Jussie Smollett and the Erasure of Compounded Oppression | Sojourners

Jussie Smollett and the Erasure of Compounded Oppression

Editor's Note: After the publication of this piece, Jussie Smollett was charged with disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false report that claimed two men attacked him in an apparent hate crime in January.

I spent much of this past Tuesday in tears. Reports circulated from Chicago that Empire star Jussie Smollett had been hospitalized after being attacked in a vicious hate crime. While headlines vacillated between naming this incident as being homophobic or racist in nature, I found myself screaming into online spaces that this attack was not a case of either/or but both/and.

To claim that this attack was motivated by a singular form of bigotry is false. Such a claim is also violent and contributes to the culture that silences and erases the complicated reality of compounded oppression experienced by black LGBTQ persons every day. Hate is rarely simple and the intersectionality — or dynamic forms of subjugation individuals face because of their marginalized identities — black same-gender loving people face is at work here.

As someone who identifies as black and queer, my pain and my rage in this moment are as complex and intertwined as the forces that prompted Smollett’s attack. I’m pained because this attack took place in the United States’ third largest city and in the place I call home. I’m pained because the toxic mire of hatred so permeated the attackers that they sought to bring about terror through the use of slurs and a noose, which historically has been used as tool of execution and intimidation for those in black communities. I’m pained because what happened to Jussie is an actualization of a fear I hold as a black queer woman and I wonder how many people sharing his story are aware of or are invested in addressing the violence experienced by black LGBTQ folks who are outside of the spotlight of fame.

How many people are demanding justice for what happened to Pinky, the black transgender woman who was shot five times in broad daylight in Houston?

How many people are aware that Pinky’s shooting isn’t an anomaly but a case that heartbreakingly follows the trend of transgender women of color — and more specifically black trans women — being the targets of violence and discrimination? A trend that cost Dana Martin of Alabama her life, making her the first known trans person killed in the United States in 2019.

How many people have lamented the death of Timothy Dean, one of two black gay men who have been found dead in the home of a notable progressive philanthropist since 2017?

How many people have spoken up and out on behalf of black LGBTQ youth and young adults experiencing homelessness? Research from the University of Chicago states that LGBTQ young people make up between 20 and 40% of the youth population experiencing homelessness. black youth — particularly young men — are the most vulnerable group experiencing housing instability with nearly 1 in 4 male identified persons sharing in a national survey that they are experiencing “explicit homelessness.”

I feel rage because these examples are but a portion of the hardship that black LGBTQ persons experience and it feels like no one outside of those bearing these identities cares about our plight. The deaths, shootings, homelessness, as well as other acts of violence experienced such as beatings, stabbings, verbal assault, familial and social exclusion, and employment discrimination, are underreported and are largely ignored by mainstream media. This is why seeing shows of online support for Smollett from people who otherwise reduce us to a “lifestyle” feels performative. They often try and separate our blackness and same-gender-lovingness for the convenience of their agendas.

I know I offer these words as someone who doesn’t understand the fullness of the pain felt by my gay, bisexual, and same-gender loving male siblings. I can only imagine what they are holding in this moment.

As I process what has happened, I wonder what those who don’t share in our identities will do aside from retweeting and digitally expressing their outrage. I'm curious to see if they will tangibly support black-LGBTQ-led entities working to be present to Chicagoans after this attack like Affinity Community Services, the Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus, Brave Space Alliance, or the Lighthouse Church of Chicago. I question if they will reach out to national organizations like the Trans Woman of Color Collective and Many Voices, or those doing the work to support black LGBTQ people in their own locations?

I'm interested if they'll take the advice of minister and writer Candice Benbow and delve into texts like Sexuality and the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective by Kelly Brown Douglas, Our Lives Matter: A Queer Womanist Theology by Pamela Lightsey, Their Own Receive Them Not: African American Lesbians and Gays in Black Churches by Horace Griffin, No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black and Free in America by Darnell Moore, and Where the Edge Gathers: Building a Community of Radical Inclusion by Yvette Flunder, to better understand the spiritual violence experienced by black LGBTQ people at the hands of the church.

When the news cycle shifts and attention on this high-profile incident wanes, I question who will actually stand with us in actuality, not just performatively in self-aggrandizing postures that signal wokeness to others. Your outrage isn't enough. From here on out, we need your solidarity.

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