“Racially charged” is a new term being thrown around by media outlets as an escape hatch to calling someone a racist in any form of dispute or scandal. Two weeks ago, actor Jussie Smollett was attacked by two unknown men. The attack included the assailants supposedly wrapping a rope around Smollett’s neck while yelling racial slurs and saying, “This is MAGA country.” Additionally, police identified a chemical poured on Smollett that was possibly bleach. Yet there seems to be some question of whether these attacks were intentionally targeting a homosexual, African-American man.
Denying that what happened to Smollett was a hate crime is the basis of all disenfranchisement. Belittling someone's voice and questioning the truth of these situations makes it easier for those insensitive to civil rights to dismiss the attack and deny its racist motive. Many will choose not to believe Smollett’s story or to put a rose-colored lens over the significance of the attack.
However, the vestiges of racism, discrimination and even lynching are not as far in the past as we pretend it is. Use of a rope as a noose against a black person is not original, and the meaning is clear.
With over 3,000 documented lynchings of African-Americans occurring between the years of 1882 and 1968, the image of a rope tied into a noose is a painful reminder. Some saw the bleach as a clear link to white power and skin lightening. Many are singing a similar tune — that in a country with such a prejudiced president, racists and other bigots are feeling more emboldened to fight for their hateful values.
The true problem lies not just within those who are openly racist and homophobic enough to carry out an attack like this. It's within those who deny the fact that these issues still exist. The systemic structures of our country are built on the backs of slaves, and it was not until 1965 that African-Americans were able to vote and work towards political equality.
Reporters, news anchors and politicians who refuse to acknowledge the true motives behind hate crimes are perpetuating a system of disenfranchisement that makes black voices insignificant. This, combined with the fact that homosexual people are disproportionately murdered and imprisoned, creates a terrible wake-up call for America. In 2017, the rate of LGBTQ+ homicides rose 86 percent.
The doubt surrounding the facts of this case stem from the lack of footage in Chicago of the attacks as well, as recently it has come out that Smollett has not handed over his phone to the police.
I understand a shred of doubt surrounding this case because people will do crazy things, but the message should be reported fairly and taken seriously until any evidence otherwise surfaces. Lastly, this case is only a high-profile representation of hate crimes that happen every day.