The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Tuesday January 31st

Column: I believed Jussie Smollett, and I'm not sorry

Evidence is mounting against “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett, who police arrested and charged on Thursday for staging a racist and homophobic attack against himself due to grievances over his salary and lack of publicity.

I was quick to believe Jussie because the incident was a dramatization of many of our lived experiences. A perfectly-executed production of the screenplay we pen in our most anxious nightmares. However, what we seldom anticipate by grasping on to these theatrical renditions of our deepest dysphoria is that they might be, in fact, simply cinematic after all. 

Islamophobic threats of violence towards hijabis, historically Black churches vandalized and torched by white supremacists and now, a prominent Black gay actor brutalized by a modern day lynching are the latest in a handful of falsely-reported hate crimes following the election of Trump in 2016, according to a New York Times opinion piece by Noah Rothman.

Liberals almost instinctually cling to these validating narratives, just as those on the right peddle myths akin to immigrant criminality following a few crimes committed by folks without documentation. Though staunchly different in ideological foundations, the common tendency shared by liberals and conservatives alike is that we are quick to believe those stories, which validate our interpretation of reality, neglecting any introspection or investigation. 

Following these incidents, we usually fall into a cycle of fearful infuriation, a sense of validation and inevitable finger-pointing. Anger and fear, because our deepest anxieties played out in front of our eyes. Validation, because those anxieties no longer lived in our psyches but were in fact legitimate fears. Finger-pointing, because ‘the other side’ was responsible and should have done more to stop it. 

Since the developments leading to Smollet being charged with filing a false report, I have been urged by peers and DTH readers alike to apologize for publishing “Birth of a MAGA Nation,” as I fell victim to the aforementioned predisposition to blind acceptance. So, here it goes: 

I am sorry. 

I am sorry to the victims of actual hate crimes who will no longer be believed. 

I am sorry to the abused and murdered trans folks who will continue to be ignored. 

I am sorry to the high schooler who will report being bullied for their queerness, only to be accused of making it up in their head. 

I am sorry to anyone I have personally mistreated due to my own insecurities.

I am sorry that one of our own used his platform to invalidate us.

I am not sorry, however, for believing Jussie Smollett. 

I believed him because I was enraged to the point that I set aside my objectivity, leaning into a narrative that was conveniently validating. I believed him because his victimization authenticated my fears of being a victim of hate violence myself and assuaged what I thought was mere psychosis. I believed him because his story made it enticingly easy to point the finger. 

I was wrong. I was bamboozled. I was played. I wrote a column with affirmative conclusions based on fabricated facts. 

That said, however, I will neither apologize for nor redact any part of that column, other than Smollett’s dishonesty. 

There has still been a spike in hate crimes since Trump’s election in 2016. There were still 52 hate-related homicides against LGBTQ+ people reported by the New York City Anti-Violence Project in 2017, an 86 percent increase from 2016. Seventy-one percent of those attacks were still people of color, emphasizing that you are still at higher risk of violence if you are Black and queer in “MAGA country.”

Queer people are still dying. Trans folks are still dying. Americans are still dying, all at the hands of hate. 

So no, I will not apologize for believing Smollett, because neither you nor I were the injured party following his lie; neither of us deserve atonement. However, I am deeply sorry to the victims of any attack on their personhood who may now be hesitant to seek justice, as this pernicious precedent has stripped hate victims of their credibility. 

I still believe you.

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