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Social Studies

Juiced, Past Tense

Emily Flake

By Vincent Williams | Posted 10/15/2008

So, yeah, O.J. Simpson. It looks like his little escapade in Las Vegas, running around like he was Linc from The Mod Squad or something, is going to end up with his ass behind bars for the rest of his life. And, if we're all honest about it, I don't think there's a person in America who wouldn't acknowledge that this verdict probably has more to do with the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman than whether or not he roughed up a bunch of shady memorabilia dealers. Here's the thing, though: I was talking the other day with one of my fellow social critics, who happened to be white, and she asked me why there wasn't more brouhaha about Simpson's fate, with the implication being, Why weren't black people more concerned? And, based on the celebrations over the not-guilty outcome of Simpson's 1995 murder trial from some facets of black America, I thought it was a fair question.

Lemme tell you a secret. Obviously, I can't speak for all of black America, but in 13 years, based on conversations I've had with family, friends, acquaintances, and strangers at barbeques, black-tie events, barbershops, and banquets, I have never met a black person who gave a damn about O.J. Simpson. Yeah, I know, it's hard to get the images of black folks cheering out of your mind when you read something like that, but to everyone I've ever talked to, the Simpson murder trial was never about Simpson.

The Simpson murder trial was about the way that law is applied in this country. From the second that Mark Fuhrman's face showed up on the screen, large swathes of black folks knew the fix was in, because we've all seen him before. Fuhrman was the face of every crooked police officer who has pulled over, illegally searched, harassed, and sometimes murdered black people, and especially black men, over the last 130-odd years since emancipation. If you want to know about Fuhrman, spend a little time in a black barbershop and listen to the men, regardless of age, education, background, or geographical location, discuss their interactions with police. When Fuhrman lied about his use of the word "nigger," the only people he really lied to were white folks. We already knew the answer. Black people have known Mark Fuhrman forever, so anything he said was worthless; therefore, if he's part of the foundation of the case, the case is tainted. Here's another little secret: I've never met a black person who didn't believe the evidence was tampered with and also believed that Simpson killed his wife and Ron Goldman. But, by the way the law is supposed to work and because police officers are supposed to be honest, even though Simpson probably brutally murdered two people, he should have been found not guilty, regardless of how upset it made a lot of white people.

Because the Simpson murder trial was also about the manner in which life is valued in America. This column will garner some letters filled with righteous indignation about the last sentence of the above paragraph. The letter writers will say that, regardless of the messy details, a murderer should never go free. And I agree. But I would take those letter writers more seriously if they could display the same righteous indignation about the murders of people who aren't white. Secret No. 3: I've never met a black person who believes that white America would have been as worked up about Simpson if his victims were black. And until I see Meredith Vieira speaking solemnly about a kidnapped black child on The Today Show, until we have a nationwide search for a missing pregnant black woman, until the whole nation stops because a black coed has disappeared . . . I doubt that I will. So, yeah, the applause was also about the underlying hypocrisy of the nation's rage over the case.

But Simpson himself? In the words of Steve Harvey, fuck O.J. I mean, it's not like Simpson was the O'Jays! Simpson never had much time for black folks. After football, he ran straight to the hills of white America and never looked back. It's not like he was a philanthropist or was at the NAACP Image Awards or something. He was apolitical and relentlessly nonthreatening before he got into trouble, and, quietly, after he got out of it, he did his best to get back in the mix of that lifestyle. And black folks returned the lack of attention to him. The reason there was no reaction to his latest screwup is the same as the reaction to the earlier one--something other than Simpson himself. So, now the law can put him in jail for the rest of his life, and black people will . . . well, I guess we'll just do the same thing we were doing, huh?

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