Two weeks before actor Jussie Smollett reported to Chicago police he had been assaulted by two white men Smollett sent himself a letter with similar sentiments. Smollett who claims to be “Bluish”, that is, the offspring of a Jewish father and a Black mother, and who also says he is homosexual created the letter. The letter was released by Smollett in hopes of causing sympathy for him so he could demand a raise in his salary on the television series Empire.
Not only did Smollett create a letter that would not pass muster as a prop in a grade school play the letter brought no response from the people in charge of Smollett’s salary. As to creating sympathy for his meager pay, that too might ring hollow with the rest of us in the real world. Smollett is paid $65,000 for each episode of Empire; the show has eighteen episodes per season and it is in its fifth season. Let us see about that sympathy thing: $65m x 18 = $1,170,000 per year and a total of $5,850,000 for five years. How are your sympathy pangs, Gentle Reader?
Of course, as an actor playing the role of a minority Rhythm and Blues singer on a television show I had never heard of until Smollett faked his attack, I am not aware of any great general benefit Smollett’s acting has conferred on society. On the other hand, these issues of false claims and payroll negotiations are not what this column is about. If Smollett had given just a little more thought to his scheme, he probably would not have paid his two “attackers” by check, a copy of which the Chicago police recovered in less than a week. However, Smollett did claim the attack occurred in downtown Chicago at 2:00 a.m. so his story started out sounding believable.
Anyway, this column is not about Smollett’s infantile plan to boost his career. It is about the initial hue and cry in the national media and political figures in response to Smollett’s phony plot. We just don’t learn, do we? The rule is get the facts then speak out, not rush to a judgment we wish to believe based on our own prejudices. We, and I do mean most of us, would benefit from understanding what the psychologist Daniel Kahneman calls “Thinking Fast”.
Thinking fast is making decisions based on our intuition and emotions instead of “Thinking Slow”, which is gleaning the facts first and applying a critical analysis to those facts. We all want to believe things. Unfortunately, “Wanting don’t make it so”. Now, in much of what we decide it does not matter what we think. If we want to believe in Santa Claus, where’s the harm? However, when the national news media or our national leaders decide things based on hope or hate instead of objective investigation and analysis, real harm may result.
So, Jussie Smollett, your silly attempt to get attention is of little consequence and thankfully you made the Chicago Police Department’s job easy. Once again, thanks for paying by check. But what has caused true harm to our national debate about several forms of prejudice has been the rush to stand upon your shockingly juvenile strategy as a pedestal to spew real prejudice.