“Empire” actor Jussie Smollett recently captured the media’s attention after being involved in a potential hate-crime after two masked men attacked him on Jan. 29. The two men allegedly attacked him with racial and homophobic slurs while yanking rope around his neck. Promptly following Smollett’s filing of a police report, the two men were detained and later released without being charged after attesting that they were paid to play part in this hoax. Police revealed that the two men involved in the attack were friends of Smollet with one man acting as an extra on “Empire” and the other being Smollett’s recently hired personal trainer.
In the weeks since the attack, Smollett was arrested on the grounds of filing a false police report with the bond being set at $100,000. According to media sources, Smollett was upset by his salary and seeking publicity. Smollett faked his assault by paying the two men $3,500 and sending himself a threatening letter a week prior to the incident. Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie T. Johnson explained during a news conference on Feb. 21 how Smollett carelessly took advantage of the anger surrounding racism to create his role as the victim as a means of seeking attention. Johnson further discussed how “[He] just wish[es] that the families of gun violence in this city got this much attention.”
The repercussions surrounding the revelation that this hate-crime was nothing more than a hoax in a desperate cry for attention is devastating. Not only has Smollett carelessly cried victim, the lack of integrity within his claims can also further invalidate the stories of future victims. Minority groups in modern America constantly face disturbing accounts of racism and discrimination. When an affluent member of a minority community, either African-American or LGBTQ+, creates a deceitful scam due to lack of satisfaction surrounding salary or for another selfish reason, the individuals who are actual victims may have a more difficult time in sharing their stories.
Furthermore, the hate-crime spawned against Smollett, regardless of being a complete hoax, reveals a greater truth that lies in American culture. Hate-crimes are still increasingly present and many individuals have become accustomed to ignoring the violence. Modern racism is one of the most disturbing forces still present in America. Yet so many individuals are consciously ignorant of racial slurs and dehumanizing actions used against minority groups. The media has become so accustomed to covering police brutality against African-Americans or religious minority groups being threatened that audiences now lack empathy. The media coverage of the Smollett hoax was an attempt to raise awareness of the continuing hate-crimes that are apparent across America, yet individuals were only drawn towards the story because it involved a celebrity. Thousands of individuals are targeted each day due to their race, religion, or sexual orientation, yet the media rarely focuses on their stories. Promoting equality and unification in this country is only apparent when a celebrity is the victim. Ultimately, the Smollett hoax reveals a deep American truth: racism and minority discrimination is still strongly apparent, and we must continue to progress as a society to fight the inequalities that inexcusably still exist. While it was revealed that Smollett created a fraud assault, it is growing more important that we continue to give voice to the victims and not allow one individual’s cry for attention to invalidate all other survivor stories. In order for us to be better as a nation, we need to be better people.