The Illusion Of “Black Crime”
It’s hard to imagine a more polarising cultural moment than the OJ Simpson murder trial.
A beloved black celebrity stands accused of murdering his blonde-haired, blue-eyed wife and her “friend.” A hotshot black lawyer steps up to defend him. A racist detective stands as a key witness in front of a majority black jury. And the whole thing unfolds less than 3 years after the acquittal of the police officers who beat Rodney King half to death.
OJ’s trial sat so perfectly at the intersection of questions about race, justice, class and fame, that by the time the verdict was announced, most of the public seemed to forget that two people had been murdered.
Instead, it became a proxy war between black and white America.
A Los Angeles county poll (which closely reflected sentiments nationwide) found that, despite the evidence, 77% of African American residents agreed with OJ’s not-guilty verdict. Only 28% of white residents felt the same way.
Writing for the New Yorker, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. quotes Wynton Marsalis, who compared the divide to sports fans arguing about their favourite teams:
You want your side to win, whatever the side is going to be. And the thing is, we’re still at a point in our national history where we look at each other as ‘sides.’
But Dave Chappelle, as he often does, summed it up best in this skit from Chappelle’s Show:
Lawyer: Mr Chappelle, are you suggesting that because one of the detectives is a possible racist, and because there may have been some minor oversights in the investigation, it completely lets OJ off the hook?
Chappelle: EXACTAMUNDO! The defence rests sir.
Lawyer: Mr Chappelle…will you at least admit that OJ more than likely killed his wife?
Chappelle: …sir, my blackness will not permit me to make a statement like that.
Black people are used to being seen as a monolith. At times, it was even useful to see ourselves this way.
Black-owned banks offered loans to black people when no others would do so. Black communities pooled their…