Note: This article contains graphic language that may be triggering for some audiences.
Chicago police say television star Jussie Smollett of Fox’s “Empire” was called “faggot ‘Empire’ nigger” when the 35-year-old was attacked in the city’s downtown late in January.
The attack happened weeks after Kevin Hart was forced to give up a gig hosting the 2019 Oscars, after old homophobic tweets and videos from his past stand-up routines resurfaced.
This was concurrent with the lambasting of actor Terry Crews by fellow entertainers like Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and D. L. Hughley for apparently lacking masculinity, after he publicized his alleged sexual assault by a male talent agent.
These issues, though separate, are part of a legacy of archetypes of black American masculinity that date back to the abolishment of slavery in the years after the Civil War. That was a time when anti-miscegenation activists warned of the animalistic and beastly sexual nature of black men.
These sordid issues are inextricably linked with our country’s painful history on race and how black and brown American men carry the burden of that history.
The language purportedly used against Smollett and used by Hart in describing how he would beat his son if he found out that his child was gay is, unfortunately, heard not only in parts of the black American community but in American society at large.
Those who employ that language are part of a toxic masculine culture that venerates machismo and violence at the expense of emotion and thought.
They are part of a culture that calls young boys, especially young black boys, ‘punks’ for preferring to read books over playing sports.
They are part of a culture that seeks to routinely compartmentalize others and diverts the talent of young black and brown men of color into a limited number of occupations and professional fields, neglecting to show them their full potential or their inherent value.
These are issues that our society at large must fully acknowledge if we are to become tolerant and respectful of our individual differences.
At the ACLU of Florida, we’re fighting for non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people in the Florida Competitive Workplace Act under consideration in the Florida Legislature during the 2019 session. We’re also deeply engaged in ongoing racial justice initiatives that reduce inequities in the criminal justice system and expand access to our society’s opportunities.
As part of our commitment to fostering a more inclusive Florida, during this legislative session we are also supporting expansion of access to driver’s licenses by reducing or eliminating penalties linked to fines or court fees, employment licensing reform for returning citizens, and the Prison Reform Bill or Florida’s “First Step” Act. This builds upon our previous voter-enfranchisement campaign in 2018 for Florida’s Amendment 4, and our campaign for marriage equality in 2014.
If the police and news reports prove to be accurate and Smollett was indeed attacked by men who poured bleach on him while yelling, “This is MAGA country,” then the perpetrators must face justice. Smollett did not deserve the mistreatment he said he experienced, nor should anyone face mortal threat for living on their own terms, irrespective of sexual orientation or ethnicity.

We need to do some soul-searching about who and what we are to each other, and how we can make our world a more safe, equitable, and inclusive place for everyone.