Actor Jussie Smollet is finally getting his day in a Chicago courtroom. He is being charged with six counts of disorderly conduct, but the charges are an afterthought to the real charge.
That is that even a celebrity Black man can be the victim of a racist hate crime. That’s what Smollett loudly and very publicly claimed in 2019.
The case got gobs of national media attention. Smollett got lots of sympathetic and outraged support from many African Americans including some notables such as then-Sen. Kamala Harris. Smollett, appeared to the world to be the near textbook victim of racist and anti-gay hate. He was truly the classic social cause rallying cry victim.
But like so many other times when the dicey issue of race and racism is tossed on the table, things may not always be what they seem. Smollett’s story started to unravel when some of the initial details about the time, place and circumstances of the alleged attack just didn’t seem to fit.
A county prosecutor wasn’t persuaded by that and declined to press charges against Smollett. That might have settled things except for a couple of guys then came forth who swore that Smollett paid them a few grand to stage the attack on him. Smollett then and now protested his innocence.
Maybe, but things about the case and the instant cry of racism never set right with me. At the time I posted a Facebook comment, “be careful on this.” The responses I got were swift and brutal, but they boiled down to “How dare you question that Smollett was anything other than a Black viciously assaulted by venomous racists?” Anything less than outrage at homophobic, Black hating was nothing short of racial heresy and tantamount to spewing Fox News talking points.
The counterattack then made some sense. Smollett was young, Black, male and gay. These are the prime attributes that seemingly made him a prime target. What didn’t make sense were the holes in his story. And what made even less sense is the history and danger of a knee-jerk scream of racism in cases such as this.
That history goes like this. A celebrated Black entertainer, athlete or official comes under withering fire for getting caught in a personal and or criminal indiscretion, wrongdoing or malfeasance, and they scream race. Even Bill Cosby flipped the race card when he pleaded for the Black media to remain “neutral” in the mounting furor and outrage over his alleged rapes of multiple women.
Cosby quickly walked down the tired, well-worn path for a good reason; in fact, several good reasons, and none of them were any good. Others have done it before him. The litany of names from O.J. Simpson to Tiger Woods to Clarence Thomas is well known.
They all have some things in common. They were wildly lionized as pillars of society. They said or did little or nothing about racial issues. And they were likely guilty when dumped on the legal and public scrutiny hot seat.
They have one more thing in common. They knew that by screaming that they were victims of a long-standing diabolical plot to demean, malign, pillory and dehumanize Black men, especially wealthy, prominent Black icons, they could get a ready, sympathetic ear and even circle the wagons push back by many African Americans.
Some Black personalities have raised this ploy to a state-of-the-art enterprise when they are accused of or nailed for sexual hijinks, bribery, corruption, drug dealing and possibly even murder.
The wrong-headed misplay of the race card to cover or absolve Blacks of abhorrent even criminal behavior and actions was on sorry display a decade ago during the rash of burnings of Black churches. Nearly one-third of the more than 100 people arrested by FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agents in the burning of over 200 churches were Black.
In some cases, there was strong evidence of a loose conspiracy by a disjointed group of racist whites to burn these churches. But this obscured the fact that the Blacks that burned their churches got a pass.
Here‘s the great damage done by wantonly screaming racism. And it has nothing to do with the proverbial crying wolf.
It has everything to do with taking the legitimate sting, public outrage and action that real, not invented, racial acts stir. Manufacturing a racial assault, which almost always is sooner than later uncovered, does, give aid and comfort to the Fox News talking heads and the right that delight in pointing fingers at Blacks for eternally screaming race about everything. At the very least it’s silly and counterproductive.
With Smollett, a jury will decide whether he was indeed the victim of a racist hate crime. However, when there are clouds of doubt about his claim or any other such claim, one would be wise to put instant belief on pause and wait to make sure the claim is more than a claim, but a fact.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is “Duped–The GOP’s Lock on America’s Underclass” (Middle Passage Press). He also is the host of the weekly Earl Ofari Hutchinson Show on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network Saturdays at 9 a.m.