O.J., Alan Turing & Bias
During World War II, UK mathematician Alan Turing is instrumental in cracking the German enigma code and helping shorten the war. After the war he pioneers computer science. In 1952 he is prosecuted for being homosexual and sentenced to "chemical castration." Two years later he commits suicide. Half a century later the British government apologizes and issues him a posthumous pardon. (The story of the film 'Imitation Game' which I recently watched.)
About this and the innumerable similar cruelties perpetrated by a majority heterosexual culture against minority homosexual citizens part of me feels a righteous "you-straight-people-have-a-lot-to-answer-for" outrage.
If I told my straight brother with whom I watched the film what I sometimes feel about straight people, I'm sure he would be slightly shocked. If the story of Alan Turing had taken a different twist, say for instance he'd become a spy for the Soviets (who would have surely told him- truthfully or not- that in USSR his sexual orientation did not matter), against a culture that criminalized his existence, I would have felt sympathy for his character. And if he'd gotten away with it, again part of me would've felt that was just. A balancing the scales as it were.
In the April 6th New York Times I read an interview with actor Sterling K. Brown who plays prosecutor Christopher Darden in 'The People vs. O.J. Simpson' in which he talks about attitudes in the black community about O.J at the time of his trial, "Black people were very protective of O.J. Simpson... and the idea that another black man [Darden] could try to tear that man down was very, very much frowned upon."
A couple weeks earlier I'd seen a TV interview with Cuba Gooding Jr. who'd expressed his own similar sentiments from the time. I thought his comments mildly interesting but of no particular import.
But putting these two interviews together, I was shocked.
"Really?" I thought, "you mean large numbers of black people didn't care about O.J.'s guilt or innocence, they just wanted him to get off?"
It seems unbelievable to me that anyone could believe such a passionately personal attack was committed by a stranger, but is my surprise in part the same as my brother's, that of the majority at the anger of the minority?
Do my biases make Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman more real and important to me in the equation because they were white as I am?
Do black folks' biases make O.J. more real and important in the equation because he is black?
And let's not forget he was a sports star. I think the urge to want O.J. to get off had as much to do with hero worship of male athletes and the cult of celebrity as with race; black prosecutors prosecute black defendants all the time and aren't accused of being "Uncle Toms" for it as Darden was for prosecuting O.J.
We are all comfortable with what's familiar. Whether we like it or hate it, we understand it. It is experientially much more real to us. That's what makes people able to inflict on "unlike-me's" cruelties that would shock them if applied to "like-me's." It's what makes majorities potentially so dangerous to minorities.
So was the verdict in the O.J. trial jury nullification? A chance taken to give a big "fuck you" to a system that fucks over people of color? Did the jurors really believe the murders weren't committed by Simpson? Who knows? (I'm sure there are a million articles analyzing this; none of which I've read.)
To explore your own biases you can take a variety of tests at www.projectimplicit.com. The result of the one I sampled before linking to the site, while not surprising, was none-the-less illuminating.
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