Jussie Smollett Survived an Attempted Lynching: This Is America (OPINION)

Jan 30, 2019
8:35 AM

Jussie Smollett in 2018

Editor’s Note: Since this opinion piece was published on January 30, there are questions being raised about the case.

As you know by now, this Tuesday in the cold winter streets of Chicago, Jussie Smollett said he was viciously attacked by two masked men wearing MAGA hats. If there is any remaining doubt that Donald Trump’s rhetoric has reawakened and ignited a racist White America, that doubt must now be laid to rest.

This was an attack steeped in homophobia and racism.

This isn’t just a hate crime, this is an attempted lynching.

This is an act of terror.

Jussie’s attack causes trauma to him, his family, his community and the LGBTQIA community. It is a warning from white supremacists and opens the door to more fascism in this country. Fascism is a political ideology about us and them—about racial and sexual identity, because let’s be clear, Jussie was attacked because he is Black and because he is gay. In the book How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, author Jason Stanely states, “Sexual anxiety is also typical of racist politics as the patriarchal hierarchy is threatened by growing gender and sexual equity.”

This is where Trump and his followers have pushed this country to. White people terrorizing Black and Brown people has become normalized, again. White supremacy, patriarchy and homophobia destroys lives and kills people.

Let’s go back in history to truly understand the significance of the attempted lynching and chemical warfare (for anyone who doesn’t know, the attackers also threw bleach on his body).

Lynching was used as a terror tactic designed to dehumanize and strip Black people of their dignity and their lives.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice says that “More than 4,400 African American men, women, and children were hanged, burned alive, shot, drowned, and beaten to death by white mobs between 1877 and 1950. Millions more fled the South as refugees from racial terrorism, profoundly impacting the entire nation.”

Ida B. Wells-Barnett was an anti-lynching activist and the first African-American woman to own her own newspaper. Beginning in 1895 until 1930, she documented lynchings in a book called The Red Record.

“Some were witnessed by big crowds who brought children and picnic baskets, as if at a public entertainment,” a Guardian story about Wells’ work said.

“Wells visited places where people had been hanged, shot, beaten, burned alive, drowned or mutilated,” the story later added. “She examined photos of victims hanging from trees as mobs looked on, pored over local newspaper accounts, took sworn statements from eyewitnesses and, on occasion, even hired private investigators.”

One hundred years later, there is a new name to add to the Red Record. We are blessed Jussie lived to tell his story.

ALL of us need to recognize that this moment in history requires each and every one of us to pick a side. You are either on the side of white supremacy and patriarchy, or the side of freedom. It’s not enough to just critique or make jokes about Trump’s rhetoric. It’s not enough. Anyone who stands with Donald Trump and his administration is complicit.

As organizers, we understand the struggle for justice is long. We are committed to that organizing for the long haul. Part of that commitment is about supporting Black and Brown and gender non-conforming folx.

We send Jussie and his family and friends love and support, and we hope that this moment will lead us toward a real political movement of resistance.


Rosa Clemente is an organizer and independent journalist and 2008 Green Party Vice Presidential candidate and Creator of Puerto Rico on the Map.

JLove Calderón is an award-winning creative, activist, coach and trainer working on the frontlines of race, class and gender for two decades.