I’ve been watching The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story on FX. I’ve been sucked into it way more than I expected to be. I mean, I remember the trial and I remember the public reaction to the verdict, so I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy the mini-series very much. I figured it had some sort of social agenda. Maybe it does.
Also, I can’t make any sort of statement about the accuracy of the re-enactment since I wasn’t that deeply into it, but that’s not my point in this post.
But one of the things that the show has caused me to think about quite a bit is the subject of race.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m a 62 year old white male who was raised in the heart of suburbia. I remember one black kid in my high school. We weren’t friends, but I could pick him out in a crowd. (Duh.) The closest thing I’ve experienced to being harassed by the police is being unable to talk the officer out of giving me a speeding ticket. Not that I didn’t try. I explained how I was a student at a Christian college in a gospel music group on my way to a church to lead in a revival meeting. Notice what I was doing there? I didn’t think about it in these terms at the time, but I was depending on my “privilege” to get out of a traffic fine which I rightfully deserved.
So, what can I possibly say on the subject of race? I can only say that I don’t really know what I’m talking about. But what I’m learning is that maybe that’s the point. Maybe the humility of admitting that we don’t know is the place to begin.
The idea of “white privilege” is a relatively new one to me, and I’m acquainted with quite a few people who pooh-pooh the whole idea. They don’t feel any privilege even though they experience it every day. They deny the validity of another’s experience simply because they haven’t experienced it themselves. Ironically, the ability to ignore privilege is reserved for the privileged. It takes conscious effort, and no small amount of humility, for those of us with privilege to see it. It’s only the people who don’t have privilege who can readily recognize it.
What has impressed me in the TV portrayal of the O.J. case is how oblivious the prosecution was to how race could end up playing such a major part in his acquittal.
I’ve been intrigued with how the subject of race is even discussed, or avoided, by the different characters in the show. Generally speaking, the white characters of the show try very hard to ignore the subject while the black characters tend to recognize it for the issue that it is.
For example, Marcia Clark is supremely confident that the evidence is overwhelming. I was, too. In fact, as we were watching the detectives gather the evidence, Kathie & I both said to each other, “How did this guy get off?!?” But as the events move forward it becomes clearer that an acquittal was inevitable.
The reason: because the privileged failed to recognize the possibility of a different point of view.
Ignoring racial differences is not the answer. I used to think it was. I used to think that it was a virtue to be “color blind.” I didn’t see that this only leads to misunderstanding. I’m beginning to understand that acknowledging our differences with humility and acceptance is the only path to reconciliation.
But, then, I don’t know what I’m talking about.
I admit it.
Can we start there?