I do not apologize for believing Jussie Smollett.

There is a growing chorus of people who, delighted at the idea that his beating and abuse was faked, are taking control of the discussion of racism and homophobia. They feel they are in the driver’s seat now, as if they haven’t always been, and are making it clear that claims of institutional and confrontativeĀ  prejudice doesn’t exist, or if it does, it’s minor and even then, exaggerated.

They laugh at those of us who had hearts that hurt at hearing Mr. Smollett’s story. The talk about ‘confirmation bias’ as if we are always sniffing around looking behind shrubs and trees to find the rare and brittle branches of bigotry. While they exult in this moment I wonder if any of them will wonder why I believed Jessie Smollett.

If we were so easily tricked, why would that be? We are people who hang up the phone when robocalls warn that the police will come if we don’t pay up on fictitious taxes. We are people who know better when fast talking cons try to sell us our own shortcomings. If we were tricked why were we tricked.

“Because you want to believe in racism and homophobia so badly that anything that confirms your world view you scoop up like baked brie!” is the suggestion.

Racism.

Homophobia.

Those aren’t things I believe in. Those aren’t abstract unproven hypotheses. They are concrete and deeply embedded historical realities.

Why would I believe Jussie Smollett?

Why would I believe that ‘outrageous’ story?

Because I’ve lived it.

Not all of it.

I am a white, gay, disabled man.

I only speak to what I know. Homophobia exists.

I shook hands with prejudice a long time ago. I grew up and before I knew who I was I knew who I was was wrong. Do you realize that people have to come out because they’ve been locked in? We hear the words said around us. “Fag!” “Sissy!” “Gearbox!” “Pansy!” We hear them as children and innately we know what those words mean, and we know that we need to find a shady spot to hide ourselves in. Shame makes a good blanket under which we hurt ourselves. We are our own first bullies. We are intimately connected with violence. We use it to punish our difference.

Leaving ‘Buddies’ a bar in Toronto years ago required walking a few steps down an alley. It was terrifying to enter and terrifying to leave. People were beaten around there. People were hospitalized around there. And no one told. Silence was the only option when discovery would cost jobs, and family, and even lives.

It wasn’t hard for me to believe Jussie.

Marching in an early pride parade, long before corporate sponsors, long before pride was a product, Joe and I walked side by side. A rock is picked up. It whizzes by my face and hits Joe on the shoulder. No damage was done, except it’s odd that its that same shoulder that Joe has trouble with to this very day.

It wasn’t hard for me to believe Jussie.

Crossing the English channel in the Volkswagen beetle we meet a young black woman. She is bright and funny and told one helluva story. When the boat docked we invited her to ride with us to London, she took us up on the offer. We talked and laughed on the drive. We watched night fall and when we arrived in London we started looking for places to stay. We had some sort of student guide to where travelers could get good rooms cheaply.

When Joe and I went into get us a room, we mentioned that we were traveling with a woman who also needed a room. Rooms were available, the price was right, and we were signing the register when she came into the lobby. Suddenly there were no rooms. They made it clear that they hadn’t realized that she was, ‘you know.’ This happened at every stop. At one point, three refusals later, she became really upset and yelled at the manager. Called him a racist pig. He, in turn, called the police. They arrived instantly, the colour of her skin being a magnifier of the concern. The hotel guy over described what happened, said that he wasn’t racist but what was he to do – being the manager of a place with disappearing rooms, it’s just so hard.

We were brought to the police station.

We were let go.

She was held.

We didn’t get a room for that night. We parked outside the station and waited til morning. She was let out. She looked like a different woman. She looked defeated.

We drove her in silence to where she was to catch a train.

Said goodbye.

And she was gone.

It wasn’t hard for me to believe Jussie.

I don’t apologize for believing a story I’ve heard before, a story I’ve lived before.

I have no claims to understanding the experience of racism, I have observed it, I know it’s real, but that is not my story to tell or the pulpit on which I choose to stand.

I do have claims to understanding the experience of homophobia, heterosexism, disphobia, and ableism. I get those.

I don’t believe in them.

They are facts.

And until they are not facts.

I will always give my heart out to those who have the courage to speak.

I don’t care what happens next.

Cause this isn’t about Jussie.

It’s about us.

All of us.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email