friends’ feed and seen Trump supporters on there and conservatives on there, and I’ve read what they have said. I may come off as an asshole sometimes, but I do my best to not speak out of my ass.

But sometimes, due to life and history, I do speak from a place of fear and sadness, because despite the conflicting accounts in Jussie Smollett’s case, incidents like that do happen to Black women and WOC all the time, especially queer WOC, and they rarely get an iota of the attention Smollett’s case got because they aren’t celebrities. Many queer Black people on Twitter have come and spoken about their own experiences with Chicago PD and that is important to remember that this incident doesn’t erase their experiences.

From the way I write and the topics I discuss and even the titles I pick, there might be the sense that I’m coming from this place of frigid dogmatic ideology, that I think there is only one way and the truth is that in most aspects of my life, that isn’t the case. I am proud to be a progressive feminist, but I’m also a person, and I have seen that when people are human and vulnerable and themselves, that instead of creating bridges it often just leaves room for people to use mistakes against you.

It makes me tired and it makes me sad. It makes me sad because these are conversations that do need to be had in good faith. There is room for people to grow, change and make mistakes. But that needs to go both ways. It makes me tired because I know that despite all of the emotional energy put into doing that—into explaining things and tropes and their problematic nature—people will still either a) not care or b) not see what the big deal is.

It is a struggle worth having, but don’t think that the people who do that aren’t putting a lot of themselves out there. I have crawled into a ball and sobbed sometimes over what people have said about me on the internet before, but I get up and do it anyway because I am the only full-time Black staffer on this site and I may not be the best, but I work really fucking hard to do the best I can.

What is so distressing about this incident is that it will be used and weaponized by people who never have believed him anyway as a shield against the majority of rightful cases. For those who were on his side and are currently being shamed, some of them will internalize that and not speak up as quickly because they don’t want to be wrong.

From the evidence that has been laid before me today, surrounding the Jussie Smollett case, it seems that he lied. I don’t want that to be true. I am hoping that something in the eleventh hour will arrive to prove me wrong, not because I prefer white people being racist, but because I don’t want to believe that someone from the Black LGBTQ community with all the issues we face would do something like this to hurt us. Especially for money. Yet, that is where we seem to be and I am left feeling angry and heartbroken, not because I believed in Jussie Smollett, but that anyone would do something like that to their own communities.

But I’m still going to say we should believe victims until proven otherwise and I’m going to continue to do that. I’d rather be wrong than have participated in the shaming of someone who was hurt.

But girl … I am fucking tired.

If you are looking for other Black queer perspectives on this issue, I’d recommend: Ira Madison III, George M. Johnson, and Dana Vivian White, to name a few.

(image: Tasia Wells/Getty Images for Espolòn)

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Princess (she/her-bisexual) is a Brooklyn born Megan Fox truther, who loves Sailor Moon, mythology, and diversity within sci-fi/fantasy. Still lives in Brooklyn with her over 500 Pokémon that she has Eevee trained into a mighty army. Team Zutara forever.