After the Jussie Smollett media storm, lots of people are still left with more questions than answers. Nicole Vassell makes an appeal for, in future, being willing to listen before making up your mind, either way
Everyone loves a good celebrity scandal. It’s
part of human nature to be attracted to something out of the ordinary that
sparks everyone’s collective interest, and unites us in watercooler chat.
Because of this, it’s understandable how Jussie Smollett garnered so many
virtual column inches last month – but going forward, it looks as if this can
be a real teachable moment about the shortcomings of jumping to conclusions on
To recap: in late January, it was reported
that the Empire actor (who is gay and
Black) had been attacked late one night in Chicago by a pair of ‘Make America
Great Again’ cap-wearing men. With the men making references to his job, and
attacking him with offensive slurs, the attack was widely considered a hate
crime by his supporters, with people across the world sending out their well
wishes and love.
Admittedly, I was one of them; I was distressed
at the horror of a person, in 2019, being attacked with physical violence and racial
and homophobic slurs. With no immediate reason to believe that what Smollett
was saying was untrue, I expressed my sadness over his attack, and my desire to
see justice served swiftly for his attackers. However, as you probably know,
the story has taken some wild turns since this initial moment; within the
fortnight, Smollett was charged with one count of disorderly conduct for filing
a false police report, and was written out of the final two Empire episodes of the current season.
However, the point of this column is not to
debate whether or not Jussie Smollett has been telling the truth – by the time
you’re reading this, there’ll probably be 37 new amendments to this story.
Instead, I’d like to make an appeal to the people who have been spent hours’
worth of energy disproving the case… to take a good break.
Plenty have been celebrating the twists,
stating that they’d never believed Smollett in the first place, and that those
who did are foolish, or without the ability to evaluate correctly – and to me,
this feels unfair. I’ve spoken so often about the pressures that social media,
and the general speedy nature of the internet making people feel as if they
have to express an opinion on every
headline that comes out, within the first 10 minutes of it breaking. However,
as this and any other story emerges, we shouldn’t lose the ability, or the
desire, to employ the benefit of the doubt simply to have a take that stands
out from the crowd, when the facts are still up in the air.
Since the first report, there has been
something new added every couple of days – and at the time of writing, there
are still conflicting reports about what exactly is going on, and to what
extent the story that was first told is true.
Though there seems to be a lot more on the story than originally thought,
there’s nothing wrong with keeping your thoughts to yourself until you have a
better idea of how you actually feel towards a situation, rather than being
reactionary for internet approval.
Perhaps I need to take my own words to heart,
and be more discerning of the stories I get emotionally invested in. However, I
think there’s far less wrong with taking the accounts of victims as they are,
rather than being first in line to poke holes in someone’s story. We owe it to
future victims to not be sceptical, or cutting at the soonest opportunity, as
they’ll need support more than anything. After all, if you can’t say something
useful, perhaps it’s better to say nothing at all.