Editor’s note: An earlier version of this column incorrectly stated that Jussie Smollett’s conviction had been overturned. It has been updated to reflect that only the order denying Smollett bond was overturned. We regret the error.
Love him or hate him, there can be no denying that actor Jussie Smollett conjures up passionately deep emotions from people from across the political spectrum.
Last week, an Illinois Appellate Court overturned a bond ruling on Smollett’s conviction for staging a fake hate crime, and ordered him released from prison after serving just six days of a five-month sentence.
Even as the spotlight on Smollet and his actions have receded from the spotlight, it still drew some attention from predictable corners of the right-wing media world.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson said Smollett’s release was a sad day for “equal justice.” The headline on a piece from Eddie Scarry, a columnist for The Federalist, read that Smollett’s “Black, Gay, and anti-Trump privilege continues to save him.” John Nolte of Brietbart called those that demanded justice for Smollett “idiots.”
To be sure, there were those on the political left who made their displeasure with Smollet known as well. Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page wrote of the admittedly sordid incident: “… The whole wackadoodle scheme defied plausibility from the beginning…But even as his case sparked national outrage as a metaphor for systemic racism, it unraveled like a cheap sweater as police combed the city on fruitless search.”
The fact that so many people have weighed in on Jussie Smollett, many with a hyper degree of self-righteousness, is notable. Admittedly, once could see why Chicago law enforcement would very well be riled up and put off by Smollett’s antics. Nonetheless, for so many other Smollett detractors, the issue seems to have a racial nexus.
Smollett is a man of wealth, some degree of influence and connections. There is no doubt these factors have culminated in the actor evading the severe treatment that has too often eluded most Black and Hispanic men who find themselves entangled within the criminal justice system. This enrages many of his critics, who believe he should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Smollett’s unapologetic embrace and open frankness about being gay likely contributed to the levels of vitriol he receives from those that embrace racism, homophobia, and other darker instincts. The fact that he attempted to label his hoax as a MAGA-inspired hate crime further inflamed the anger of his Trump worshiping critics.
Let’s make one thing clear — I am not making excuses for Smollett. He committed a crime and is paying for it, whether his critics recognize this fact or not. While I am far from an expert, it is a safe bet to say Smollett has serious psychological issues. The guy needs some serious help.
Nonetheless, people committing elaborate and dishonest schemes is hardly new. Charles Stuart murdered his pregnant wife in the late 1980s and blamed the killing on a Black man. Susan Smith, a white woman, killed her two children and falsely claimed to police Black man had kidnapped them during a carjacking. Some human beings can be sadistic, with little to no rhyme or reason.
But with Smollett, some have intentionally magnified the events of the story to make it seem more important than it actually is. It’s a safe bet that most of the White people crying foul against Smollett had no idea who he was prior to his trial, and had probably never tuned in to a single episode of “Empire.”
This story will eventually recede from the news cycle. People will begin to direct their attention to other matters facing the nation. The more important question is whether those who have lathered themselves into a racial hissy fit will take to reflect on their own behavior.
Copyright 2022 Elwood Watson, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate
Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.