When No Part of Your Identity Is Safe
In the attack on Jussie Smollett, they didn’t target just his blackness or just his queerness
As terrible as it sounds, I’ve developed a numbness to hearing tragic news about other queer black people. Hearing that Jussie Smollett was brutally attacked did not surprise me. It hurts like hell, but I’ve learned to accept that we aren’t safe—and unfortunately, Smollett is an example of what can happen when we exist in our blackness and our queerness.
Initially, I asked if Smollett survived the attack. Relieved that he did survive, I then wondered what kind of hate crime this was. We hear stories about police officers murdering unarmed black people, black parents abusing or murdering their queer children, and other stories filled with cringe-inducing terms like “racially charged” or “sexual orientation bias.” Determining the race of the attacker would determine if the assailant was a racist or a homophobe, I thought—stupidly and desperately clinging onto the idea that even the biggest bigot cannot hate a queer black person’s entire identity.
However, when TMZ reported that the openly gay Empire actor was savagely attacked by two individuals who shouted racial and homophobic slurs at him, poured bleach on him, put a noose around his neck and shouted, “This is MAGA Country,” one thing became explicitly clear: Hate does not discriminate. No part of a queer black person’s identity is safe, not in this political climate. Foolishly weeding out the possibility of someone’s hatred for us intersecting is no longer an option.
For queer and transgender people of color, there are many enemies. Not all of them wear Make America Great Again hats, not all of them voted for Trump, and not all of them are colorless beneficiaries of the same white privilege that allows a news media outlet to use a sweet family photo to report a new story about a crazed mass-shooter.
While hate crimes remain vastly unreported, the FBI reports more than 2,593 homophobic assaults since the beginning of Trump’s presidency.
Sometimes, our enemies hide in plain sight with the same color skin as us or different color skin but the same sexual identities. While we—queer black people—imagine a world where all black people and queer people can exist freely, we are demonized, disrespected, and excluded from black and LGBTQ liberation.
Had Smollett been a straight black man, black people would come out in droves to support him instead of questioning the legitimacy of his trauma. And had he been a gay white man, the LGBTQ community would come out in droves to support him instead of playing the oppression Olympics.
Since the Electoral College elected the great Cheeto into the White House, there has been a resurgence of violent attacks against queer and transgender people of color. To be clear, I am not playing the same game that many white Democrats play—which often erases the systematic oppression queer black people have faced years before Trump’s presidency. Bigotry existed in America long before Trump. However, his entire hate-filled, fear-mongering campaign helped to embolden and unite bigots.
While hate crimes remain vastly unreported, the FBI reports more than 2,593 homophobic assaults since the beginning of Trump’s presidency—this amount excludes 2018’s statistics. In addition to that, 9,486 racist assaults have occurred since Trump’s presidency (more than 50 percent of the victims are black)—again, this amount excludes 2018’s statistics.
According to the “Crisis of Hate” report, released by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 2017 was one of the deadliest years for LGBTQ people with 52 individual reports of anti-LGBTQ homicides. On average, at least one anti-LGBTQ homicide happened once a week in 2017. In 2016, there were 28 individual reports of anti-LGBTQ homicides. However, if we include the 49 victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting, that number rises to 77 homicides. The second highest number of reports of individual anti-LGBTQ homicides was 30 in 2011. In 2011, 2016 and 2017, more than half of the victims were LGBTQ people of color.
We feel the weight of every anti-black joke and every anti-LGBTQ joke. We feel the weight of our trauma being reduced to conspiracy theories.
For decades, the top two assailants of these crimes are usually cis-heterosexual white men or cis-heterosexual black men. Learning this statistic was not shocking at all. Before I turned 10, black peers and family had sent me death threats and had called me a “faggot” several times. Before I turned 13, white men had sent me death threats and called me racial slurs.
White people are white people, and cis-heterosexual black men are the white people of black people. Does this surprise you? If it does, you’re probably not a queer black person who has had to deal with the uncanny similarities of both demographics. Denouncing racism means a racist white person calling me a “snowflake.” And denouncing homophobia means a homophobic person (usually black, due to proximity) calling me “sensitive.”
Racists and homophobes are more emboldened now than ever because we have a president who launched his campaign by condemning political correctness in order to promote hateful rhetoric. During the first Republican presidential debate, Trump said, “I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct. I’ve been challenged by so many people, and I don’t, frankly, have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time, either.”
In other words, Trump and his 62,984,825 voters want to exist in an America where they can be as offensive as they want without any backlash. They want to be able to use terms that promote violence against LGBTQ people and black people, two of America’s most unprotected marginalized communities. They want to live in a place where they determine when and how to use the freedom of speech.
The sad, unfortunate truth is that the homophobic people who actively resist Trump share similar views on political correctness. They view political correctness as censorship. They want to use their social media and public platforms to promote violence against the LGBTQ community—just as racists want to promote violence against black and brown people—without being called a bigot.
When 14-year-old Giovanni Melton and 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez were murdered by their parents, black LGBTQ people asked Twitter users to stop tweeting abusive tweets where straight people are asked: “What would you do if you had a gay son?” People still do it, and this does not violate any of Twitter’s terms of service.
Queer black people are hurting. We feel the weight of every anti-black joke and every anti-LGBTQ joke. We feel the weight of our trauma being reduced to conspiracy theories. Watch your words and actions, you could very well be contributing to the systematic oppression of queer black people like Jussie Smollett and countless others whose stories never make the news.