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O. J SIMPSON: A Symbol of Racial Divisions In American Society

O. J epitomizes the dilemma many African Americans face as they continue to live their lives in America.

On Wednesday, April 10, 2024, O. J Simpson passed away from cancer. He was 76 years old.

At the height of his career as a footballer, OJ was beloved by people of all races and he became a household name. He even moved into acting as a detective on a TV Series when he retired from football.

But during the Civil Rights era when African Americans were looking at one another to lean on for support to achieve racial equality, he was indifferent. He was famous, an athlete, and handsome. Everybody loved O.J.

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Many African Americans such as Muhammad Ali, Kwame Toare, Malcolm X, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, among others, changed their names to African-sounding names, but OJ Simpson never did. To their dismay he married a white lady, Nicole Brown, especially at that time, it was uncomfortable.

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He then moved from African American circles into white circles until his famous or infamous trial. His trial was for the death of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her white boyfriend, Ron Goldman.

His trial was reportedly watched by over 95 million people on television.

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Public opinion was sharply divided along racial lines. Clamouring for some favourable polls, OJ started patronizing African American bars and clubs but he was always by himself.

When his not-guilty verdict was announced, African American neighbourhoods shouted for joy, white neighborhoods bowed their heads in sorrow.

For many people old enough to remember O.J. Simpson’s murder trial, his 1995 exoneration was a defining moment in their understanding of race, policing and justice. Nearly three decades later, it still reflects the different realities of white and Black Americans.

Some people recall watching their Black co-workers and classmates erupting in jubilation at perceived retribution over institutional racism. Others remember their white counterparts shocked over what many felt were overwhelming evidence of guilt. Both reactions reflected different experiences with a criminal justice system that continues to disproportionately punish Black Americans.

“It wasn’t really about O.J. Simpson the man. It was about the rest of the society and how we responded to him,” said Justin Hansford, a Howard University law professor.

Although he never confessed to the murder of his ex-wife, and a jury found him not guilty, it was widely suspected that OJ was involved. In a later interview, his statement IF I DID IT was widely seen as a vague admission of guilt. Nevertheless, the white neighborhoods never forgave and finally entrapped him causing him to serve a 10-year sentence.

It is believed that what saved OJ from poverty was his pulling the Hakimi Syndrome, but in his case, all his assets were in the name of his children which prevented them from being seized when a $30 million judgement was rendered against him by the families of his ex-wife and her boyfriend.

It is sad that despite his enormous talent and appeal which he could have used tremendously to support a noble cause and make a huge contribution to humanity and be remembered for it, OJ Simpson will instead be remembered by the death of his ex-wife and boyfriend and his subsequent not guilty verdict arising from the trial.

Later in life OJ tried to reconnect with the black community and was shunned is a testament to his own recognition that he had made an error and the wider black community’s recognition that OJ could have done better.

Simpson remains a symbol of racial divisions in American society because he is a reminder of how deeply the inequities are felt, even as newer figures have come to symbolize the struggles around racism, policing and justice.

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