Wednesday, July 26, 2017


After 1994 his success was attributed to race betrayal. Now no one wants to be Jay Z’s ‘Story of O.J.’

By Jason Whitlock

The Wall Street Journal
July 25, 2017

Millions tuned in last week to see 70-year-old O.J. Simpson, inmate No. 1027820, ask a Nevada parole board to release him from prison. It was one more reminder of Mr. Simpson’s outsize influence on American culture.

After serving nine years of a 33-year sentence for robbery and kidnapping, Mr. Simpson, with the parole board’s blessing, will depart his cell in October for the comfort of a Florida condo. He’ll still be dogged, however, by the 1994 double homicide for which a star-studded defense team won him acquittal.

Whether we like it or not, O.J. Simpson is an important figure in American history. His life and murder trial exacerbated race relations, helped polarize the media, and established him as a reviled killer in mainstream popular culture—and a reviled martyr in black popular culture.

Before 1994, mainstream and black media alike celebrated Mr. Simpson as a shining example of the liberal ideals of integration and assimilation. But when he was accused of murdering his ex-wife and her friend, the media flipped the narrative into one of black betrayal. His second marriage, to a young, white waitress; his refusal to address racial issues; and his abandonment of black social circles now explained how and why a black man was able to rise from poverty to football star to broadcaster and pitchman: Orenthal James Simpson sold out.

Over the course of two decades, Mr. Simpson’s story became the most powerful African-American tale since Alex Haley chronicled the life of Malcolm X. The Simpson saga continues to grow in importance. Last month rapper Jay Z released the song and video “The Story of O.J.,” warning blacks against trying to transcend race: “O.J. like, ‘I’m not black, I’m O.J.’ Okay.”

Mr. Simpson has become a negative standard-bearer for black athletes, celebrities and media figures—a sort of abusive, alcoholic father who serves as the example to avoid. This influence is omnipresent but seldom acknowledged. No black public figure wants to be “The Story of O.J.,” a contemporary equivalent of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

That is why many black personalities have abandoned the racial middle ground, compromise and even logic in their discourse. Expressing a moderate position publicly will invite accusations of selling out. So we feel pressured into a strident, illogical posture, even though many of the most militant voices in the black media are more assimilated in their private lives than their angry diatribes would have you believe. The gap between what we say privately and publicly about race has never been wider.

Advertising outrage at police misconduct is an old tactic to establish black credibility. Mr. Simpson benefited from this phenomenon when he teamed up with lawyer Johnnie Cochran during his murder trial. The famed rap group N.W.A has a library of records that dehumanize and marginalize black people. But the song everyone remembers is “F— tha Police,” its only one on that subject.

Today the ultimate disguise for Simpson-like assimilation is proclaiming support for the Black Lives Matter movement. The mixed-race NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick struggled to connect with his black teammates until he took a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality. That made him a black hero.

If you are a black athlete, celebrity or media personality living, socializing, working, studying or dating in the white community, the easiest way to stop Twitter trolls from spamming your social media with accusations of race betrayal is to celebrate BLM. If you’re an educated, nerdy, proper-speaking black person who has been chastised for “acting white” by your black peers, supporting BLM salvages your black image. Call it the O.J. Effect.

Black men used to measure ourselves by how we compared to Martin Luther King Jr. He was the good dad we modeled our behavior after. Now for two decades, we’ve learned from Mr. Simpson’s negative example. We’ve tried to do the opposite of our bad dad. This has crippled black public figures when it comes to discussing race.

So has black guilt—an individual or collective feeling among successful black people who recognize we’ve harmed poor blacks by abandoning them. We soothe our consciences with hashtag activism and feigned disdain for a country we’d never dream of leaving.

Last week Mr. Simpson sounded like a man fit for a world he helped shape. During the parole hearing he relitigated his robbery trial, ignored his murder trial, and pretended his serial domestic violence didn’t impeach his claim of having lived a “conflict-free” life. He played the victim to an evil American criminal-justice system, and then smiled and laughed as if there’s no place he’d rather be than in America.

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