In many societies, men symbolize strength and power. To align with societal expectations, some men wear business suits during the week and athletic attire on the weekend. In my community, men assume heterosexuality when meeting other men.
What happens when you do not fit beliefs consistent with dominant understandings of masculinity and sexuality? You are often shunned and sometimes attacked. Harmful consequences can appear unavoidable to members of marginalized communities, where systemic and individualized racism converges to create injustices.
Last week, some of us learned about the case involving actor and singer Jussie Smollett. Smollett was the victim of a hate crime while visiting Chicago. He was out late one evening when two men attacked him. These unknown men yelled racial and homophobic slurs, before hitting Smollett in the face, pouring an unknown chemical powder on him, and placing a rope around his neck. Referencing the “Make America Great Again” slogan, Smollett has also stated that the men said, “this is MAGA country.”
As someone born in Chicago, I was disturbed to read about the incident. I was concerned about Smollett and bothered by another dosage of negative media exposure highlighting the violence of my hometown. Although the Smollett case occurred in a neighborhood that is often not reported as having challenges with violence, it adds to the narrative that Chicago is a dangerous place. Without a doubt, Chicago has its problems, but the Smollett case is indicative of a broader agenda that plagues all major and minor cities throughout the world.
Jussie Smollett identifies as a Black gay man. He does not fit into the dominant understandings that often correspond with manhood and identity. Despite his talents in music and acting, there are segments of the population who are only able to see his race and sexual orientation. Smollett’s identity is related to the allegations that his assault claims are part of a political ploy and did not happen.
We must be willing to disrupt notions of power, prestige, masculinity, and sexual identity with the intention to achieve social justice. Regardless of the agenda put forth by the current administration and their supporters, it is time that we expand definitions of manhood. I respect Bobby Rush’s campaign to push for a full civil rights investigation in the Smollett incident.
As men, women, fluid, gay, heterosexual, bisexual, or however you identify in 2019, we need to tap into the courage required to respond to injustices. Our unique contributions may include engaging in a protest, posting content on social media, or participating in another means to let others know that attacking someone, because of their race and sexual identity is not okay. Standing up for something you believe in is not easy, but it is necessary if your goals include making this world a better place.
As you begin this first week of Black history month, remember our ancestors and challenge the status quo. Decide that you will not allow others to define you or your potential to make a positive influence on the lives of others. Step into authentic leadership and transcend conventional thinking.