Kevin Hart, MAGA and Jussie Smollett: Why a Joke isn't just a Joke
For many people identifying as LGBTQ+, the reality of living a life in constant vigilance is all too real. Jussie Smollett’s brutal attack last Tuesday is proof of this, and is a wake-up call for many who have the privilege of not needing to hide their gender or sexual orientation.
Empire star Jussie Smollett, who plays a gay character on Lee Daniel’s show, has now recovered and spoken up about what police are now claiming may be a hate crime. After waiting for the subway in Chicago, Smollett was followed by two unknown suspects, Smollett was subjected to the men screamed out racial and homophobic slurs at Smollett, who was then doused in what was reported to be bleach. Smollett told police that his attackers put a rope around his neck, all while yelling that he was in “…MAGA country”, referring to the campaign slogan President Donald Trump ran on- Make America Great Again.
Sadly, Smollett is just one of few individuals who have been targeted by the rise in hate crimes in the past couple of years. In fact, according to the Anti-Violence Project, 46% of LGBTQ+ survivors of hate crime suffered from injuries in 2017, up from 31% in 2016. The FBI themselves released statistics in hate crimes, citing a disturbing 17% increase in hate crimes in just 2017 alone. What’s more disturbing perhaps is that the FBI reportedly did not include all hate crimes in this report; The Washington Post had published last year that the FBI had left out certain crimes because agencies were not required to submit them, meaning that even current numbers do not properly represent the dangerous reality of being gay- and even being gay and black, in America.
What is most disheartening about this horrific situation is the proof that a part of our society accepts- and embraces, this intolerance. These attackers are Trump supporters, arguably conservative as they idolize the concepts behind the MAGA slogan- bringing the U.S. back to more conservative ideals and beliefs. It’s with this idea of backtracking that often leads to political uneasiness between conservatives and liberals. When someone proudly claims they are pro-MAGA, they are not just saying they support Trump’s policies. They are willingly subscribing to the hateful speech Trump uses when referring to minorities. They are supporting his xenophobic attitude, his reluctance to acknowledge and respect LGBTQ+ communities. They are supporting hate. And they can claim that they are not racist, they are not homophobic, that they mean no harm when they shout out slurs against innocent people. But these harmful beliefs reproduce in harmful actions. If anything should be learned from this incident, it’s that words have the power to carry hate in them.
This problem is not exempt from our own communities, however. Last month, Kevin Hart faced backlash as older tweets containing anti-gay speech resurfaced. Hart, who was on track to hosting the 2019 Oscars, refused to apologize for the old tweets that his supporters claimed were just jokes.
One of the more serious tweets stated that Hart would never want his son to be gay, and that he would beat it out of him. Despite finally apologizing, Hart is still facing some heat on social media as people are bringing up the old tweets after Hart publicly tweeted about Smollett’s attack.
This is not to say that people can no longer voice their opinion. But, it is hardly right to claim something like this is just an opinion when the topic of discussion is a person’s life, or their claim to human rights. If this presidency has taught us anything, it is that words are dangerous. America was never a great country for everybody. The lack of respect, disproportionate violence and systematic oppression towards certain races and communities is nothing new. But that gives society even more of a reason to continue calling out such harmful behavior, and to support those who have become victims to a culture that does not support them.
As Smollett stated in his first public appearance since the attack, “I will always stand for love. I will only stand for love.”