fresh voices from the front lines of change







Photo courtesy of Music of Sound / Jussie Smollett

In reading about the racist and homophobic attack on 36-year-old actor Jussie Smollett, I was plunged into deep sadness. I stand in spiritual solidarity with Jussie - I cannot be at his bedside tonight. Instead, I’ve picked up my pen.

Historically, we (Black people) have been subject to unspeakable violence. Last summer, I visited The Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama created by the Equal Justice Initiative. At this chilling memorial, I learned about how many who looked like me were murdered, publicly. They were lynched - a noose was tied around their neck and they were hanged, while onlookers simply watched.

A chemical, possibly bleach, was poured on Jussie and a rope was tied around his neck. Jussie was the victim of a hate crime and domestic terrorism. Unlike others, Jussie survived and was able to report what happened to him.

Today, the public lynchings continue. The killings by police of Michael Brown, Saheed Vassell, and Charleena Lyles are evidence of this. Lyles, a Black woman who lived in Seattle, was pregnant when she was murdered.

With these facts, my womanism is intrinsically different from white feminism. My experience as a Black woman makes me increasingly vulnerable to experiencing this level of violence. Indeed, anti-blackness is so insidious that Black children are murdered at startling rates. And note, transgender Black women are also unsafe in their communities.

Jussie is an actor, son, American citizen, and Black man who has been dragged to hell. This happened to Jussie because anti-blackness and homophobia is promulgated by the current political rhetoric.

I keep thinking about the healing, therapy, and care Jussie will need to rebuild himself physically, spiritually and emotionally. His family and friends must be fraught with concern, and managing their shock. They must wonder if he will return to the Jussie they knew before all of this happened.

Jussie’s attack is a reminder of the extensive harm that white supremacy does to us, individually and collectively. This harm exists in constructs such as the gentrification-to-prison-pipeline, climate injustice, barriers to housing, transphobia, and the criminalization of the poor. We cannot analyze any one of these constructs in isolation. It’s all connected.

As a member of the NYC Million Hoodies Movement for Justice Alumni network, I ask that we not only stand in solidarity with Jussie and his family, but we demand an end to the hateful rhetoric that served as a precursor to this heinous crime. I ask that you hold Jussie in your thoughts and send healing energy to him wherever you are on the planet.

I ask that you not only denounce this homophobic and racist act within the confines of social media, but in meeting spaces, social arenas, work settings, churches and grocery stores. If you’re a in a position of power or a decision-maker be sure to openly and unequivocally denounce any indication of racism and homophobia in your stream of vision and/or consciousness. Focus on cultivating spaces that center women of color, transgender Black women, and individuals with disabilities.

Understand that no one is free unless those pushed to the lower echelons of society are free.

Our complacency and silence will not support Jussie. Our tendency to take the position of the “caring bystander” is insufficient. America’s enduring loyalty to white supremacy is destructive.

We need to stop watching and start acting, now.

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