Smollett Lied? I’m mad. Who cares?

Smollett Lied? I’m mad. Who cares?

(video version if you prefer)

 Get the matches let’s burn some Nikes! Smollett lied about a hate crime.


Okay. Three Preambles and One Point: 

·     First, I’m waiting for more facts. We don’t know everything. If he faked it, that’s worth double checking and getting the whole story. 

·     Second, even in my suspense of judgment, I’ll confess to some liberal whiplash. Outrage is currency, and I paid my dues. But I also felt powerful empathy. I felt sadness for what this represented. I have had students whose parents don’t accept them because of who they are. In finding out he may have lied, I feel betrayed for their sake.

·     Third, as a person who knows about the boy who cried wolf, this scares me. That fabled idiot was bored, wanted attention, he was manipulative, and violence came in his irresponsible wake. If Smollett faked this, he will have blood on hands when gay people of color all over the world call for help and told their pain is a false alarm.  

Okay. End of Preambles - the actual point. 

 This whole outrage cycle is upsetting to me. Not because of the things I just said, but because of how this functions as a dead canary in the coal mine of what we currently call public discourse. Give me three hundred words. Here’s a summary of how this has played out:

1.    News: Gay black man is attacked in hate crime. 

2.    Left: No one should be attacked for being gay. This is a sign of a broken culture with a pattern of discrimination. 

3.    Right: None of that matters. This isn’t a sign of discrimination it’s a sign of a culture of victimhood and whining. Kaepernick should stand. 

4.    Revelation: Perhaps this was faked. 

5.    Right: Told you so. This confirms (somehow) that there’s no pattern of discrimination.

 Here’s the problem. These supposed lines of “reasoning” fall into two categories of failure. 

First, and most severely, if we look at this from the individual lens, the lens of one person at a time, collective concepts like “patterns of discrimination” evaporate. If someone you know was killed by the police, the larger pattern of society does nothing to bring that person back. It’s hard to overstate this. The collective social narrative surrounding Jussie’s innocence or guilt does nothing for Michael Brown and the family he left behind. Eric Garner is still dead. Trayvon Martin is still dead. Freddie Grey is still dead. If your empathy for these individual people is contingent on what twitter says is the collective narrative, you might need to check in on the nature of your own soul. It seems you’ve forgotten that tragedy might be understood collectively, but it is felt individually.

Finally, less severely and more rationally, in what is going to be one of the more pretentious things I say, I find the premise of this particular public debate intellectually offensive. The idea that we can determine whether or not systemic racism exists by evaluating one case is kindergarten level thinking at best. If you claim to be conservative, you should expect better of yourself. 

On the one hand, although I shouldn’t have to explain this to adults, I suppose we do. One action is meaningless in the evaluation of a trend. We don’t think all conservatives bang porn stars because Trump did. We don’t think all democrats sexually harass women because Al Franken did.  

We just can’t walk away from this minimal standard of reason itself. If we do, we’re just lost. 

So, what sense does it make in this particular battle in the culture war to allow our opinions about the collective social reality of the pattern of discrimination in the United States to hang on the of details of one man and one attack? The answer is none. It makes no sense to do this. 

To evaluate whether there is discrimination you need to look to the collective evidence, to the collective trend, not to individual cases.

On the worse hand, we might characterize this particular rage cycle as textbook racism. How? Here’s the shorthand. If you say, “Smollett lied, therefore, Kaepernick should stand,” you are letting Smollett’s tale speak for the whole of black America. Which is to say, you are having an entire race and its entire experience represented by one member of that race. And since, if guilty, this man lied, all those black folks must also be lying when they say, “you need to stop killing us.” 


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