Open letter to Jussie Smollett: Crying wolf Hurts the oppressed

 Dear Jussie:

 If what they are saying is true, and you actually orchestrated your own racial and homophobic attack, then you have hurt every oppressed person yesterday, today and tomorrow.

 You see Jussie, racism is never just about you personally. It acts upon your personhood and constrains your individual achievements, but systemic racism is structural violence against a group of people. 

It is sly and deceptive and can fool you into a false sense of security. You see, some individuals from oppressed groups actually may believe they have gone through life without experiencing racism, sexism, homophobia (and any other kind of oppression), but structurally the isms (which intersect to form multiple oppressions) have created an invisible fence that surrounds us and sets boundaries on our achievements and opportunities within a framework of limitations usually embodied within the unspoken, “for a Black person” e.g., “You write well for a …,” “You are so articulate for a …,” “You are a great leader for a …,” “You know so much for a …” 

For me, ageism is now intersecting with my gender and race to constrain me as a high achieving Black woman, over the age of 65, who cannot find employment commensurate with my experience. And I watch how old white men and women up through the age of 90-plus are hired over and over again. Their experience is valued, mine is deemed irrelevant. Sad, but true. 

In the world of structural violence caused by racism, you must know our accomplishments are viewed as individualistic and exceptional – what radio show host Rachel DeGuzman of Rochester’s “Up Close and Cultural” calls “the onliest” syndrome and I describe as “the cult of the exceptional.” 

We are made to believe we are the “only one” (onliest) like us and that we are not like every other Black, Brown, LGBTQ, person with talent who will rise high, if given the opportunity. We are “exceptional” individuals. Following this logic, onliest/exceptional people become invested in their own self advancement; often to the detriment of the group. Catch my drift? 

Onliest are narcissistic in their motivation; out for themselves only. They fail to understand that the flip side of onliest-ism or being viewed as “exceptional” is collective failure. 

When the onliest and exceptional Black, Brown, LGBTQ person makes a mistake, the result is collective downfall. Every person from your identity group(s) becomes suspect. And we are all held in disregard, treated with disbelief, and scorned with disrespect because of the actions of a few. We must then prove ourselves over and over and over again. And after each of these individual acts of spiraling down, what it takes for the group to rise above their actions is an enormous task and a tremendous collective burden. We didn’t do anything, but we are treated as if we were the perpetrator. 

White people do not live with the everyday burden of collective guilt and being blamed for the actions of transgressive white individuals. Although, perhaps they should in view of the atrocities perpetrated in the name of whiteness. But those who identify with whiteness as a group identity have adapted and adopted a collective form of onliest-ism – their individual successes confirm that all white people are exceptional while failure is viewed as the aberrant actions of individuals acting alone. 

And so, Jussie, if it is true and you cried wolf around hate crimes and racism; if it is true that you risked your health and well-being in order to leverage your pain for some extra Hollywood trinkets and Benjamins; if there is an ounce of truth in any of the accusations, then you have perpetrated a collective harm of the greatest magnitude against Black, Brown and LGBTQ people.  

The one occurrence I can recall on this scale was back in 1979 when Amherst College was almost shutdown because of a cross burning at the Black dormitory.  In the end, this act of historical structural violence was traced to a Black student on campus. Those of us enrolled or working at other colleges in the area suffered the collective shame of this individual’s transgressive act.    

And shame on you Jussie for placing all of your people (Black and LGBTQ), united by our oppression, in jeopardy and subject to chronic disbelief. 

If true – and the evidence is not complete and the jury is still out – but if it is true that you cried wolf to increase your Hollywood profile, then you have set the Black struggle, the equality struggle, and the LGBTQ rights struggle backwards for decades. 

We will have to triple our efforts to be believed when we encounter acts of microaggression, overt white supremacy act, and the ongoing and persistent structural violence of racism, sexism, and homophobia. 

When we rise to strike a blow and dismantle these intersecting systems of oppression, the question will be raised about our outcry, “Is this a Jussie Smollett?” Is the particular “ism” and structural violence we are calling out real or fabricated? You have torpedoed and sunk our collective credibility. Because if you, our collective motives will always be called into question and challenged. 

And so, my dear brother Jussie, it is my hope that you will ‘fess up, if true, and suffer the consequences of losing some of your fan base, your current job that may have fueled your personal “ego tripping,” and definitely your acting career (though you get props for this role, if true). Your once sacred reputation will be in the sewer alongside Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. 

Until the truth is known, no healing is possible of your individual pain and our collective pain and embarrassment, if the accusations are proven true. If they are false, then the Chicago Police Department and the world, will owe you the biggest apology ever, and perhaps Ellen DeGeneres will bring you on her show, and give you some love in front of millions of television viewers, and that will capture you a major Hollywood starring role and in the future perhaps an #OhSoWhiteOscar. 

The moral of the story about little boy who untruthfully cried wolf once too often is that when he truly needed help, no one came to his rescue and he was eventually devoured. He died lonely and alone. So sad. I pray this does not describe your fate. 

For now, I remain yours in the struggle.

Originally published Februry 26, 2019 in Insight News.

Update Oct 22, 2019: A civil court case has been filed against Jussie Smollett by the Chicago Police Department and a case is proceeding to trial after a judge denied Smollett’s request for dismissal.