News of the hate crime committed against Empire actor and singer Jussie Smollett early Tuesday morning has saddened many, yet shocked only a few. Reportedly beaten, bleached, and restrained with a noose by two white men spouting Trumpisms and wearing MAGA hats, Smollett experienced a level of emboldened violence that marginalized communities at large have feared and anticipated since (and well before) the election of our current sitting president.
That anticipation—that recognition of America’s capacity for bigotry—is why it’s necessary to examine how communities adjacent to the Fox star have responded to his attack. Historically, non-Black queer folks and non-queer Black folks have left men like Smollett abandoned and endangered, vulnerable to the vitriol of white supremacists in ways that his white and straight counterparts are not.
As reactions to the now FBI investigated incident continue to cascade down our social media feeds, presumed allies will be challenged, not for the first nor final time, with measuring our privilege and estimating whether we’ve protected our Black LGBTQ extended family or facilitated the very tools used to harm them. Within that self-reflection, straight Blacks and non-Black gays who parse through the racism and homophobia of Smollett’s attack, looking to erase one or the other, will have exemplified a form of ignorance that extends even beyond MAGA country—proving once again that Black LGBTQ people lack sincere allyship in both these communities.
Across a playing field on which sociopolitical takes are lobbied for sport, the notion that white supremacy and hate crimes are reprehensible is a layup. The fact that there’s a non-zero chance the actor’s white assailants will escape apprehension by law enforcement despite Smollett’s visibility is a free throw. A much more complicated play to make is one that routes us to a mutual understanding that Black queer people endure a specific sort of violence that other subjugated communities should all be sensitive to and vigilant about.
According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, anti-LGBTQ hate crimes nearly doubled in 2017 from the previous year. Of those crimes, Black victims accounted for 60 percent of all homicides, whereas white victims only accounted for 23 percent. These numbers come right after the deadliest year on record for non-white queers, as people of color accounted for 22 of the 28 hate violence homicides reported in 2016 (not including the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub).
When reviewing these figures and considering the unique danger in being both Black and queer in this country, it’s important to note that those numbers only represent reported homicides, and that most homophobic violence goes unaccounted for.
An example of the way gay Black bodies slip through the cracks can be found in the undercoverage and subsequent reprieval afforded Democratic donor Ed Buck. Earlier this month, for the second time in less than two years, a deceased gay Black man was found in the home of the 65-year-old political fundraiser.
The discovery of the second body suggests the first might have resulted in a miscarriage of justice, as that 2017 death was ruled an accidental overdose. In June of 2018, only due to concerns raised by the family and friends of the victim, 26-year-old Gemmel Moore, was the case reopened. In August, it was reported that Buck would not be indicted for Moore’s death.
The story of Moore and Buck’s second potential victim, 55-year-old Timothy Dean, speaks to a narrative that travels beyond negligence and enters complicity, as Buck himself is a gay white man. Not only do Black queer folks navigate the same racism we all face, but their lives are also devalued in every other community they inhabit.
Stories of intra-community violence also tie back to the one-sided conversations we’ve been having about anti-gay rhetoric in Black spaces. When considering men like Charlamagne tha God and Lil Duval inspecting a photo of activist and author Janet Mock while giggling at the idea of murdering transgender women, or entertainers such as Yung Miami and Kevin Hart suggesting they’d physically abuse their sons should the boys happen to be gay, statistics from the past two years alone should quell any laughter from viewing audiences.
As Hart in particular spent the earliest moments of 2019 on a non-apology redemption tour for his past homophobic tweets, one stop felt especially tone-deaf, given the person sitting across from the comedian also seemed to have misunderstood what exactly is at stake for Black LGBTQ men and women. The moment daytime talk show host Ellen Degeneres, a white gay icon, offered her guest an unwarranted and unrequested pardon on behalf of all queer people, she deserted gays who most resemble Hart’s actual children.
After recent news over the past week, months and current presidential term, men like Kevin Hart should instead be seeking forgiveness from men like Jussie Smollett. Yet in lieu of an actual apology, an act of remorse and contrition, Hart has chosen to offer Smollett his “prayers,” an empty gesture from a man who avoids repentance.
“This is unbelievably sad,” the 39-year-old wrote of Smollett’s assault on Instagram. “God damn it people...Choose love...I repeat...Choose love,” he continued.
In response to the backlash he received for the unfortunate irony in his post, the comedian wrote on Twitter, “I stand with a man in his time of hurt and need by giving him [heartfelt] support and [you] take the time to harp on my 10 [year] past that I have apologized for and moved on from by being a better person.”
What should be abundantly clear by now is that Hart’s “ten year past” represents a present-day reality for Black queers who don’t have the luxury of “moving on” from whatever the punchlines were supposed to be in his old tweets. For some, those sorts of jokes are serious, and when issued by people like Jussie Smollett’s attackers, violent threats are to be taken as assured promises to queer Black folks and allies charged with protecting them.
Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images