Richard Wright’s Native Son is a haunting narrative that although technically fiction, renders a factual discourse regarding the black male body and criminality. Born into the crime of poverty, the novel’s protagonist Bigger is eventually tried and sentenced for the death of heiress Mary Dalton— a woman he accidentally murdered in a paralyzing fear. This fear would not translate into a feasible testimony before a justice system implemented to criminalize blacks. This fear did however lead to a sense of freedom his life pre murder had never known. It was a freedom in which he’d have to die. His death would be a two fold, a physical death through electrocution and a slow pre-death of systemic bludgeoning.
The media would criminalize him through its inhuman portrayal. In the eyes of his oppressor, Bigger was not a young man, a son, or brother but an ape, a black beast worthy of systemic muzzling. Black men as apes or brown beasts remains pervasive throughout traditional and contemporary media. Native Son author Richard Wright states in Native Son’s Afterword “How Bigger Was Born,” that the novel’s protagonist Bigger was not created from any one person. Rather he is a medley of black men who violate a system established for their destruction. Their fate? Wright writes:
Eventually, the whites who restricted their lives made them pay a terrible price. They were shot, hanged, maimed, lynched, and generally hounded until they were either dead or their spirit’s broken.
OJ Simpson is Bigger Thomas. But he did not obtain freedom in murdering a white woman, but from possessing what he believed to be the spoils of a life typically reserved solely for whites. Simpson’s status as a “magical negro” moved him from the projects to a mansion and he never looked back, his blackness seemingly lost in the pseudo transition. My mind thought of Bigger Thomas when I saw the photos of OJ Simpson throughout the cybersphere.
Once glorified as an athlete and attractive man, Simpson is not only withered with age
but physically blacker. Surely the media could have implemented the many filters that dominate the contemporary era to give Simpson the golden tone he bore when he was America’s trophy. But, no. The tanned Simpson functions to stain “the juice” with the blackness of global criminality. It is also worth mentioning that Simpson’s tan intertwined with his grimacing facial expressions, depict Simpson as he always appeared to the western gaze–arrogant and unlikeable. His age may have garnered sympathy from some and convince others that he is of no threat to the world, but his physical blacknessfunctions to counter what the first trial and jury found him—not guilty.
Moments after the OJ Simpson verdict was released, Dr. Greg Carr, one of the most esteemed professors at Howard University, made the following comment on Twitter:
Forget him. Understand what this case underscores about race in America.
So what exactly does this case say about race in America?
Let us look to the elders and ancestors for assistance engaging contemporary conflict.
- “When you control a man’s thinking, you do not have to worry about his actions.”—Carter B. Woodson
Praised for superior athleticism and allotted more riches than most see in a lifetime, Simpson is what many aspire to be—handsome, fit, famous, and wealthy. However these attributes, namely the wealth and visibility allotted to Simpson proved a means to control his thinking. To the conscious black, material items are meaningless. To a black individual outside of a collective consciousness, these riches function to grant a fictive freedom. White supremacists, of course know that this pseudo freedom will lead the black individual who sees him or herself as exceptional will eventually lead themselves to the gallows—where they will be not-so-kindly reminded of their subjugated place in society.
- “We know the road to freedom has always been stalked by death.”—Angela Davis
To pursue freedom is to run alongside death— to feel her wrathful whisper in your sleep and to see her calm cruelty every time you close your eyes. In this same spirit, it is imperative to note that the road to live as a black person has always been stalked by a pseudo freedom.
The individual seeks freedom in tangible objects through the false belief that black bodies function similarly to white bodies who have these tokens of wealth. It is not riches that affords freedom to the white body—it is the system. The individual of course cannot see this, but a deeply ingrained insecurity prompts the individual to desire a visible consummation of their rise from blackness to an illusive whiteness.
- OJ The Individual: Is this a Laughing Matter?
Despite the correspondence of OJ’s fate to the general black narrative, many have taken the news lightly. Within twenty minutes of the Simpson verdict, Twitter was flooded with images of a pseudo “jail release party” for Simpson hosted at R. Kelly’s house with a performance by Usher. The promo poked fun at the systemic lynchings afforded to Simpson, Kelly and Usher, talented black men assaulted by allegations that substantiate a caricatured black bestiality. How any member of the black collective feels personally about any of these men is entirely up to them, but their representations are essential to explicate as sisters and brother of the same struggle.
To the conscious gaze OJ is an individual. To the world, he is a a black man. So, to ridicule his systemized fate is to provide a similar atmosphere for our most revered revolutionaries in their discretion. Moreover, the troubles that befall members of our collective is not a laughing matter, nor a cause for celebration.
- OJ, the Criminal: An American Creation
Simpson represents the global criminal conjured by a global white supremacy. Black Poet Cornelius Eady captures the essence of the conjured criminal is his poem “How I Got Born.”
When called, I come.
My job is to get things done.
I am piecemeal.
I make my living by taking things.
The body stained by blackness is the inevitable scapegoat for Western crime. Simpson illustrates the lengths the western world will go to punish its fictive black demon— a fact substantiated by the fact that The Goldman family was interviewed following Simpson’s parole hearing yesterday afternoon. Nine years ago, Simpson was not convicted for robbery. The western world still needed a criminal for the Goldman and Brown murders, and Simpson was their guy. As Easy states, “when called, I come.” An individual enslaved by exceptionalism, the white gaze knew Simpson would come when called. He’d become the criminal they needed in the pseudo believe that he was beyond consequence. Simpson’s acquittal paints him as as every black man is perceived by a global gaze— as if he has gotten away with murder— as if his freedom was and is a mistake. He illustrates that to be black in America is to be on borrowed time.
This makes me think of Floyd from August Wilson’s Seven Guitars— a man desperate to ease the blow of black male intersectionality with money. Once he obtains his tangible token of power, it is not long before he is dead. As slaves we were deprived of an ability to read and bear our own funds—until whites realized that these tools can be used to lynch, incarcerate, and otherwise incriminate the black body. The fictional black male of black literature, functions similarly to the black celebrity, who also composes a fictional image of blackness where “happily every after” is always thwarted by tragedy or scandal—portraying the black male as birthed into his status as a global criminal.
I can only wish that prison transformed Simpson as it did Malcolm X and George Jackson. But perhaps an even greater wish is for the black community to learn from the systemic show enacted through celebrity–to learn that power is not embedded within the tangibility of money and visibility, but beyond it.
May OJ Simpson, the symbol be ingrained into the psyche of the black collective, reminding us that there is no such thing as a rich black—just a negro whose will literally and figuratively pay for his systemic lynching.
Black Power ❤