A New Conversation on Race

O.J.Simpson and Louis Farrakhan are as contradictory figures as two people could be. The ex-football running back who vaulted airport furniture as a rent-a-car pitchman had become perhaps the pre-eminent symbol of smiling

black assimilation into white society, while the Nation of Islam's charismatic preacher is the black community's most notorious symbol of racial divisiveness, mixing his gospel of black dignity and self-determination with a continuous chorus of vitriolic epithets directed at whites, Jews, Catholics, women, homosexuals, and even Christianity.

It is a revealing irony that both have become the lightning rods for again exposing America's dramatic racial divisions. The reaction to the O.J. verdict demonstrated how deeply most whites and blacks still completely misunderstand each other-and how little whites really know or believe about black people's experience in America.

It's understandable, in light of black experience with America's criminal justice system, that a majority black jury would come to reasonable doubt about the evidence in the case-just as it's understandable that the majority of whites trusted the police and prosecutor's case enough to find O.J. guilty.

In Stalin's Russia, it was said that no family was untouched by the terror of the communist dictator's regime. In 47 years as a white American, the majority lived in the black community, I have never met a black American whose family has been untouched by racially motivated abuse at the hands of the police and judicial system. The same week the Simpson verdict was announced, a new study found that fully one-third of all young black men are now in jail, on probation, on parole, or somehow involved with the criminal justice system.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1995
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