The O. J. verdict
In 1995, I sat on the couch in the den of my family home, located in Aurora, Colorado, months after graduating high school. My black stepmother and her sister of the same race embraced one another, jumped up and down, cried, and cheered as the verdict of the O.J Simpson murder trial was announced.
I was surprised and confused, as together my family closely watched the infamous trial. Given the evidence, I was convinced of the defendant’s guilt.
As my stepmom loudly stated, “Oh, thank you, Jesus,” I asked what led her to conclude that the Savior had anything to do with the loss of lives in the case. She and her sister turned towards me, my aunt by marriage pointing at me and laughing, as my stepmom boldly declared, “We won!”
Even more confused than I already was, I asked for clarification. We’d watched the same trial and there were expressions by various family members regarding the suspicion of O.J. Simpson’s guilt.
My now late stepmom explained that with the Rodney King beating that occurred in 1991, black people were purportedly denied justice when Los Angeles Police Department officers responsible for the beating were acquitted—resulting in civil unrest within the city as a response.
My stepmom further described how perceived injustice of blacks, stretching throughout history, also resulted in unfavorable outcomes from which white people were apparently not held accountable for their actions. With the O. J. verdict, she reasoned that justice was served.
Bewildered, I asked what historical injustice had to do with a pair of individuals who lost their lives in association with the Simpson case. My stepmom then responded with something I’d not anticipated.
She made clear that even if O. J. were guilty of the crime; his acquittal was a victory for centuries of injustice towards black people. Therefore, this matter was about blacks versus whites—and black people scored a monolithic victory with the O. J. verdict.
On monoliths and logic
Framing the word “monolith” as that relating to a group of people who are thought of as being all the same, I now understand the reasoning expressed by my stepmom in 1995. Her logic could be demonstrated as follows:
Premise 1: All black people share the same experience.
Premise 2: O. J. Simpson is a black person.
Conclusion: Therefore, O. J. Simpson shares the same experience as all black people.
Given this flawed premise, one can further invalidly and unbelievably deduce the following:
Premise 1: Few white people are found guilty of crimes.
Premise 2: Most black people are not found innocent of crimes.
Conclusion: Hence, most white people are found innocent of crimes.
My late stepmom once spent a significant amount of time in prison, as her bias related to the O.J. verdict may have been influenced by her own experience. Applying faulty reason to her justice-involved background, one may therefore assume the following:
Premise 1: For black people who are disproportionately found guilty of crimes, the O. J. Simpson murder case represents a victory.
Premise 2: My stepmom, a black person, was once found guilty of crimes.
Conclusion: Ergo, my stepmom shared a victory with O. J. Simpson’s victorious case.
However, there is a common flaw in the reasoning represented by each of these syllogisms. Black people are not a monolith—not in the United States (U.S.) or as a population worldwide.
Presuming that all black people share the same experience, discounting individual traits and behavior, is intellectually irresponsible. I often encounter this careless reasoning when people claim that there is a so-called “black community” in the U.S.
I’m biracial, as my dad is partially black and my late mother was white. However, I can’t speak on behalf of all black people. Realistically, neither can you—no matter what your race, dear reader.
We can absolve ourselves of the absurd notion related to shared history equating to sameness—being identical to one another. Not even the two sisters with whom I share the same mom and dad, a roof under which we shared, or experiences with which we share in common are equal.
Likewise, the misconception of black people functioning as a monolith isn’t sensible. Even if it is true that, as one source states, “Modern humans arose in Africa at least 250,000 to 300,000 years ago,” this would include those people who are now classified as white.
Ancestry tied to a single continent does not a monolith make. Black people who are born and raised in New York City may have quite a few dissimilarities to those who were raised in Houston or Los Angeles.
Culturally, historically, behaviorally, and otherwise, black people aren’t indistinguishable from other another. Accordingly, a victory in court for O. J. Simpson isn’t a triumph for all blacks.
Per Blackstone’s ratio, “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer [innocent person be convicted].” I have no idea whether or not O. J. Simpson actually murdered anyone, though I remain grateful for a justice system that at least masquerades as maintaining the rule of law.
When the celebrity was found not guilty of having murdered two people, it wasn’t a compelling achievement for all black people everywhere. Sincerely, we aren’t a monolith.
Perhaps you’ve braved my rambling up until this point and you now ask yourself, “What place does any of this have on a mental health blog?” The answer isn’t uncomplicated.
The further our nation descends into chaos through divisive rhetoric, largely associated with division across racial and ethnic lines; I think it’s important to highlight what is—not simply protesting what others think ought to be.
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
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