On the Jussie Smollett Case

Love Your Neighbor. Photo by Callen Harty.

One of the things about our society in this era of instant electronic communications is that all of us tend to jump to conclusions about stories in the news. We hear that an actor like Jussie Smollett has been attacked by MAGA hat-wearing homophobic racists and that immediately fits with a narrative of Trump and his followers. So those on the left jump all over it and start tweeting and writing blog posts and creating memes about it. Then, when the story shifts a bit and newspapers start to report that police sources say that Smollett may have paid men he knew to stage the attack, that fits a narrative of those on the right, that liberals have knee-jerk reactions to everything and that attacks on African-Americans and those in the queer community are all over-stated and over-reported by the left, and that they really don’t happen much, if at all.

At this point, there is no way to know what is true in this story. So perhaps the wisest thing would be to wait for the police to finish their investigation and see if they charge the two brothers who were suspected of attacking Smollett or charge Smollett for filing a false report. As a people, we don’t have a lot of patience to wait for things to play out like that. We’re in a 24-hour news cycle and we want answers now and if answers aren’t available the best answers cobbled together from what little is known will do. We want to be the first to post about the latest developments in the latest stories. We accept incomplete information rather than no information at all.

The problem with that is that people can get hurt by the suppositions and incorrect reporting, whether it is the two brothers who were accused of accosting him or whether it is Smollett himself. I don’t want to suppose that Smollett planned an attack on himself, but if it proves to be true it is devastating, in large part due to his fame and the continuous reporting on it. Right now, it’s a big part of that 24-hour news cycle and right now it seems the majority of the country thinks Smollett lied.

The thing is, there are a lot of wolves out there and just because one boy cries wolf when there is no wolf there, it doesn’t mean we should ignore everyone who tells us they have been attacked by a wolf. Already, I have seen that there are those who want to use the possibility that Smollett lied as proof that there is no danger for my community.

As a gay man who has been threatened and who has known queer people who were beaten or killed, it pains me to think that Smollett may have fabricated this whole thing, and I hope that it is not true. It will make it that much harder for those who have suffered from hate crimes to be believed.

False reports of crimes are fairly rare, but they do happen. Sometimes it’s to get attention. Other times it’s to get someone in trouble, a way to get even with someone who hurt you in some way. Sometimes there’s no explanation. But when these reports happen they undercut the many true stories of homophobia and racism that are so prevalent in our society. I sincerely hope that Jussie Smollett did not orchestrate his own attack. But if he did, that doesn’t mean black men are not really dying at the hands of police and others. It doesn’t mean that gay men aren’t getting fired from jobs or getting beaten and killed for being gay. It doesn’t mean that there are no hate-filled neo-Nazis attacking Jews, or Muslim-hating Americans attacking those with different beliefs, or Trump supporters attacking those who look different or speak a different language. These things do happen. There are wolves among us.


About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on Amazon.com (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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1 Response to On the Jussie Smollett Case

  1. Thanks very much, Callen, for a carefully balanced article.
    I’ve come to expect it, and bravo for you, my friend…

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