What the implosion of the Jussie Smollett incident says about our world


To captivate the minds and emotions and attention of 330 million Twitter users or 3 billion Internet users or 7 billion people is no easy feat.

Or is it?

Certainly, a homosexual African-American man subjected to a beating, chemical attack, and practical lynching in 2019 with the polarizing chant of “MAGA Country” added to the vile mix is more than enough.

After all, much more frivolous subjects have enthralled the vast, swirling universe of the Internet and general public.

But while the now infamous Jussie Smollett incident certainly possessed that key “shock” factor, it also bore a whole lot of other alarming red flags, right from the beginning.

A string of subtle, but present, question marks accompanied Smollett’s overwhelmingly compelling victim’s testimony. Why would the perpetrators just happen to have bleach and a noose in their possession? At that, why would someone have those possessions right at the moment Smollett was taking his spur-of-the-moment, 2 a.m. trip to Subway, outside of which the attack allegedly took place? Why wouldn’t Smollett inform or call the police for forty minutes, especially considering the abhorrence of such an attack? Moreover, why would he be left relatively unscathed, physically, at the hands of such heinous attackers?

Victims undoubtedly deserve a voice and a platform, but legitimacy and objectivity are just as important as empathy and compassion.”

And then, as the story inched into the greedy hands of the public, more warning bells sounded off, hopelessly falling upon deaf ears. Smollett and his team told news outlets of the “This is MAGA Country” phrase paired with the attack, yet failed to mention that to law enforcement. Smollett put up a fight when asked to turn his phone into police; when he finally relented, the records were so heavily redacted that they were unusable for investigators.

Yet, through it all, the public’s eyes glazed over the cloudy details, hungrily consuming Smollett’s story. Only now that Chicago police strongly believe the attack to be staged are the millions of enraged voices beginning to sheepishly retract their seething statements.

Why did we so willingly believe Smollett’s story, haphazardly brushing off the warning signs like buzzing mosquitos unworthy of our attention? Victims undoubtedly deserve a voice and a platform, but legitimacy and objectivity are just as important as empathy and compassion.

Perhaps this missile blowing up in our faces is an ominous testament to the harmful culture of our increasingly global, interwoven culture. Perhaps this a product of the toxicity we’ve bred on platforms all across the Internet— an explosively reactionary culture, in which facts and truth are forgone in the name of a clout-grab, a tweet or post masquerading as morality.

This pursuit of some righteously “woke” online image often sacrifices deeply reading into an incident; the rush to click “Post” often beats out news outlets to sufficient fact-checking and investigation.

Or maybe this situation is a societal reflection of something greater than just the Internet. Despite its implausibility, the attack fit too easily, too snugly into the increasingly polarizing state of our country. How could this horrid narrative slide into our lives with such ease? That is a dire admonition, more appalling and awful than the very injustice of Smollett’s alleged lie itself.

Is that narrative one the world wanted to believe? Maybe so, but that’s not to say hate crimes or bigotry are not valid issues. According to the FBI, hate crime rates rose 17% in 2017. Hate groups are steadily growing in dominance and power, making 2018 the fourth year in a row to have hate group growth. In New York alone, hate crime rates have increased by 72% in 2019 already.

Hate and consequential demonstrations of it are not instantly devoid from our society just because of Smollett’s spectacle. And that’s a problem that begs to be addressed.

Investigation persists, but if Smollett truly orchestrated his own attack as the police so firmly believe now, that is an endlessly repulsive crime, deserving of no justification or explanation. False reports make an utter mockery of true victims, brutally stripping them of credibility at no fault of their own. To use symbols of black pain and victimhood in a fraudulent charade is a gross disrespect to centuries of oppression and generations of African-Americans who faced the atrocities of slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and more.

Smollett clumsily arranged a caricature of a hate crime, and we believed it devotedly and earnestly and passionately. Truth broke from the surface, crackling over our perceptions like blinding, disarming lightning.

Now it’s time to take a look at our society, our culture, and our reflections in the mirror.