Two Trials in Black and White

Among the parallels observed between the current trial of South African Olympian Oscar Pistorius and the 1995 criminal trial of former football star O.J. Simpson is race. Just how racial issues and racism manifests and manifested themselves in those trials are somewhat different as might be inferred by a recent Los Angeles Times piece, headlined “Subtext of the Oscar Pistorius trial: South Africans’ fear of crime” by Robyn Dixon.

As in white South Africa, as in white United States, “Because we see whites as victims and blacks as perpetrators, our collective sympathies are always with whites. There hasn’t been a commensurate articulation of concern about white male violence as a threat to the fabric of our society,” Dixon quotes Sisonke Msimang, executive director of the nonprofit Open Society Initiative for Southern African, from Msimang’s article “Crossing the street to avoid white men: A conversation about violence” posted on the news website Daily Maverick. “In our national psyche” Msimang wrote, “whites (and of late middle-class people of all races) are almost always the victims of black male violence. Blacks, on the other hand, are rarely worthy of mention as victims at all. If they are, it is at the hands of other blacks.”

Among the differences? The defendant in the Simpson trial was black, albeit an admired and, by some, beloved celebrity. Pistorius, or course, is white.  My guess is that the cheerleaders and fans, along racial lines, have markedly different views regarding guilt or innocence.  Simpson’s acquittal also elicited differing reactions, primarily along a racial divide.

It will be interesting to see if the Pistorius verdict receives a similar response.

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