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Only two months into 2019, it’s already been a strange year, and a terrible Black History Month.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam created a real crisis of race, representation and power, and actor Jussie Smollett created a fake hate crime to ... well, who can figure out why the "Empire" star would stage one against himself? But it's beginning to look like he did. Cable news is abuzz predicting widespread crumbling trust when the next black person claims a racist attack. Executive producers at Fox announced he would not appear in the final episode of "Empire." Before you start talking about the takedown of the Black Lives Matter movement, let's remember that fake calls to 911 and hoax attacks are not limited to the black community.
Remember when Ryan Lochte, who was representing the U.S. in the Olympics in Brazil, filed a false police report that he and three other swimmers were robbed at gunpoint? We said boys will be boys. He didn't face any felony charges, no sanctions from the Olympic committee, not even relieved of his medal. We saw him on "Dancing With The Stars" shortly after the incident. I guess that's how it is for boys a different hue than Jussie.
This past summer, we witnessed the audacity of BBQ Becky, Permit Patty and Cornerstore Caroline. All these ladies — and a few men — nestled in their white privilege felt comfortable enough to use the police as their personal ADT team anytime they felt like black people were blacking it up in public. Each week we were treated to videos of white women claiming fake threats charged with false fears and tears to get the police to remove black people from their atmosphere.
I don't recall the cover of Time magazine proclaiming a crisis of trust in white women as a result. In fact, after a summer of viral videos of dozens of white women playing the race card, only one lone legislator in New York State has moved to criminalize these hoax calls to 911. Police got their work out responding to these calls, and the callers largely faced no consequences.
The hoax-hungry news media didn’t report the summer incidents with white women calling the police as crimes deserving of prosecution. They didn’t report that one white woman’s false police report should translate into a lack of trust of all white women.
And white men? Well, no matter how many times Trump lies, white men stay mansplaining and they certainly believe themselves. But the accusation is that Smollett staged an assault — that's a little more than trying to get your neighbor kicked out of the pool, right? Two brothers interviewed by Chicago Police claim that Smollett choreographed the attack and they even did a rehearsal the night before. Stories where white people blamed a person of another race for an attack they perpetrated or coordinated are too numerous to recount.
The walls of Alabama's Memorial for Peace and Justice, commemorating hundreds and hundreds of lynching, is lined with stories where white people falsely accused black people of a laundry list of offenses, from walking beneath a window where a white woman was bathing to assaulting a white man. The town of Rosewood was burned to the ground on one such false accusation. Despite the fact that many false accusations against black people fueled decades of extrajudicial murder and terror, white people are not largely judged as untrustworthy. In fact, the long history of inequality in our court system shows that the word of white people remains strong despite many individual white people who abused and misused their right to be believed.
Whatever the results of the investigation into the Jussie Smollett incident, we cannot accept that this will affect the word of all black people. We have worked so hard to open the eyes of Americans to the experiences of everyday racism, we must refuse to let those eyes close because of the action of one person who is struggling with their own issues.
In an era where we are trying to normalize believing victims, we can't let the actions of one individual stop the revolution. Whatever Smollett is responsible for, let him alone bear the burden.
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