Jussie Smollett is a Headline, but His Story Plays Out Over and Over Again Every day
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By: Maria Thompson Corley — Confluence Daily is your daily news source for women in the know.
Ironically, in my last online post, about my recent fascination with Freddie Mercury, I wondered what kind of violence might have befallen the self-described “Persian poppinjay” if he had tried to hide in plain sight in the places associated with his heritage, Iran or India (I forgot Zanzibar). Then again, I added, it’s dangerous to be gay in North America, too. If Jussie Smollett is an example, it’s so dangerous that even being famous doesn’t matter.
Here’s the story, as I know it: The Empire star had gone to a Chicago Subway to get something to eat. On his way to his next destination, he was first verbally assaulted by two men yelling racial and homophobic slurs, then physically assaulted, an ordeal that included being struck in the face, having a noose around his neck and being doused in an as-yet unnamed substance. One of the assailants apparently said, “This is MAGA country.” Persons of interest have been spotted on surveillance video, but no arrests have been made.
An aside: the Smollett family felt the need to make a statement responding to an internet theory that the attack was a hoax, speculation fueled by the lack of video evidence of the assault and Jussi Smollett’s reluctance to have his phone examined by the police. Obviously, I wasn’t a witness to the incident. That said, three things come to mind: First, Smollett’s neighbor reported seeing two men hanging around the actor’s building, one with something like a rope protruding from a pocket. Second, anyone who watches TV or movies knows that avoiding the gaze of the camera figures in the planning of any successful crime. Third, why would Jussi Smollett commit career suicide? There may be other potentially embarrassing (and leakable) reasons for the Empire star not to hand over his phone. I assume he is telling the truth.
Whether or not the story is true, the Smolletts rightly noted that attacks like this happen every day; I don’t think famous, educated, or otherwise accomplished people should have more attention paid to their victimization. However, if we’re going to deal differently with celebrities, I hope this incident shines a light on something I have never understood: in what universe does being beaten make you less gay? I know there are men, like the character in Moonlight, who behave with overt homophobia because they are insecure about their masculinity and want to make a public display of how disgusted they are with anyone who has even the smallest whiff of being gay. The thing is, I’m not sure how a man becomes more attracted to women because he has inflicted violence on someone else. And if you’re attracted to women anyway, how does a gay man affect your life? Is homosexuality contagious? If so, all the more reason to leave LGBTQ people alone.
A New York Times article from November, 2018 quotes FBI statistics that the last three years have seen sharp increases in hate crimes — three out of five related to race or ethnicity, the remaining ones due to religion or sexual orientation. I think it’s disingenuous to suggest that xenophobia, homophobia and racism are unfairly associated with Trumpism, just as it’s disingenuous to pretend wearing a MAGA hat isn’t an obvious endorsement of our current president. That said, hate crimes and the privilege that spawns them didn’t start when 45 was elected. Ah, privilege. I’m guessing that many of those to whom it is often applied are tired of the word. And yet, every day there are people who feel entitled to decide how, and if, other people will be allowed to live. Who are so insecure that they need everyone to look and think as they do, or…what? A word about every kind of supremacy: if you’re that great, you don’t need to subjugate others to rise to the top.
Maybe the troglodytes who beat up Smollett believe the idea implicit in the MAGA slogan — that there was a time when all was well with the world, or at least, close to it. When, to quote “Those Were The Days,” the theme song from All in the Family, “girls were girls and men were men.” If so, Smollett is definitely anathema: an articulate, openly gay man of mixed Jewish and African-American heritage. Once and for all, guys, the genie is out of the bottle (and I do mean, out). It’s too late to turn back the clock. The Supreme Court just upheld the ban on transgender people serving in the military, however, my daughter’s generation is more comfortable with gender-fluidity than mine.
They are the future.
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Maria Thompson Corley is a Canadian pianist (MM, DMA, The Juilliard School) of Jamaican and Bermudian descent, who has experience as a college professor, private piano instructor, composer, arranger and voice actor. She has contributed to Broad Street Review since 2008, and also blogged for Huffington Post. Her first novel, Choices, was published by Kensington. Her latest novel, Letting Go, was published by Createspace, along with a companion CD of solo piano performances by the author. “Malcolm,” a poem about her son which she presented at the 2016 National Autism Conference, is featured periodically on the Scriggler All Stars Twitter page. “Drop Your Mask” was awarded second place in New York Literary Magazine’s love poetry category and appeared in that publication’s AWAKE anthology in December, 2016. Her short story, “The Road to Jericho,” is slated for publication in the inaugural edition of Midnight and Indigo.
Originally published at www.confluencedaily.com on February 1, 2019.