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The rise and fall of Jussie Smollett: Black/LGBT community speaks out

Anthony Howard and Kyle Harris

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In the beginning, an outpour of empathy and utter astonishment transpired across social media outlets, leaving the world in complete shock of the assault against ‘Empire’ actor, Jussie Smollett.

Prior to the incident, he reported that he had received an envelope with the word ‘MAGA’ written in bold, and inside an image of a black man hanging by a noose and “You will die black (word),” written beside it. It started with these upsetting embodiments of discrimination, and then into a tragic altercation that we all know too well.

Late at night, Smollett was walking to a Subway at 2 a.m, and when walking back to his apartment he was attacked by two individuals that yelled homophobic and racial slurs, poured bleach on top of him, and tied a noose around his neck. Chicago P.D. would salvage through numerous hours of recording tape of that night, but couldn’t find a recording of the incident; creating a small sense of doubt and speculation.

In the weeks that followed, the Chicago P.D. would stand firm in their belief that Smollett staged his attack, paying two brothers to dress as ‘MAGA’ supporters and carry out the crime. The sudden turn of the case would make people question the integrity of Smollett, and have his fans greatly saddened by the turn of events.

Smollett being a black, gay man, and an influential leader within the LGBTQ+ community, would find his world turned upside down, as society grapples with the information presented.

Wakefield faculty and students would do the same; entering a conversation of importance as this issue would further question the validity of the media, the black and LGBTQ+ community, and the condition of a beloved star.

 

Staff Photo by Anthony Howard
Jessica Chambliss, Administrator

Jessica Chambliss, Administrator

Q: What was your initial reaction when hearing about the attack on Jussie Smollett?

A: As a black woman I was very angry that this could go on, however at the same time I’m not surprised due to the climate of our society right now.

Q: After further information came out, did your opinion/view of the incident change? How so?

A: It did change. I was more angry with him because all of the people that come after him, who do get attacked, will be looked at the same way. There are homophobic, and other forms of hate, that go around every single day. It just took a lot of resources away from those people that actually needed it.

Q: Do you think this further hinders LGBTQ+ voices and their stories? If so, why?

A: Yes, because those that do get attacked now are going to be viewed as, ‘oh are you lying or did you make it up?’ It just makes them lose their voice when their voice is already shaken and doesn’t get much of a chance in society. I think as a black woman, we already get stereotyped anyway as being angry. He did not help the situation, as far as black people go. It’s like the ‘boy crying wolf.’ I think the media now is just going to focus on the fact that he was lying, and is going to find every negative thing about it. It just brought bad attention to black people, the fight we are trying to fight for racial equality, and the struggle we are having to get black people viewed in a positive light.

Q: Because of this situation, do you think that we should now wait for more information to unravel concerning incidents like this one?

A: I do. I think with him being a celebrity, and having other celebrities come out, such as Lee Daniels and Tyler Perry, and making the story bigger, is what caused it. I remember Erykah Badu got so much flack for saying, ‘well let’s wait until we get more information.’ People took that as, ‘oh she’s not supporting black people, she’s not supporting LGBT people.’ When in reality, we should have waited. I think the media messed that up a little bit, and so did he being a star.

Q: Should we hold this against Jussie? Can he recover from this in your opinion?

A: I don’t think he can recover from this. His career is pretty tarnished because everyone knows about it. Even the white socialites know about it. So, it did tarnish his name completely, I believe. They even wrote him off of ‘Empire’ that quickly. We should hold this against him. I wouldn’t want to wait until after we hear his story that there’s something wrong with it. I think we need to listen to more of the story first, and more from him, before I can form an opinion of it.

 

Staff Photo by Anthony Howard
Emmanuel Lipscomb, English teacher.

Emmanuel Lipscomb, English Teacher

Q: What was your initial reaction when hearing about the attack on Jussie Smollett?

A: Originally, I saw it on my Twitter timeline, and as someone that considers himself as an ally it was outrage; [I felt] very much upset that something like this would happen to someone who is a rather well-known name in the community. Who I think is a very visible icon of these individual groups of people, both black males and the LGBTQ community.

Q: After further information came out, did your opinion/view of the incident change? How so?

A: It definitely shifted, so it became, what felt at one point, to be very cut and dry, like ‘hey this is wrong, this shouldn’t happen to you.’ The details of [Jussie Smollett’s incident] are peculiar, and as more stories came out I think it became difficult to discern what the actual core truth is because there is Smollett’s story, and there is also Chicago PD’s story, and just trying to figure out what actually happened. I think I’ve moved more at a position where I’m like this is still wrong, and this doesn’t undermine any of the cases where this has very much happened and we have documented proof that it happened, but it certainly concerned [me] that this didn’t actually occur the way that he said so.

Q: Do you think this further hinders LGBTQ+ voices and their stories? If so, why?

A: I don’t think it hinders it, but for people who have already decided how they feel about these stories, I think it merely confirms their suspicions or confirms their truths. For people that consider themselves allies, and who are on the side of justice and equity, I think this story being false or ambitious doesn’t undermine the numerous other stories that are very clearly true, and the numerous experiences that people have of this nature on a daily basis.

Q: Do you believe that the color of your skin can make you more conscious about your surroundings and the situations you are set in?

A: I don’t know if your skin color inherently makes you more conscious, but I think your experience of your skin color definitely does. I know being black that people look at me in a certain way and have certain expectations about me based on what I appear to be, but that doesn’t make me more conscious. The fact that I am living with these experiences, and I’ve had people make assumptions about me, makes me more conscious about these future experiences.

Q: Because of this situation, do you think that we should now wait for more information to unravel concerning incidents like this one?

A: I think waiting for more information is always a good idea, but again these things are happening all the time, so that doesn’t mean that this isn’t a thing. On an individual basis certainly, but something still needs to be done against LGBTQ violence in general. [Violence and physical assault] is a thing that people are dealing with regularly, and we should address that, whether or not the individual stories have been confirmed.

Q: Should we hold this against Jussie? Can he recover from this in your opinion?

A: If his story isn’t true, I think it’s certainly going to be something that’s going to be held against him. I think many celebrities have demonstrated that you can bounce back from this. Look at all the numerous figures like R. Kelly and such that have done terrible things, but still collecting checks. I wonder if it’s going to be harder for Jussie Smollett, just being who is, not just being a black male, but being a black male who isn’t heterosexual; if that’s going to be a harder climb for him because for a lot of people this confirms their suspicions and they can use that to confirm their world views.

Q: How does it make you feel that people immediately when the story came out were against Smollett and the actuality of this event happening?

A: It is infuriating. I have students that have had to deal with stuff like this. I have friends that have had to deal with stuff like this. I think the general practice should be to believe the person who is the victim, believe the person who experienced the assault, and then from there do the investigation. Starting out from a position of suspicion from regard to the person who is the victim seems silly, like they’re not on trial, the perpetrator is. It is irritating.

 

 

Staff Photo by Anthony Howard
Brion Benson, senior

Brion Benson, senior

 

Q: What was your initial reaction when hearing about the attack on Jussie Smollett?

A: I wasn’t really surprised because nowadays there are a lot of attacks on African American people in society, so in a way, I wasn’t really shocked about the attack; I was kind of like ‘why would someone want to do something like this?’

Q: After further information came out, did your opinion/view of the incident change? How so?

A: It did change because now that all this information is out that he is faking the situation, it kind of made me think, ‘oh he is doing it for press and views to get money for it.’

Q: Personally, how does this impact you/make you feel, and does this hurt to see a black, LGBT role model do something like this?

A: It changes my view on him because it makes you think what other things may he have lied about in past interviews that he has had. In a way, I don’t fully have a hatred towards him, but it makes me have a second thought.

Q: Do you think this delegitimizes future victim’s stories of assault and violence (mainly those within the LGBT community)?

A: I don’t think it should delegitimize different stories because you have different people that have actual incidents. I think it will make people look back and think just because one person lied about it you may have other people lying about it, but I don’t think that people should immediately jump to that conclusion because an attack on a person is serious. I think that is something that we should take seriously until proven otherwise, just like the Jussie Smollett case. I took it seriously, and I am sure a lot of people took it seriously until we heard that it wasn’t serious.

Q: How does this impact the LGBTQ+ community in your opinion?

A: A lot of people have thoughts that the black community likes to lie or take things and exaggerate it. I feel like [the Jussie Smollett incident] will make people want to assume the worst. If a situation were going to occur, they’re going to want to think a person is not fully telling the truth about it before they think that this is something serious

 

Staff Photo by Anthony Howard
Tamia Williams, senior

Tamia Williams, senior

Q: What was your initial reaction when hearing about the attack on Jussie Smollett?

A: I thought it was unjust. I thought it was another hate crime towards black people and queer people, because of the noose, and the homophobic slurs. I thought it was unacceptable because I thought we outgrew that, but obviously not.

Q: After further information came out, did your opinion/view of the incident change? How so?

A: When I heard that he staged his own hate crime, I absolutely had no belief that a person could do that. Would anyone really pay someone to call you by different things, degrade you, beat you, and all that other stuff? It blurred it a little bit, but more stuff came out and text messages, and how they were trainers. I got the whole oversight, but the internet could twist things, so I stayed by his side the whole time. I didn’t switch.

Q: Personally, how does this impact you/make you feel, and does this hurt to see a black, LGBT role model do something like this?

A: Overall, I don’t like it if you are gay, straight, whatever you are, just a human being; black period is a dangerous thing. It makes me worry about my brother. At the same time, I don’t feel anyway towards him.

Q: If you were Jussie Smollett, how would handle the backlash/aftermath of this situation?

A:  That’s difficult because he is famous and he has a voice. The right thing and the wrong thing can trigger certain people. If I were him, I would do the mature thing; not everybody needs to be in your business. I would probably clear up some patches because they are smashing my name, but other than that you don’t need to know too much.

Q: Do you think this delegitimizes future victim’s stories of assault and violence (mainly those within the LGBT community)?

A:  I don’t think that it should because there are more individual stories. It might because he is famous. It might dim the light of others, but I don’t think it should.

Q: How does this impact the LGBTQ+ community in your opinion?

A: It impacts us in a very bad way because one of our own was attacked. If he was lying it makes us look bad, because what if one of us does want to tell our stories; are we all going to be labeled as liars?

Q: If Jussie Smollett was here right now, what would you say to him?
A: You are doing great. Keep your head up, but at the same time try to stay humble. Don’t let everybody bring you down, because I feel like it’s true, and when people don’t believe that it is true it hurts you, you feel like nobody is in your corner. You don’t want to see somebody that you love as a star do something outrageous. Just keep your head up.

 

Staff Photo by Anthony Howard
Alaila McClendon, senior

Alaila McClendon, senior

Q: What was your initial reaction when hearing about the attack on Jussie Smollett?

A: Of course, I stood behind him. There weren’t any questions asked. I saw what had happened; I just thought it was terrible. There shouldn’t be hatred in this world; we have to do something. We have to stand together. I was agreeing with what everybody was saying in that moment. Basically, I was caught up in the moment.

Q: After further information came out, did your opinion/view of the incident change? How so?

A: Absolutely. I started going back, retracing the story. I went from step one and actually thought about it before I said something. I actually researched and looked at the information myself, put the pieces together, realized what this was. My view totally changed after that.

Q: Personally, how does this impact you/make you feel, and does this hurt to see a black/LGBT role model do something like this?

A: It absolutely hurts me, being a part of the community myself. I would never want anybody to see this and think this is what everybody does or what we all do for attention. I would never want that to come across and I don’t want [people] to make it seem like [the LGBT community] is trying to get that. That would ultimately set us back. It definitely is heartbreaking to see him and see that happening. This shouldn’t be placed as a stigma for what everybody does.

Q: Do you think this delegitimizes future victim’s stories of assault and violence (mainly those within the LGBT community)?

A: I think it was already hard to believe in the first place. The Me Too Movement, they thought all the women were lying. I don’t think this will have that pull. I just believe it has already been like that.

Q: How does this impact the LGBTQ+ community in your opinion?

A: This is already a sensitive time for everybody. This just makes us more careful about who we decide to believe and what we decide to believe. We should always go by our own opinion and gather evidence from more than one media outlet.

Q: If Jussie Smollett was here right now, what would you say to him?

A: Just why. Why? I know he’s being paid less than Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard. I understand that, but you can’t go to that extreme for attention. He should have gone to ‘Fox’ with a proper argument. I just want him to explain why he did it.

Q: If you were Jussie Smollett, how would you handle the backlash/aftermath of this situation?

A: I would just own up to it. Even now, he’s saying ‘no, I’m innocent,’ but they have all the evidence. I would just go ahead and say, ‘this is what happened, this is why I did that, and have an apology issued to everyone.’ To the ‘Empire’ cast, to the LGBT and the Black community. After that, it would just be a matter of taking the punishment.

 

Staff Photo by Anthony Howard
Justyn Dease, senior

Justyn Dease, senior

Q: What was your initial reaction when hearing about the attack on Jussie Smollett?

A: When I first heard the news, it was on The Shade Room. The comments on there were just ignorant and arrogant towards Jussie. I feel like if it was someone of the Caucasian race, they probably would’ve put more emphasis on it. They wouldn’t have been too ignorant in the comments, however, it is The Shade Room. For me, I kind of felt bad for him, because being gay and out is really hard. That’s just two struggles already put on someone. No one should be harassed for what they do and who they are.

Q: After further information came out, did your opinion/view of the incident change?

A: It didn’t change. I supported him and I still do. No one actually knows what they would do in this particular situation or what they would say. His life and money are on the line, who knows if this is how he supports his family. You just never know.

Q: Personally, how does this impact you/make you feel and does this hurt to see a black/LGBT role model do something like this?

A: It hurt me because I did see a few comments that were blaming us as a community. I felt like us, black people, not including our sexualities, should have taken more of a stance on the incident. Now regarding the LGBTQ community, it’s not just made up of African American people, everybody should lend their voice.

Q: If you were Jussie Smollett, how would you handle the backlash/aftermath of this situation?

A: If I were him, I would have just gone about it like everyday life. At the end of the day, it’s not the end of the world. Honestly, I would have just posted an Instagram picture and sort of ignored it. I’m still here, and those people are going to be found.

Q: Do you think this delegitimizes future victim’s stories of assault and violence (mainly those within the LGBT community)?

A: In terms of the future,and how everyone would react towards that, I think people would treat it as a ‘boy who cried wolf’ type of conflict. They wouldn’t be quick to defend. They will look deeper first. It affects us, because this might shed light on harassment stories. Yet at the same time, make people upset because they don’t know how to express themselves. I feel like the way he went about it may scare some people because of how the public reacted to him and his lie.

Q: If Jussie Smollett was here right now, what would you say to him?

A: I would tell him I’m proud of him at the end of the day. Even though he did lie, it still happened. If it was truth or lie, this is something that shouldn’t have happened in the first place. That within itself is hard to go through.

 

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