The juice is loose, as was popular to say in the 1970s when O.J. Simpson ran through NFL backfields with abandon. Now O.J. is on the loose again (or soon will be this October), this time getting probation from his lengthy prison stay that had nothing to do with the killings of his wife and Ron Goldman.
Ironically, prior to his murder charge and ultimate acquittal of that crime in 1995, O.J. Simpson, the gifted athlete, and handsome commentator/actor, was a figure universally looked up to by most Americans, no matter their race. Overnight, however, O.J. Simpson became a polarizing figure that showed an America divided by race and foretold of racial unrest in cities across America 20 years later. All of it raises the question, how could a plurality of black and white Americans see one issue so differently, and what does this mean for our country’s future?
If you’re old enough, you probably remember where you were when you heard the verdict in the Simpson murder trial. Apart from the farcical trial that became a media circus, the O.J. Simpson saga was also the birthplace of our modern news coverage, where media outlets gave up on the pretense of facts, concentrating on what they believed would draw ratings. With this change, court room figures decided they’d rather become reality TV stars than serve as functioning members of the justice system.
What shook me in 1995 and shakes me still wasn’t that O.J. was found not guilty. Juries come to controversial decisions often, take the Casey Anthony trial. What bothered me was how differently a majority of black and white Americans saw the same set of circumstances. Most white Americans saw O.J. as guilty of murder, where many African Americans saw him as either not guilty, or at least worthy of their support as he represented a vehicle to tweak the establishment.
If I thought America was living in relative racial homogeny and peace before then, the O.J. Simpson saga was my wake up call.
Fast forward to Ferguson, Missouri, and all that followed since, we see nothing has gotten better, and things are quite possibly worse. Take police shootings that involve white police officers and African-American citizens. The immediate default position in African-American communities often is that the police officers acted with purposeful malice and intent based on the suspect/victim’s race, while white communities assume the police used reasonable force. The mainstream media, just as in O.J.’s murder trial, has often paid shamelessly little attention to the facts of the individual cases, instead happy to fan the fires for ratings and assign motives to the action to fit their political leanings.
How bad has it gotten? So bad one can’t even say “All lives matter” without getting in trouble.
All this is on a macro level. On a micro level things appear, at least in my judgment, normal. Every day I see people of different races and ethnicities across America working and socializing together on a one-on-one level almost seamlessly. So if we can do it on a micro level why not a macro level?
For this, I blame our political class. They have a vested interest in voting blocs by ethnicity. Although they have little in common, imagine where the Bernie Sanders/Elizabeth Warren progressives of the Democratic Party would be if they couldn’t count on 90% of the African American vote on Election Day?
Because of this, the political class will always push the perception of racial inequality and discrimination. To do otherwise would mean risk losing some of the overwhelming market share of the African American vote that is needed to win elections. Hence, we’ll never come to the day when politicians stop fanning the flames of racial discord. What a sorry state to be in.
The O.J. Simpson of my youth was bright, likable, and had the sweetest moves as a running back this side of Barry Sanders. He had the world and squandered it.
In America, we have a Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and a bevy of laws that guarantee all citizens equal treatment under the law. In addition, most of our citizens interact well with one another, no matter their ethnicity. In other words, this is a paradise compared to many other nations. But like a young O.J., we run the risk of squandering our American legacy thanks to politicians who think our not getting along is in their best personal interest.
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