[Ed. note: shortly after this story was file, felony charges for lying to police about faking a hate crime were dropped against Jussie Smollett. This makes the column below even more important, given that Smollett will not have to pay for alleged crimes he no doubt felt were justified all along.]
Recently “Empire” star Jussie Smollett appeared in court and entered in a plea of “Not Guilty” to 16 felony charges related to faking a hate crime assault last January 29. Considering just the fraction of evidence already put out there by the Chicago Police Department, and a story that was questionable from the start, the fact that Smollett still stands behind his original account has taken many by surprise.
But should we really be surprised? The Smollett case is actually the perfect microcosm of the larger issues plaguing our Country today, where victimhood is the new hot trend. We have gone from a society where being a “victim” was something someone never wanted to be, to now, where people are pushing each other out of the way to claim victim status.
Today it is very fashionable to be a victim of racism, sexism, homophobia, sexual harassment, assault, a bad childhood, poverty, abuse, neglect, to life just not being fair, or not having what our neighbor has. To be a “victim” in society today has become the thing to be.
When the hashtag #metoo began, it was as if women everywhere were wracking their brains for any memory of a situation that might qualify as sexual assault or harassment. It became a way to “join the club.” Watching celebrities, and even unknowns, get attention and the spotlight for sharing their stories, aspired other women to jump on the bandwagon, whether they truly belonged or should ever want to be.
This was lauded as “activism” and “empowerment.” Oddly enough the true definition of empowerment is the exact opposite of victim, yet in today’s activist world, they seem to be one and the same. With the culture of victimhood, we not only are twisting true empowerment and casting doubt on real victims, we have created a society that feels that because they have an excuse, they lack any personal responsibility.
Truth has become a matter of opinion. “Their truth,” “my truth,” “your truth,” you hear it all the time. Until the past few years I didn’t know there were so many versions of truth. I thought there was only one; The Truth.
We hear it often: I’m not responsible for (insert crime or issue here) because (enter excuse here); I stole because I don’t have what someone else has and I wanted it; I assaulted someone but it was out of my control because I had a bad childhood or come from an abusive family. The excuses go on and on.
With that mentality comes a sense of entitlement as well. I’m entitled to a promotion because someone else has it, I’m entitled to preferential treatment because of my race or gender, I’m entitled to to behave any way I wish because I am the victim of abuse. We’ve become a society full of people who feel life owes them because life is hard and life is not fair.
Smollett’s “not guilty” plea isn’t based on his innocence, it’s whether Smollett feels he’s responsible and accountable for his actions. It’s obvious by allegedly staging a hate crime, he feels he is a victim. And as a victim, this isn’t wrong, it’s just representative of the reality he feels exists.
Smollett’s hate crime targets those whom he feels are the perpetrators, the victimizers, the ones responsible for his suffering in life as well as others like him. People who may have done nothing wrong but are guilty by association, deemed the “enemy” via stereotype or because of a certain agenda, personal or political.
A simple difference of opinion in the Trump era allows one side to demonize the other, and therefore justifies negative actions and behavior towards that group. A Trump supporter is automatically a racist, sexist, homophobic, hateful, evil person, who deserves punishment. No real facts are needed to back that up.
The media itself promotes the same negative attitudes. Targeting a supposedly evil, Trump-supporting person is a moral act, it’s for the good of society, or so the “victims” tells themselves. This fake scenario is representative of what this victim feels these people would do anyways, or probably has done somewhere else.
Guilt and Truth are just minor details in the larger cultural civil war going on in this country. What matter is the ends not the means. Add to Smollett’s situation, his own entitlement. Because he’s been a victim, and because he feels this staged hate crime will cement that, he’s also entitled to benefit from it – worldwide attention, a bigger role in the TV series he’s on, more money, sympathy and the face of a movement….a role model for victims everywhere.
So even with the mounting evidence against him, Smollett declares he is “Not Guilty” and probably believes it. But there are real victims out there, victims who will now be doubted because of the likes of Smollett and the many that share, and try to capitalize, on the same victim mentality.
We can only rise above our own personal negative experiences and those of the world when we are able to hold ourselves accountable, where each of us, as adults, takes personal responsibility for the good and the bad in our lives. We have to all come to the terms with the fact that life is not fair and none of us our entitled to anything we aren’t willing to work hard for.
Bad things happen to good people, and we should have compassion for that, but being a victim shouldn’t define our lives nor our actions, it shouldn’t be something we look to benefit from, and should never be something we aspire to become. Whether Smollett comes to terms with reality, he will face punishment for his actions, if found guilty. There is no “Get Out of Jail Free” card just because life is difficult or unfair.
I can only hope in the end Jussie Smollett will have learned a lesson, and maybe gained some humility, and that his experience will serve as a lesson to others. Of course, they may be too wrapped up in their own victimhood fantasy to notice.
Felicia Tweedy is a political activist and professional who has served elected officials and campaigns on both sides of the aisle, and an entertainment industry professional.