O.J. in black and white, for better or worse — mostly for worse
  • O.J. in black and white, for better or worse — mostly for worse
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The Simpson trial, chromatically speaking, was a joke. It became a game, Dr. Seuss-ish and, chess-wise, oversimplifiedly moronic. A double murder was committed on June 12, 1994, about 10:10 p.m., a heinous crime, and an $8 million trial has ensued that, while ruinously complex in terms of DNA tests and blood samples, has been reduced simply to the matter of race. Who murdered Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman seems to be irrelevant. A practical joke, the black and white issue, has replaced it, and we’ve fallen for it.

White Bronco. Black knit cap. Dark clothes. White house. Black glove. Vanilla ice cream. Black jurors. White victims. The terms were as elemental and reductionist as the colors and as warringly simple, oversimple, feebly oversimple.

The “race card” was finally played. A predominantly black jury (9 out of 12) was watched by predominantly white America to see the upshot of the accusations of bias leveled by the prosecution and the defense at each other. In his closing argument, Christopher Darden frankly spoke of “deep reluctance on the part of the African-American community to allow a black icon to be brought down by a white criminal justice system,” while defense attorney Johnnie Cochran, scolding ex-detective Fuhrman, more for racism than for lying, employed many racial references in his own closing argument, evoking abolitionist Frederick Douglass — who, by the way, was half white — to bolster his defense of O.J. Simpson (“Race is always an issue,” says Cochran with a straight face) as well as ingratiate himself with a jury he is wooing, not so much pleadingly as shamelessly and racially.

“Who has been falsely accused?” asked Cochran, who preposterously answered, “Perhaps the African-American members of the jury.” Whereupon he slammed the prosecution with Fuhrman’s lies and use of the epithet “nigger,” having not so much forgotten as cagily dispensed the whole passel of crime-related facts he claimed a year ago he would produce to prove the innocence of his client. Code words replaced facts and, cynically, lawyers on both sides anti-intellectually seemed to have plugged into the dark/light nexus of collective unconscious. Cochran, theatrically, and with a blame-shifting glibness that, if it is heard, never mind taken seriously, can only reinforce the stupidity of those who would believe it, compared Fuhrman to Hitler. “Even if he is guilty,” pronounced one sympathetic commentator last Thursday, “because of Fuhrman’s racial slurs, O.J. should be acquitted.” Cochran’s full defense of Simpson was racial, in spite of defense attorney Shapiro’s pious announcement on August 19, 1994, that the Simpson trial would be categorically free of any racial content. In his summation, Cochran used rhyming slang — “If the cap don’t fit / You gotta acquit” — and has ludicrously tapped into the black motto, “Eyes on the prize.” The lines have been drawn. In his comings and goings, Cochran was flanked by bodyguards — from the Nation of Islam!

It may flaunt the terminology of exaggeration, but in its mindlessness what this trial became, in ignoring logic and reason, was not justice but hope.

Prosecutor Marcia Clark logistically stepped aside in order to allow Christopher Darden, a black lawyer, to drive in for the emotional force of it all, while, unbelievably, Johnnie Cochran on September 23 in Washington, D.C., received three standing ovations at the Congressional Black Caucus conference. “We want to express our appreciation to you,” said black Representative Louis Stokes (D-Ohio) to Cochran, “for having taken the legal profession to the highest level.” Only minutes before, Cochran had unctuously and fatuously portrayed the O.J. Simpson case as part of the long and unending struggle for civil rights in America, comparing this murder trial to the battles against slavery and linking it to the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education case, which barred racial segregation in America.

It seems a disconsolate-making but unavoidable fact that we are no different, have progressed no further, than the comparatively benighted Elizabethans if we continue to stand by and let this parody of a trial — this Dunciad — go uncriticized. Let it be noted that the bigotry of the Elizabethan audience was assumed when Shakespeare wrote Othello in 1604, a play that uncannily recapitulates with almost perfect symmetry, if it was in fact Simpson who did murder his wife, the lineaments of these murders in 1994. Elizabethan playgoers were forced to face the unavoidable irony of finding a white man (Iago) guilty and a black man (Othello), at least up to a point, innocent — although Othello eventually plays into white bias by becoming crazed and murderous, even if driven to it, when he kills his wife — for the actuality of the play was both a moral and cultural reversal of what they, in their predilections, believed of race, for black men in both pre-Shakespearean and Shakespearean theater were commonly stage villains and bedlam figures and so-called heavies. It is interesting to note, for such were even Shakespeare’s times, that young Desdemona fell in love with a Moor, or so the Bard goes out of his way to show, not for his beauty or sexuality, but because of the tales and stories she had overheard him tell her father. Elizabethans, in short, were as biased, as self-conscious, as culturally crippled, and as racially grumpy as we are. The lunacy, however, is that this took place 400 years ago. The misery is that it plays the same way today. The tragedy is that we have not progressed a jot.

Who on earth is ever solidly or definitively one color? Significantly, no human being is black or white. “And moreover we, whites, are not white at all,” asserts the poet John Shade in Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Pale Fire, “We are mauve at birth, then tea-rose, and later all kinds of repulsive colors.” Agreement should be fairly universal. Black is no more a color, as such, than is white. As far as race goes, they are only the reductive designations for morons (used only in this article to clarify the otherwise unclarifiable) especially when used, polemically, to distinguish moral values or human behavior strictly by chroma. The force of that truth applies to either or both of those parties, clearly racists themselves, who would be usurped — and so basely condescended to — by Cochran or Darden or Clark or Bailey or Douglass or Fuhrman or the Grand Mikado or the Princess Papulie with Plenty Papaya. It is argumentatively no more just to buy into the lines from “St. Louis Blues”—

Blackest man in de whole St. Louis

Blacker de berry, sweeter is the juice.

—than it is to don a white sheet and stand around on street corners handing out copies of the Flaming Cross.

What about Judge Lance Ito? Defense witness Dr. Henry Lee? Or any number of other lab technicians who were brought into this trial who are Asian? The same truth applies. ‘‘Yellow isn’t a skin color any more than white, or black, or red,” observed Jeff Yang last year in the Village Voice. “Asians fall into a chalk-to-sienna spectrum like most ethnic groups, and that radioactive lemon color — Pantone 130CV? — is an artifact of the Simpsons TV show.” And colors fit such comedy.

But it’s interesting, isn’t it, and sociologically diagnostic? At the extremes of color, at the polarities of black and white, for those of us who insist in terms of race on such butcher-shop definition and separation, what we find in the end is exactly what we should come to expect: cartoons. No better description perhaps exists now for what the Simpson trial became. Creedal formulations based on a butter battle. Prejudice. Inflexibility. Bigotry.

Didn’t T. H. Huxley tell us that science commits suicide when it adopts a creed? But this isn’t even a creed, choosing between black and white. It is a blasphemy.

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