The day has come.
NFL legend and possibly the most popular defendant of all time—OJ Simpson was finally freed from prison yesterday following a nine year sentence. While the charges may read “armed robbery,” Simpson served time for the murders of Ron Goldman and ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson— a statement I made to a relative who responded “we all know that.”
This comment is not only dismissive, but a fatal oversimplification of an assertion that even if common is worth articulating. The idea that everyone knows anything is vastly untrue and should be assumed by no black person. To use OJ Simpson as an example, most people, whether black or white, believe that OJ is guilty of something. Namely, most believe Simpson, if not the actual murder, was involved in some capacity. This conclusion has nothing to do with the so-called facts, which were heavily manipulated by the white media, but everything to do with the connotation of blackness. This connotation aligns Simpson with crime instantly and irretrievably —with an oppositional gaze that blinds those most affected by racism to its baseless evil.
To believe in OJ’s innocence is not about OJ at all. To believe in OJ’s innocence is to believe in the good of black people— something most whites and blacks can articulate but seldom perform.
Thus, to state that “we,” whoever this pronoun is intended to represent, all know that Simpson’s fate reflects the need to place black bodies to “unsolved crimes,” suggests that there is a general understanding of racism— to which their is not.
I suppose we also know that Florida, land of the George Zimmerman’s and Casey Anthony’s, a state that acts as a hanging tree for black bodies—antagonizes Simpson’s proposed residence not because of race or crime, but because each one of these attributes serves an individual purpose in Florida. The black body with a petty crime under his or her belt functions to validate his or her incarceration, as blacks in poverty prove feasibly shooting targets for police that can easily be murdered and discarded to no consequence and temperate media coverage. OJ complicates the evil intentions of a poisonous state, yet these truths are seemingly only fleetingly evident given the large amount of black people who retire and vacation in a state only separate from Texas and Mississippi in name.
Moreover, to say that “we all know that” not only implies that the black collective fully understands racism, but that OJ himself did. For if OJ truly understood racism, he would not have married a white woman. He would have understood that money and a trophy white wife does not undo blackness. So while many feel they understand why Simpson went to jail, the reasons stem further back than Nicole Brown Simpson’s murder. Simpson agitated white supremacists by making an insurmountable amount of money, having a larger than life persona and allegedly physically abusing his white wife. These domestic abuse charges in addition to eliminating key information about the late Simpson’s lifestyle, painted OJ Simpson as responsible for Nicole’s murder.
It is worth mentioning that had his black ex-wife turned up missing, America would not have batted an eyelash.
Nevertheless, Simpson’s desire to live in Florida illustrates a similar disconnect and inability to properly conceptualize racism. It is this disconnect that permits OJ to believe that the juice hanging from a Florida tree references their esteemed oranges, and not foreshadowing his lifeless corpse, or the corpse of another black man, woman, or child. This is not to suggest that places like New Jersey, New York, or California are just as racist, but that Florida continues to occupy a fantasy like image despite its record of devaluing blacks.
It is counterproductive to look past Simpson’s continuous and elaborate efforts to be and act as if he was white. It is imperative that members of the black collective make note that despite these efforts, Simpson illustrates that regardless of what the Black body thinks, blackness is a fact. Just as it took an arrest to remind “scholar” Henry Louis Gates
Jr. that he was black, not an Ivy League instructor and canonical theorist, a murder trial reminded the world that Simpson was not a “celebrity” but a black man. Simpson dispels the myths of celebrity, illustrating that any beloved singer, athlete, or black public figure is just seconds away from murder charges, the penitentiary, and a soiled legacy.
Simpson also functions to expose the glamour of celebrity as veiled bondage. As a NFL player Simpson was a contractually bound slave, and after his imprisonment he will be the same way–bound to a parole officer who must approve his every action. Despite his wealth, Simpson embodies the cyclical disenfranchisement that follows the black body– depicting this cycle as indifferent to the societal hierarchy that prompts many blacks to desire lucrative careers in sports, music, or television. But, as Simpson teaches the black collective, there is no escaping racism. Seen as far back as Saartje Baartman or as recent as Whitney Houston— even after death the connotations of blackness will haunt the black legacy with lies.
But… I suppose “we all know this” as well…
May the ancestors guide Mr. Simpson.