Regardless of whether you believe actor Jussie Smollett paid two men to stage a hate crime attack on him, the question on many people's minds is why he -- or anyone -- would lie about such a thing https://t.co/ujAR99aGgL pic.twitter.com/PBoP0PyIBn— CNN (@CNN) February 22, 2019
There's something about the Jussie Smollett situation that pretty much scrapes every nerve, and even now, I find myself trying to understand why a person who is in a good position as an artist, is talented and well-liked, and who has a solid reputation for trying to do good, would engage in such a pathetic, time and emotion-wasting lie. There is a lot of real hate out there, for people of color and LGBTQ folks. There has been no shortage of examples of people who have experienced hate and violence. For someone to perpetrate a false alarm with the intention of just garnering sympathy to make himself more marketable or valuable in a salary dispute is so extraordinarily selfish it literally beggars my capacity to consider that such a nakedly selfish motive could be all there is to the story.
If anyone, anyone at all, considers the rights of victims of hate crimes or other deeply personal violence, it has to be understood that false accusations harm real victims. The biggest barrier to justice is the fear of reporting due to being disbelieved, or being accused of trying to ruin someone else's life or reputation. It places a terrible stigma on a person already injured by encouraging other people to consider "what if this terrible thing never happened?" Maybe the world isn't so terrible that people can randomly be assaulted for any reason. Maybe the victim is the problem. We can see this easily with circumstances of domestic violence or rape. Victims sometimes opt not to come forward because their reputations will be damaged, or they will face other societal or economic penalties for trying to receive justice. With hate crimes, this can also have other levels of blowback, if one suspects that law enforcement are not sympathetic to their race or orientation or gender expression. There is a risk of further oppression.
For Jussie Smollett to wave away the entirety of what the revelation of his imposture would mean to real victims, his counting on his identity to earn his sympathy, and the supposition that he would never be found out, shows an enormous ignorance or tunnel-vision about social and criminal justice. The idea that he staged this for solely monetary reasons, when the reality of his salary is already just nonsensically rich to regular folks, is as unsympathetic to consider--in much the way the plight of an actual victim of hate would seem sympathetic.
And yet--the perpetrated story of Jussie Smollett is his story, and it was told to family, friends, co-workers, fans, and the world. The love and sympathy and outpouring of affection he received, and the harshness with which people would condemn violence against people due to racism or homophobia are still good motives, even if what he did to elicit them was a lie. It is still right to stand by marginalized people because of real harms they experience, and it is still right to listen to the stories of victims because most really are true. It is still right to condemn hate and seek justice, and although Smollett's story called out MAGA hat wearing fake perps, I want one thing to be pretty clear:
The fake details were not a smear against all Trump-supporters. This was Smollett's version of verisimilitude. He was working with the reputation MAGA hat wearing people (like Cesar Sayoc) already had, in rather the same way Susan Smith blamed the death of her boys on a carjacking by black men. He wasn't trying to make a political statement--his shit was very personal.
And what remains to be considered is whether some other issue (outside leverage or mental instability) encouraged what Smollett seems to have done. There may be a reason besides the extremely selfish for what he has done. But although the details were political, I don't see this as solely a political case. The people he hurt most were POC and LGBTQ people whose stories are now going to be met with "but Jussie". It was certainly not "MAGA country" people.