From the Page of

 

OJ

Michael Albert

 

Sometimes race, sex, and class identities act simultaneously, yet with differential effects in the eyes of different beholders. At such times, a quandary arises: where to put one’s allegiance? Should I respond as a Black person or a woman? As a white person or a worker? As a Black or a capitalist?

First, if you are more highly attuned to race, how do you react to the O.J. Trial and its aftermath?

Start with a cop who wants to torch the entire Black community, beginning with those married to whites. The cop reveals his willingness to fabricate evidence providing proof positive that the LAPD and presumably all other big city police departments employ maniacal louts eager to incarcerate and even kill Black bystanders. This is precisely what the public words said, and is also quite consistent with current incarceration rates for young Blacks.

But what is the racism in this, beyond police fanaticism? Well, consider the general, non-uniformed, non-ideological, white population. Where was their outrage at the discovery of facts presumably heretofore unknown to them? Where was their call to reconsider the plight of Blacks incarcerated in California and throughout the country? Why was there no wringing of hands once we had indisputable reason to believe that millions upon millions of Black people have, after all, been totally forthright in saying that they endure hell at the hands of power in America?

We needn’t raise the more subtle point: the logic of creating an environment where the only way to make a living is to steal or deal and then to arrest people for doing it. No, we need only discuss that we have court transcripts revealing the likelihood that lots of Black folks accused of criminal behavior have been jailed on trumped up evidence. Who cares? Not many, to judge from the meager outrage. It is this fact, generally ignored in the discussion of the events, that best indicates the power of racism in America.

But there is outrage over one matter of race stemming from these events. What occasions it?

A Black lawyer likens Fuhrman to Hitler. This is playing the race card, we are told, some kind of dirty manipulative act designed to trick jurors into abandoning reason. Amazing. In point of fact, Fuhrman has taken a stance quite Hitlerian in its scope and tone—literally advocating genocide—and wants only for the power to implement it. In point of fact, how could it not be relevant to the efficacy of the trial that the prosecution includes and even relies on racist thugs?

What the Black community sees in the not guilty verdict is a slap in the face of racist courts and police who manipulate evidence, lie, and brutalize. No wonder they celebrated it.

Second, if you are more highly attuned to gender, how do you react to the murder and its aftermath?

O.J. Simpson was proved, beyond any doubt whatever, to be a wife-beating thug. That is incontestable. It is sexist enough that the story and words of the victims, particularly Nicole, who predicted her own murder, drifted out of the discussion, as if, well, who cares, it is just a dead woman’s opinion. Even worse, however, O.J. is, by many, lionized. How can a man who beats his wife regularly be a hero, even if one thinks he did not murder her and her friend?

What women attuned to gender issues see is masses of people rallying around the human embodiment of sexual abuse. No wonder they worry.

And it gets worse. We have new vernacular in the land: "Watch out, or I will O.J. you." "Come on now, it’s time for O.J. rules." So it isn’t just violence against a woman that has been minimized, it is the meaning of this violence as a tactic for venting hatred and as a tool for maintaining domination. This is completely absent from discussion, as if abuse were just a large scale aberration due to a few (or even many) rotten apples, a view that is tantamount to saying that lynching was just an aberration, rather than a tool to enforce slavery and racism, or, likewise, that Mark Fuhrman’s racism is just an aberration, rather than a tool to enforce racial hierarchy.

Third, if you are more highly attuned to class, how do you react to the whole Hollywood show? The immediate impression is of the class dynamics of the court room. If a defendant has enough money, he or she can buy sufficient expert testimony and courtroom antics to create reasonable doubt against anything but unimpeachable eyewitnesses, and sometimes even then. If a defendant has little cash, he or she will be overrun by a prosecution able to create evidence at the drop of a glove, if not in this case, then in yours. As with market relations generally, money doesn’t talk, it dictates.

But there is also the media question. What is the origin of spectacle TV? And why does it look as it does? The U.S. audience is (1) a corporate and professional elite, responsible for social decision-making, and (2) the rest of us, a horde, to be kept in line, preferably snarling at each other. It is capitalists, high level professionals, and managers, versus working people. The former get specialized media to serve real needs: professional news letters, computer research systems, the Wall Street Journal, the opera and symphony. The rest of us are to be dunned and entertained, but with no empowerment effects. And what is the most lucrative method? Deliver one story for all. This reduces costs and simultaneously increases audience. The O.J. spectacle was a big money maker from the get go. If you can hype one story sufficiently, you then have less to cover with your cameras and writers than if you pursue a wide-ranging diverse palette of topics and events, and also more audience because people will then watch not just for the content, or even mostly for the content, but to be part of the action. What a profit opportunity. Intelligence, diversity, creativity, and truth be damned. On the morning of the verdict the networks jacked up their prices for commercial time to Superbowl levels, ten times what they usually charge.

So, what’s the bottom line? Here are a few things that seem important.

What is warranted, therefore, is to be outraged at violations of the dignity and circumstances of any human being, or any sector of human beings, and to try to survive in the horrible conditions we endure, even as we try to change them. What is not warranted, however, is for each sector to pay attention only to its own circumstances, rallying around a very limited self conception and throwing away both sympathy and reason when considering the behavior of others.

To celebrate O.J. and Johnny Cochran as heroes because they gave racist courts a comeuppance is no different than for a woman to celebrate a racist thug who happens to be a strong advocate of abortion rights, or for a white worker to celebrate a union leader who wins higher pay while militantly defending color lines to keep Blacks out of an industry.

To bemoan a bought-off court process while ignoring the plight of Blacks under the foot of racist jurisprudence and policing is no different than for a woman to bemoan a glass ceiling while ignoring the plight of male assembly line workers suffering degrading and dangerous conditions, or for a Black to bemoan racist TV images and news while ignoring the class and gender hierarchies of the same media system.

To oppose violence against women without also opposing violence in the workplace and racism on the police force is likewise a myopia of values that needs to be confronted and transcended, as is the reverse.

The lesson in all this seems plain enough. Groups of people in society oppressed as a community, class, or gender are going to be highly sensitized to their own special situation and factors upholding it. This is not a problem. This is essential and must be expanded, not reduced. The problem arises when this does not promote a more comprehensive and out-reaching awareness, but instead fosters an insular approach to life that makes enemies out of potential allies.