During the last year I have become somewhat obsessed with Orenthal James Simpson and all things concerning him. Growing up O.J. was the one black man who I knew beat the justice system. One of the few cases that I could point to and say, hey look, just cause you’re black doesn’t mean you can’t get a fair trial.
As a youngster hearing “if the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit” was enough for me to believe O.J. wasn’t guilty.
The older I get though, the more conflicted I’ve become about O.J. – and there’s a few reasons for that.
Do I believe O.J. Simpson murdered Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman? Yes. Do I also believe the Los Angeles Police Department screwed up in their handling of the evidence in the case leading to his acquittal? Yes,
and there lies the dilemma.
O.J. isn’t a black man being hindered by the system, but that doesn’t explicitly exclude his status as a black man in the system. Morally, it should be a no-brainer: O.J. is guilty so case closed, but justice isn’t about morals.
This is why the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary series, O.J.: Made in America is so important for a 24-year-old black man like myself. The five-part documentary directed by Ezra Edelman puts not only the trial into perspective, but the life of O.J. and the intersecting tensions surrounding the country throughout his life as well.
For instance, it didn’t resonate with me just how much O.J. Simpson distanced himself from the Civil Rights movement during the late 1960s, and how that distance would later lead him to the massive endorsements and fame he would acquire during the 1970s.
The idea that O.J. “transcended race” was also a telling part of the documentary for me. Even with some interviewees throughout the documentary referring to O.J. as not having African features. As if all black people look exactly the same, but that’s neither here nor there.
If there’s one central theme connecting O.J. and race in the documentary it’s that O.J. tried so hard to distance himself from his race, but used his race to ultimately free himself from this heinous crime. One line from the documentary that just continues to play in my head on a loop is “I’m not black, I’m O.J.”
O.J. wasn’t a civil rights activist, shit O.J. was probably the worst type of black person – a black person who hates his own blackness, but that doesn’t change the fact that when his life was on the line O.J. realized that race was a factor and going to save him. Even today, I don’t believe that O.J. cares about race, and I could see how it would be slap in the face of people who truly fault for the equality of blacks to have O.J. championed as some sort of Civil Rights icon.
Yet, I don’t think it’s wrong for black people to believe that the acquittal of O.J. was a victory. What the acquittal of O.J. to me proves is that the United States is who we thought they were. A place where money and power can buy you freedom and privilege. To be honest, O.J. is as American as it gets and I think that’s why so many people have a hard time coming to grips with who he really was and the heinous crime he was acquitted of.
O.J. – the superstar black athlete who was able to make it from the slums of San Francisco to an affluent neighborhood in the Westside of Hollywood. A man who shied away from race and wanted his talents and hard work to speak for themselves. The man who decided to leave his first wife (black woman) for a young pretty blonde hair white woman. O.J. made white people feel comfortable, then when his life was on the line decided he’d do any and everything possible to make those same people uncomfortable.
So it might be fitting that while O.J. was acquitted for the crime he did commit, he’s currently serving time in prison on kidnapping and robbery charges and will be eligible for parole in 2017. O.J. may not have wanted to be seen as black, but his life has become as black as it can get for a black man in the United States. For some reason that’s the most fitting part of the O.J. story in the end.