After O.J.: Not Enough Has Changed

When O.J. Simpson was acquitted of the murders of his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman, the way individual Americans reacted to the verdict depended largely upon their race. Commentator Aaron Freeman observes that in a decade, that hasn't changed much.

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AARON FREEMAN:

It is a river in Africa, but as a Negro my life too depends on `denial.'

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Commentator Aaron Freeman.

FREEMAN: Like most middle-class black people, I rationalize like crazy so as not to stay all angry about racism in America. Most of the time, denying that race matters in America is easy. Turn on any screen--movie, computer, even iPod--and there they are. Happy, included Negroes; entertainers, politicians, scientists even, exemplars of national smorgasbord. That is what middle-class life privileges me to believe. Most of the time.

And then comes something like the O.J. trial and my tissue of racial denial is again blown away like thin flesh before a bomb. Suddenly, on every channel, the skin color of the jury is topic A, and Time magazine darkens the picture of O.J. on its cover to make him seem scarier, and half my white friends want me to agree that Johnnie Cochran's `playing the race card' is bad for the country, which makes me angry and defensive at being somebody's touchstone for black freaking culture.

Then the trial ended, time passed, I exhaled. The river denial again flowed, easy, comforting. I tell myself that in my community, I am an individual, liked, respected. Except, of course, if I try to hail a cab, but that's OK because I mostly drive. I don't dwell on any of it because I have a family and a career to attend.

Then comes the New Orleans flood and the black people are looting and the whites are finding food. And the national press ignores all the great heroic stories of black people who stayed in the city to rescue one another. And then comes Bill Bennett with his `abort all black babies and reduce the crime rate comment,' and my hurt and frustration at the injustice and the dishonesty and the denial and denial and denial. My friend, I clutch denial to my heart because white people are like the Republic of China, huge and powerful. No matter what they do to you, you can't stay mad. You have got to get along with them because there are just too many of them and we need them too much. Of necessity, I exhale.

Time chilled my O.J. anger. I'm already over my New Orleans flood rage, even my Bennett fury is diminishing. I'm down to simmering resentment and by next week, I expect mere annoyance. By Kwanzaa, I will be a happy camper; my spirit, having once again joined my African ancestors, lazily drifting on `de Nile.'

NORRIS: Aaron Freeman is a performer and writer. He lives in Chicago.

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