Black men like OJ Simpson, Bill Cosby, and R. Kelly are able to navigate a society that demonizes the color of their skin and achieve some sense of the American Dream.
By Rachael Edwards
Last week, it was announced that OJ Simpson will be released on parole on Oct. 1 after his hearing. He has served nine years in Nevada State Prison after he was found guilty for assault with a deadly weapon and armed robbery in 2007.
This is the same OJ Simpson that was acquitted of all charges for the murder of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman in 1995.
I was a one year old when Simpson captured the attention of almost every media outlet in the United States. I grew up hearing conversations about him, but I could never figure out which side Black people stood on when it came down to discussing him. When OJ got off, Black people celebrated, which inevitably incited white anger. However, in conversations within the Black community, there are many who believe that OJ murdered Brown and Goldman. The same conversation translates for white people who adore OJ and the many who cannot say his name without cursing him.
Simpson’s image is complex–he is all at once the All-American good guy who plays in the NFL and the violent Black man who was on trial. The Black part of his identity seems to be in parenthesis–he navigated spaces with non-Black & white people with ease. OJ slid in and out of different social spaces, garnering love from all sides. How?
During his parole hearing last Thursday, it was interesting to see how white people responded–many celebrated his release on parole having quoted that “he is a good man” or “the Juice is loose”. The mixed white response on OJ’s controversies (old and recent) were particularly interesting because we can see how much white people trust the system. Bruce Fromong, one of the victims of OJ’s 2007 assault & robbery, told the parole committee that he believed OJ served his time and is a good man. So if the system says that OJ did not commit the murder, or more recently, that he has served his time, then that is what they will believe.
Black men like OJ Simpson, Bill Cosby, and R. Kelly are able to navigate a society that demonizes the color of their skin and achieve some sense of the American Dream. Class and social status has given them dual-identities and agency in these spaces, and many times without consequence.
When men like Simpson, Kelly, Cosby and Chris Brown are caught in crossfires, they claim that race is the reason they are being scrutinized–and in many cases, we fall for it. This is not to neglect the nuances of race that deserve conversation, especially as it pertains to the justice system; however, class privileges are not awarded to Black men and women who do not have the social capital and funds. Many rich Black men have the resources to afford a certain amount of privilege.
This year, LeBron James home was vandalized with racial epithets and the critique immediately jumped to the idea that being upper-class will not save you from the effects of white supremacy. In many cases this is true, but this same rule doesn’t seem to apply when Black masculinity harms Black women.
It is a question that will plague me for a while, especially in light of the allegations against the R&B singer, R. Kelly. Class plays a huge role because of money’s ability to give public figures power.
I have no real interest in knowing what OJ plans to do after his release in October, but these conversations are necessary because in building our communities we have to hold our leaders accountable and create standards for what we want to see in them no matter how charming they may be.
Author Bio: Rachael is a writer based in Baltimore who loves to disrupt society and engage in conversations that challenge us to be better humans. Rachael’s work centers Black women and our experiences. On her down time she performs, floods your Instagram timelines with selfies and eats fish tacos. You can find her here: Twitter Website Instagram