Gender and Race: Two "Victories" That Provide No Reason for Celebration
When the second O.J. verdict came, I was on the Stairmaster at the YMCA, looking at three TVs as applause for Clinton's State of the Union address gave way to the noisy clamor outside the Santa Monica Courthouse. Clinton closed by introducing Washington State's Chinese-American governor, Gary Locke, and intoning platitudes about the value of diversity. Then the smiling image of Locke was replaced by the face of OJ, the most famous non-white man in America, a face that has haunted TV screens daily for almost two years.The verdict came quickly. Simpson liable on every count. Two white women on the Stairmasters next to mine squealed with glee. They gave each other high-fives, and then turned smiling to me and raised their fists -- in what? a white power salute? Taken aback, I shook my head sullenly and looked away. I resist thinking this case has anything to do with me. But on television, the white crowd is cheering the verdict. A slick 20-something is holding a picket sign: "What next, O.J.? Killing more white women? Or your kids?" Around me at the Y, white men and women are standing around the TVs smiling, like an American just won a gold medal in the Olympics, while two black women on exercise bikes stare silently at the televisions. No one gives them the high five. I am appalled by the white reaction to the verdict -- personally, I did not feel Simpson's acquittal on murder charges meant it was open season on white women. But I have to admit that deep down I am glad the jury found Simpson responsible for the crimes. Which surprises me. I was glad he was acquitted in the criminal trial, too. How could those feelings co-exist?One reason is that in the criminal trial I focused more on Mark Fuhrman than O.J. Simpson. I grew up around cops and I know his racism was common. He wasn't just one bad apple, he was well represented in the bushel. And I thought the verdict reasonable, because the defense had raised reasonable doubt.But following the second trial, I was a little embarrassed by the evidence I had willfully ignored. I could no longer reasonably believe Simpson was innocent. And I was disturbed by proof that police and others had repeatedly looked away from Nicole Simpson's battering complaints. All his adult life Simpson had been less a black man than a rich and powerful celebrity protected by a system that serves the rich and powerful.I was also appalled by post-mortems of the first trial showing the Simpson defense effectively won its case when it managed to pick a majority of working class black female jurors. Pre-trial research in focus groups showed women were overwhelmingly in favor of acquitting Simpson because they hated Nicole and thought she deserved whatever she got.You could hear a strain of that on black talk radio during and after the trial, but whenever I heard it, I turned it off. I was disturbed that I never heard any black leader publicly criticize that point of view. I had to acknowledge Mark Fuhrman wasn't the only one with a race problem. And so I was, reluctantly, satisfied with the rough justice of two contradictory verdicts. I was glad to see one less black man sent to jail on the basis of possibly tainted evidence, and I was also glad to see a rich man have to pay millions for a crime he got away with. I'm not proud of my ambivalence, but it reflects society's schisms. As long as we have to make ugly choices, between justice for women and justice for black people, we're going to have to live with contradictions. But I didn't feel like celebrating. I got off the Stairmaster, leaving behind the clutch of happy, vindicated white people, and took a long shower.