When the news story broke that actor Jussie Smollett was the victim of a hate crime, I was saddened, but not shocked. And I became less shocked when I learned the men who did it were red MAGA hat wearing white men. These men and that hat have become the poster image for hate and intolerance in this country. Targeting Jussie because he’s a black man would have been bad enough, but targeting him because he’s black and gay reminds me that being black and gay in this country is not only scary — it’s deadly.
The thing is, what happened to Jussie Smollett isn’t an isolated event. Far from it, actually. But because he’s a well-known actor, we’re hearing about it. These kind of attacks against regular QPOC (queer people of color) and more specifically, black people, happen often. However, you never hear about them on the news.
No one is solely blaming the current administration for being racist as fuck. But you’d be remiss to not mention the correlation between when the sexual assaulter-in-chief took office and the uptick in this kind of violence. Because of his hateful rhetoric against marginalized communities, especially the LGBTQ community, those who hate us feel emboldened to wear that hate on their sleeves. Or, in this case, on their hats.
When you build your platform on appealing to racists and homophobes, it’s only a matter of time before those people start running around like it’s The Purge.
2017 saw a significant rise in hate crimes against the LGBTQ community — 17 percent. This is according to the FBI hate crime statistics. 1,470 victims of hate crimes in 2017 were targeted due to their sexual orientation. More than half (60 percent) of the crimes were against gay men. Additionally, 25 percent targeted a mix of LGBTQ people, and 12 percent targeted lesbians. While the LGBTQ community makes up an estimated 4.5 percent of the population per a Gallup poll, according to the FBI report, more than 16 percent of federally reported hate crimes are against LGBTQ people. And these are just the ones that are being reported — there is no way of knowing how much these numbers would jump when you account for the many who don’t report.
Interestingly, the black community also has a stark contrast between overall U.S. population and hate crime percentages. According to census information, black people make up an estimated 13.4 percent of the population, but we make up 28 percent of hate crime victims. There is little research done on how those two identities intersect, but it’s safe to assume the number is higher than most people might think it would be.
I am always aware of how I move through spaces as a black woman. This has become especially true in the last five years. As attacks on black people and on women have become more talked about, you just never know what people have in their minds. Being on constant alert can be exhausting, but it’s necessary. The scariest thing is that there’s no way to know what kind of hate a person is carrying in their heart.
I have always been a person who has moved through many white spaces, but I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t a lot more nervous now when I do. Even more so when there are multiple white men in a space. Now before you call me racist, white men are the ones largely committing these kind of crimes. My fear is completely justified.
Now that I’m out as a queer woman, I’m even more alert. If I’m on a date with another woman, I’m definitely keeping my wits about me. Recently, I was on a date at a bar when a white man approached us. He was clearly a little drunk, so I proceeded with caution. Ultimately, he was friendly, and the situation wasn’t dangerous, but I also know it could have gone differently. He left the bar before we did, and we waited a little while before leaving. Because for all we knew, he could have been waiting outside.
When I’m on a date and we’re walking at night, I’m always hyper alert. Two women walking and chatting already feels like we’re prime targets. But if it’s clear that we’re on a date or romantically involved, there’s more cause for concern. You wouldn’t think that two women on a date would be a big deal, but men are not sensical about what they see as threats to their masculinity.
Living with the knowledge that my mere existence can be seen as threatening is an emotionally draining experience. Knowing that a wonderful date could end horribly, or that I could be shot while grocery shopping with my son, takes a lot out of me. You’d be hard pressed to find a member of the LGBTQ community who doesn’t feel this way. Doubly so for the black community. Those of us who live in that intersection are warriors, but we’re also really scared.
It’s easy to ask those of us who are marginalized to stop painting white men with broad strokes. Of course, there are white men in the world who wouldn’t beat the shit out of someone simply because they’re black and/or gay. But there are enough of them who would that it’s cause for concern. These men aren’t always the type to wear their hate on their hats — many of them look completely normal until they’re pummeling your face in or shouting racial slurs.
Being black is the identity I couldn’t walk away from even if I wanted to. (Not that I want to; I don’t.) I literally wear my blackness on my skin. My queer identity is something that is slightly less obvious, but it is still a huge part of who I am. I proudly wear both identities equally, but that doesn’t mean I don’t fear for my life regularly.
Because that’s just the reality of living in Trump’s America.