Crying Wolf: Smollett Doesn’t Get Us Off the Hook
Camila Díaz Córdova, presente.
While congress goes tit for tat with President Trump over the merits of his beloved wall, the asylum seekers who are part of the Central American exodus continue to band together in caravans. Their displacement, caused primarily by US interventionism and devastating policies in their home countries, compels them north. Trekking through the borderlands at their own peril, many won’t make it to their final destination, and those within a fingers grasp of a new life will face a bevy of challenges. Their main driver for doing so? Survival.
This was true for thirty-one year old Camila Díaz Córdova, a Trans woman from El Salvador, who joined one of those caravans in 2018. For the last five years Díaz Córdova had been the target of death threats. Once at the border she petitioned for asylum, but her application was denied and she was deported.
Nearly six months later, the Salvadoran Trans advocacy group Asociación Aspidh Arcoiris Trans (ASPIDH) was alerted by a friend of Camila’s near the end of January that she had gone missing. It would be days before they discovered that she was being cared for at the Rosales National Hospital in San Salvador. She had been the victim of a brutal attack, and officially died February 3rd. Deaths like Camila’s go largely unnoticed on both sides of the border. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) reports that Trans people are often “met with further mistreatment and discrimination” once they arrive.
Hate crimes and abuse against Black and Brown LGBT persons are largely underreported and Trans migrants, many with Indigenous roots, are no exception. This is because of shoddy record keeping by federal agencies, and the fear held by those who are in detention centers to disclose their identities. Within the United States, the killing of transgender people has gone up for the second year in a row. As recently as 2017, the United Nations requested a probe into the spike in violence against transgender women in El Salvador. The frequency of homicide, femicide, and threats made by the maras (gangs) remains sky high in the small country, creating a unique level of risk for these marginal groups simply trying to exist.
Still, boosting the signal on these tragedies is not without its own set of obstacles. Camila’s death, for example, first reported by the Washington Blade, was buried underneath an avalanche of headlines about the alleged attack on Jussie Smollett. Even as our reaction to the news of a possible hate crime committed against Mr. Smollett was justified, the devastating effect from the fallout has been to the detriment of real victims. Particularly, the non-white ones. It siphoned the attention that is sorely needed to engage in a productive discussion about toxic masculinity, racism, and the oppression of all things femme.
This is symptomatic of how deep of a stronghold the outdated notions regarding gender truly are. From the uproar caused by the Gillette ad attempting to show us an alternate reality from the one we currently live in, to the refreshing commercial reclaiming “hysterical” produced by Nike featuring Serena Williams. There is a need to challenge convention. There is also a need to check our privileges.
This quote by Ellen Page is certainly a start:
“To the extent that my visibility and experiences can give voice to others who don’t share my privilege and opportunity — and because I take the trust and platform I’ve been given so very seriously — I must speak. As a queer but white cisgender woman, I benefit from the protections and safety that my income and status afford me.”
Another, is giving this fabulous podcast a listen:
Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris, culture writers at the New York Times, break down all the facets of the Smollett debacle. Unpacking the catch-22 between our feelings and the harsh truth in a solid 43 minutes.
So what can we do? While the presumption of innocence for Jussie Smollett remains, the court of public opinion has already handed over its verdict. Even as the evidence that negates his version of the night in question mounts. Call out culture has buckled under the pressure of the 24-hour news cycle and moved onto the new and shiny. Still, looking back at the tsunami of attention Smollett’s case received painfully reveals how demanding the platform of privilege can be. What should we do when the prospect of “crying wolf” exposes how real harm is undermined? Society at large, is not off the hook. Preventing stories like Camila’s from fading into obscurity is paramount. We have to be willing to shine the mag light on the darkest of places, and say their names. Only then, can we step out of the shadows and truly begin to address these wounds.
Rest in power, Camila.