“Thank you, God, for showing me my enemies,” Jussie Smollett declares in a new song he released on Instagram this week. He apparently had time to drop some bars given his release from jail during the appeal process for his March 10 conviction and sentencing.
Smollett was sentenced to serve 150 days in jail, 30 months of probation, and pay more than $175,000 in fines and restitution for staging a homophobic, racist attack on himself and lying about it to police.
Despite his sentencing, he has maintained his innocence and has lyrics to match: “Some people searching for fame / Some people chasing that clout / Just remember this, this ain’t that situation / You think I’m stupid enough to kill my reputation?”
Well, yes, Jussie, that is exactly what people think. Even if you started with good intentions in your heart to bring awareness to the racism and homophobia some people suffer from in their daily lives, you have refused to take any accountability for your actions.
Frustratingly, this came the same week that millions were celebrating the confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the United States Supreme Court. Here she is serving in the highest court of the land, bringing integrity, justice, truth, and honor to the courtroom, while Smollett continues to bring excuses, lies and foolishness.
There is too much forward progress and momentum behind social justice movements and DEI initiatives to be dealing with this foolishness. And there are plenty of reasons his actions fall under the foolishness umbrella.
One issue is that Smollett was insistent upon making this particular attack about an act of racial aggression. Another issue is of course that he alleged that the attackers identified and slandered him for being gay.Taken individually, either of these allegations have major implications as hate crimes. Taken together, the egregiousness of the allegation is clear.
Even though Smollett was found guilty of falsely orchestrating the hate crime against him, many Americans will quickly forget that he was held accountable for his hoax through the U.S court system. What may linger in American minds is the idea that people can stage hoaxes or lie about discrimination and hate crimes. Frustratingly, some individuals will cite cases like Smollett’s to support their beliefs that other hate crimes or alleged attacks may also be hoaxes at worst or overblown at best.
As a society, many tend to blame victims. It’s easier on the palate and doesn’t upset the bellies of those who would prefer not to see the uglier side of the world. Marginalized groups have historically had a hard time being taken seriously. Individuals from diverse backgrounds typically have to legitimize our experience before they are validated. To this end, Smollett’s lie is more than unhelpful. It is harmful.
Black folks have had to be cautious, and some might say understandably hypersensitive, about how they are portrayed in the media due to the historic, pervasive, negative, and offensive depictions of them shared around the world.
Smollett, as an actor in a family of actors and activists, certainly would understand how images and perceptions can easily be shaped and shared. The fact that he would impugn two African immigrants as violent attackers clearly brings many to a point of collectively screaming.
According to the Equal Justice Initiative, from 2019 to 2020 the number of hate crimes targeting Black people jumped from 1,972 to 2,755. This was reported as the largest increase in any hate crime category.
According to the U.S. Justice Department’s most recent report from 2020, 62% of hate crimes are based upon race/ethnicity and 20% are based on sexual orientation. The data illustrates the frightening trend that many of us are experiencing in our own cities. In my hometown of Indianapolis, the DOJ reported a staggering 189 hate crimes in total.
It’s not surprising that Smollett initially received an outpouring of support when this story first came to light. When things start to unravel quickly, perhaps there comes a point where it cannot be salvaged.
In the Smollett case, this is a real opportunity to think about the impact of his actions. And while not condoning his actions, perhaps not “cancelling” him without giving him the opportunity to acknowledge his errors and make changes for the better going forward.
In his new song, he states that all he ever wanted to do was make his people proud. There is still time to do that, but do it honestly. It is better to have him writing bars than spending time behind them.
Samantha L Gray, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Indianapolis and a Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project.