It’s being reported that singer-songwriter and Empire star Jussie Smolett was beaten early this morning in a racist, homophobic attack by two individuals chanting “This is MAGA country.” The Chicago Police Department has confirmed that a cast member of Empire matching Smollett’s description was admitted to Northwestern Hospital and later released.
The actor was walking down the street when two unknown individuals approached him yelling racial and homophobic slurs (TMZ independently reports these slurs as “Aren’t you that f***** ‘Empire’ n****?” and similar taunts). These individuals then brutally attacked Smollett, physically assaulting him in the face and body while supposedly chanting “this is MAGA Country.” During the attack, a rope was put around Smollet’s neck and what Chicago PD reports as an “unknown chemical substance” was poured on him. TMZ reports this substance was bleach.
Surviving the attack, Smollett then transported himself to the hospital. He was released hours later, and is resting at home in stable condition.
In a statement given to Buzzfeed news, Anthony Gugliemi, a spokesperson for the Chicago PD noted that “given the severity of the allegations, we are taking this investigation very seriously and treating it as a possible hate crime. Detectives are currently working to gather video, identify potential witnesses and establish an investigation timeline…. We ask anyone with information about this incident to contact Area Central Detectives at 312-747-8382 or report it anonymously to www.cpdtip.com”
News of the attack is spreading quickly across social media. I first heard of it from two friends, both black and gay, one of whom is an Autostraddle writer, within 10 minutes of each other. The first time I read TMZ’s report it became hard to breathe. Everything felt upside down. It’s not just that Jussie Smollett is a celebrity, though he is one of the most prominent gay black men in the country and portrays the most widely known gay black character on television. It’s yet another reminder that this is happening to our communities every day. Every day we are beaten, left most vulnerable to street violence for anything as simple as walking home after grabbing a late-night snack. For living in our skin. Every day another one of us is called a faggot, a dyke. Those of us who are black are called niggers. No, I’m not bleeping those words. The reported violence against Jussie Smollett is intimate to me, to us. I refuse to censor the open wounds of that pain.
In the last hour I have felt ill, nauseous, heartbroken, and enraged. Smollett’s attackers knew exactly what they were doing when they placed a noose around his neck. They knew what it meant to smother his beautiful black skin in bleach. They wanted to strip him of his humanity. They wanted to remind him, to remind us, that there is no safety from their hate that can be cloaked or bought.
An attack on a black gay celebrity like Jussie Smollet is also a message sent to his black and gay fans. It’s an attack on his body, on our emotional wellbeing, and our mental health. That too is intentional. The hate that fuels white supremacy also fuels homophobia. That won’t be reported in other mainstream media takes because it is hard to face such hatred with clear eyes. But we must. We must look at hatred for what it is because that is the only way to fight against it.
I want to wrap this report up in some way that we can all feel a little safer again. I wish I could use this platform to restore, even a little bit, what was taken from Jussie Smollett this morning, what is stolen from us every day. I can’t. What we can do is hold space for each other. So today, for all our queer fam out there, but especially for my black queer family, feel the strength of our community. Our kinship is a gift. It was bought and paid for in the tears, sweat and joy of our ancestors. Those who were beaten and bruised, but got back up and somehow loved again. Please, fortify yourself in that gift today.
Autostraddle sends our love to Jussie Smollett and his family. We also send our love to each of you. It’s a long fight, but one that I know we are going to win.