Author Archives: Elwood Watson

The Beleagured Michael Steele

By Elwood Watson

Several weeks ago, the Republican National Committee  elected Michael Steele as its first Black party chairman. What was seen at the time as an excellent move on the part of the GOP by some (even some Black columnists such as Earl Ofari Hutchinson and USA Today columnist DeWayne Wickham) has devolved into feelings of disillusionment, panic and, in some cases, outright anger as Steele has made several comments that have outraged some members of his party’s more conservative base. Many Republicans are beginning to have second thoughts and doubts about the former lieutenant governor of Maryland.

From inadvertently picking a fight with mega radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh on the soon-to-be-cancelled CNN program “D.L. Hughley Breaks the News” and later apologizing, to slashing more than 100 positions at the RNC, to voicing statements on abortion and homosexuality in a recent issue of GQ magazine that are clearly at odds with the GOP’s conservative base, he has caused many of his red state constituents to unleash a fury of anger toward him. Comments ranging from “he is a loose cannon” to “he is not a true Republican” have become common responses among many Republicans.

Outraged by Steele’s remarks that Limbaugh was not the leader of the Republican Party but rather an entertainer, and at times an incendiary one, Limbaugh admonished Steele for spending too much time doing a poor job meandering on the talk show circuit and urged him to get to work doing the job that he was hired to do – rebuilding and raising money for the party. It was not only Limbaugh and White Republicans who were voicing their disgust with Steele. Fellow Black Republicans – North Carolina national committeewoman Dr. Ada Fisher and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, a runner up for the GOP chairman position – have made their displeasure with their current party boss known. Fisher called for his resignation.

While Steele has made a number of mea culpas and promises to revive the current beleaguered state of the GOP, his goal to reach out to make the party more inclusive to Blacks, especially younger Black Americans, has been noteworthy, yet questionable. In a party that has more than its share of bigots (there are a number in the Democratic Party as well, however in the GOP they are more at center stage) and has voted against the interests of Blacks since the mid 1960s, when the far right snatched power from the more moderate Rockefeller wing, promising to make the party more racially inclusive is going to be difficult for chairman Steele. Too many people of age can remember the infamous 1992 Republican convention where Republicans like Pat Buchanan and Pat Robertson voiced vehemently bigoted, sexist, homophobic and anti-semitic rhetoric.

Other examples are the 2000 and 2004 presidential election voting shenanigans in Florida and Ohio some GOP officials were associated with. Many people watched in disgust and horror at the Bush administration’s callous and indifferent attitude toward the largely disenfranchised and oppressed Black population of New Orleans during the Hurricane Katrina fiasco in 2005. Then there was the absence of many 2008 Republican presidential candidates from several forums that were sponsored by Tavis Smiley on issues facing the Black community. Such behavior cannot be easily forgotten. Indeed, more than a few of the party’s critics have memories like “elephants” – the party symbol.

Interestingly, there are a number of issues that the Republican Party espouses that would appeal to Black upscale voters. Today’s Black professional class, largely religious, devotedly committed to education, yet progressive on many social issues, would seem to have a lot in common with moderate Republicans. However, in order to accomplish this, Steele will have to clean house or marginalize the bigoted, regressive-minded individuals that have dominated the party since 1964 and restore the party to the more racially inclusive entity that it was during the Eisenhower era. No doubt the current chairman is well aware of this fact. Perhaps Michael Steele (if he survives as chairman) will be able to rectify a party that is currently in shambles politically, racially, socially and in almost every other way imaginable and bring such diverse elements together. It is doubtful but one should never say never.

Dr. Elwood Watson is a full professor of history and African American studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of several award-winning academic articles, several anthologies and is the author of the book Outsiders Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown v. Board (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Spring 2008)

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Hiding Behind Racism

By Elwood Watson

A few weeks ago, I was part of a campus panel discussion that discussed the N-Word, racism and post-racism. I was invited to speak by Bakari Kitwana, author and CEO elwood-watson1of Rap Sessions. Other panelists included Rosa Clemente, 2008 vice presidential nominee of the Green Party; MC Serch, host of VH-1 Shows, “The White Rapper Show” and “Miss Rap Supreme,” M-1 , of the rap group Dead Prez; and Lisa Fager Bediako, president and co-founder of Industry Ears, Inc. I was contacted by Mr. Kitwana to be a panel member. I was honored to receive an invitation to be a part of such a well-known, prominent panel.

Attendance at the event was large, and the question-and-answer session was lively and fruitful. The issue of racism and its manifestations dominated the discussion and seemed to intrigue the audience the most. There were a number of thought-provoking questions from audience members; however, one question that stood out among the others (or at least for me) was “do you think some people make an effort to hide behind their racism?” Each member of the panel responded to this question from their own perspective. I responded yes.

I further argued that unlike the 1950s and 1960s, when it was acceptable, indeed even permissible for Whites, especially White men, to openly voice their racism and sexism toward non-Whites and women without fear of retribution, that several decades later, while such views are still largely harbored by many people, we have advanced to the point of where it is totally unacceptable to publicly engage in overt acts of racial intolerance. I mentioned the Michael Richards (aka Kramer ofSeinfeld” fame) nightclub incident that happened a few years ago as an example. A number (certainly not all) of  people who were repulsed by the fact that Richards would use such ugly, ferocious language in public would have no problem engaging in such behavior in private among likeminded friends and acquaintances. The “I am among friends, it is safe” mindset reigns in such an environment. It is hypocrisy at its finest.

Indeed, over the past few decades we have seen a number of situations where many people, rather than hurl vicious, ugly callous racial rhetoric in the public arena, have resorted to hiding behind their racial hatred in more sophisticated and subtle ways. Among them, the infamous Willie Horton ad that was used during the 1988 presidential campaign by Republican party operatives, the recent New York Post editorial cartoon depicting President Barack Obama as a murdered chimpanzee (the cartoonist denied racial intentions), and the racist e-mail of former Los Alamos, Calif., Mayor Dean Grose who depicted a White House lawn populated with watermelons (the mayor subsequently resigned after public outrage). There are numerous other examples of such deplorable behavior. These are not isolated incidents.

What is even more amusing (in a perverse way) is that more than often when the culprits of such behavior are caught with their hands in the racist cookie jar, they are quick to revert to defensive mode, blaming those who denounce their behavior as being “oversensitive,” “humorless” and get this – troublemakers who should learn to thicken up their tender feelings. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! Such behavior is an example of sophisticated racism manifesting itself.

The good news that has come from this is that those individuals who have found it acceptable to participate in such retrograde behavior have been put on notice that in our emerging, increasingly diverse America, such behavior will not be allowed to be winked at or given a pass. Those who partake in such acts will be called out on it and that’s the truth, Ruth!

Dr. Elwood Watson is a full professor of history and African American studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of several award-winning academic articles, several anthologies and is the author of the book Outsiders Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown v. Board (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Spring 2008)

Defining a Person’s Blackness?

By Dr. Elwood Watson

Last October at an annual conference that highlights various aspects of the Black experience, I attended a panel where Dr. Ronald Walters, professor of government and African American studies at the University of Maryland, College Park and several other scholars were discussing the potential impact that the upcoming election could have on the Black Community. Walters made several thought provoking points during his presentation to the audience. However, one of the most notable things he mentioned during his insightful talk was an experience he encountered on his campus when he was within ear shot distance of a group of Black students.

According to the distinguished professor, these students were using the word “ghetto” as if they were discussing either a person(s) or group of people. Professor Walters admitted that he caught the very end of the conversation, thus he was unable to grasp the full extent of whom and what they were talking about. He concluded that such behavior may very well be another sort of group division added to the already numerous number of distractions that the Black community could ill afford.

More recently, just last week, I heard a Black male student here on my campus refer to some fellow Black students as “bougie Negroes.” His comments made me think of the potential divisions that Walters was discussing. Yet his statement also made me ponder a larger question, how do we define Black?

In my forty plus years of life, I have heard numerous terms some Blacks use in describing one another – ghetto, Uncle Tom, sellout, Negro, bougie, oreo, incognegro, aunt Jemima etc … All of these terms have been used in a derisive manner. Even the controversial N-word has been bandied about. Despite the historically genetic poison of this word, it has largely had an ambivalent meaning in the Black community. Some of us love to use it; others of us detest even thinking about it.

The larger question that emerges from this is how and what do we define as Blackness? economic situation? educational attainment? skin tone? religious affiliation? clothing attire? racial genetic makeup? geographic region? I pose the following questions. Are lower income Black people in the Huff section of Cleveland more Black than those who live in the wealthy Los Angeles suburb of Baldwin Hills? Do Black people who have doctorates, law degrees and MBAs embody less Blackness than those who only have a high school diploma or even more minimal level of education? Are darker skin Black people like Wesley Snipes more racially legitimate than lighter skinned Blacks like Beyonce Knowles?

Do Black Pentecostals and Southern Baptists have more SOUL than their Presbyterian and Methodist parishioners? Do Black men and women who wear clothes by Damat and Tween and Tracey Lee more representative of a fashion racial consciousness that is absent among those who wear J. Crew and Timberland threads? Are biracial Black people like Halle Berry and Barack Obama less authentic than those of us who have two Black parents? Are Blacks who reside in the heat sweltering, largely agrarian Black belt states of Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Georgia more racially aware than their fellow Blacks who live in the picturesque, snow capped mountain states of Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire?

My answer to all these proposed questions is a resounding NO!

In my opinion, defining another person’s Blackness is an arrogant, misguided exercise in futility. We clearly have more IMPORTANT issues to address. However, there are people within our community who have and would raise such questions for debate. As far as I am concerned any person who is committed to addressing the educational, economic, political and environmental problems that afflict a large segment of Black America and is dedicated to advancing the race – regardless of monetary income, biological makeup, pigmentation of skin, preference in worship, zip code, etc … this includes non-Blacks too, is Black enough for me.

Period.

Dr. Elwood Watson is a full professor of History and African American Studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of several award-winning academic articles, several anthologies and is the author of the book Outsiders Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown v. Board (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Spring 2008)

Miss America’s Racial Milestones

Miss America’s Racial Milestones

elwood-watson1By Elwood Watson

While I was watching television the other day, I saw a commercial promoting the Miss America pageant which is scheduled to air January 24th on the TLC Network. The advertisement took me back to the late 1990s when a colleague of mine introduced me to some research that she was compiling on the annual event.

Being the ever curious scholar that I am, I began to launch my own inquiry as to how much scholarly work had been done on the pageant. Lo and behold, I was surprised, in fact, shocked to see how little academic scholarship had been written about the pageant. I informed my colleague of this fact.

Needless to say, sensing an opportunity to break some previously unfertile ground in the profession, the two of us decided to engage in a collaborative effort to produce some original work on the event. After a few years of intense, tedious, meticulous, exhaustive research and editing the culminating result was the anthology – There She Is Miss America: The Politics of Sex, Beauty, and Race in America’s Most Famous Pageant which was published in 2004 by Palgrave Macmillan. We were both pleased with the reaction the collection of essays received from cultural studies and humanities scholars. While we had some reviews (fewer than three) that gave the book a tepid or less than flattering review, the vast majority of critiques were very complimentary. Without sounding arrogant, we both did not need to be affirmed by critics as to the validity of our work. It was original, groundbreaking, scholarly and met all the requisites of what academic scholarship should entail.

Over the past few years, every time something even remotely related to the pageant comes up, either one or both of us are contacted by a media representative to give some commentary about the pageant.

One of the reasons that we decided to engage in research on this annual event was the fact that it was so multifaceted and controversial in its scope. Indeed, controversy is a factor that has plagued the pageant during its eight decade history. One of the most contentious issues that the pageant has had to confront is its racially inflected history. This was particularly the case during the early decades of the pageant. From its inception in 1921 to the famous boardwalk protest in September 1968, race had been an albatross around its neck. In fact, for the first 35 years, all non-White women were barred from participating in the pageant. In response to such exclusion, the Miss Black America Pageant was founded in September 1968 in an effort to celebrate Black beauty. While the pageant had had a few Asian and Native American contestants by the 1960s, it was not until the September 1970 pageant that the first Black contestant, Cheryl Brown, Miss Iowa competed in the national competition. Through the 1970s and beyond more and more Black women and other women of color competed in the contest breaking tradition along the way. Some of these milestones were

• Deborah Lipford, Miss Delaware 1976, became the first Black woman to place in the top 10.

• In the September 1980 pageant, two Black contestants, Doris Hayes, Miss Washington State and Lencola Sullivan, Miss Arkansas made the top 10. Sullivan shattered another barrier, cracking the top 5 as she was 4th runner up.

• Vanessa Williams and Suzette Charles make history as first runner up and Miss America 1984. Williams’s spectacular win would come to an end ten months into her reign when photos of her and another woman appeared in Penthouse magazine. Charles would take over as her successor for the remaining seven weeks and become the 2nd Black woman to wear the crown.

• In September 1987, Mississippi, a state with a notorious history of racial strife, sends a Black contestant, Toni Seawright to the pageant.

• Debbye Turner, Miss America 1990, becomes the third Black woman to win the crown.

• Marjorie Judith Vincent, Miss America 1991, succeeds Turner and becomes the pageants fourth Black winner. Back to back Black winners was another racial milestone.

• Eighteen-year-old Kimberly Aiken, Miss America 1994, becomes the pageant’s fifth Black winner. She is one of the pageant’s youngest winners and the first Black woman from the south (South Carolina) to win the crown.

• Angela Perez Baraquio, Miss America 2001 is the first Asian American contestant to win the crown.

• Multiracial Erika Harold, Miss America 2003, is the sixth Black woman to win the crown.

• Erica Dunlap, Miss America 2004, becomes the pageant’s seventh Black winner.

• In 2006, The U.S Virgin Islands became an official participant in the pageant.

While Vanessa Williams’ green eyes and light complexion, Suzette Charles’ biracial background, Debbye Turner’s, dark, yet Anglo defined features and Marjorie Vincent’s classic Black features were the subject of media attention, later winners did not face such intense scrutiny. In fact, by the time Kimberly Aiken captured the crown, very little was made of the race of these contestants. However, this did not mean that the pageant had moved totally beyond the issue of race.

From time to time the comments of some contestants in interviews made it clear that some of them believed that pageant judges were being “preferential to non-White contestants” or was becoming “politically correct.” Such comments demonstrate that despite the significant racial strides the pageant has made, that it is an issue that remains a controversial part of the pageant as it does in society at large.

Despite its past racial shortcomings, the Miss America Pageant has made considerable progress over its 88-year history. Given our increasingly multi racial society, there will no doubt be more women of color who will win the crown as time progresses. While there has not been a Latino Miss America, (its competitor Miss USA has crowned seven Latino winners) it will probably be only a matter of time before this happens.

My colleague and I plan to tune in on January 24th to watch one young lady’s dream come true.

Faculty and Students of Color Face Various Dilemmas

Faculty and Students of Color Face Various Dilemmas

elwood-watson1By Elwood Watson

Recently I was interviewed by a student reporter for our campus newspaper about a racially tinged incident that took place earlier in the semester.

This past October five members of a prominent fraternity on campus dressed in blackface at a Halloween party as what they saw as an effort to portray rappers. The story does not stop here.

Several days after the incident, photos of the young men were posted on the internet. Thoughts and reactions varied greatly. There were those who were outraged –mainly Black students and a few other students of color, as well as those who thought that the reaction of those who were offended were over-reacting.  A majority of students were indifferent to the controversy.

Realizing the potential of a major controversy if not addressed, the administration acted quickly. Both the University President and the Dean of Students t denounced such behavior as insensitive, immature, arrogant and promised to take swift and if necessary, drastic action against the offenders. Such an aggressive stance by university officials pleased some, angered others and brought the issues of racial insensitivity and tolerance to the forefront of campus debate.

Just last week, more than 100 people showed up at a public forum to discuss the issue.

While the campus reporter came to interview me about the student/blackface incident, there are several examples of racial conflict and in some cases, hostility, that I and some other faculty members of color have encountered during our tenure at the university. 

Racial tolerance and diversity are issues that have long been marginalized on this rural Appalachian campus. Such incidents happen from time to time.

African American faculty in academia (and other faculty of color for that matter) who are successful in landing positions in academia are often confronted with students who have no qualms in voicing the fact that they are intimidated, and in some cases, uncomfortable with the presence of a non-White or in some cases, female professors, in the classroom teaching them.

Some students flatly refuse to accept such an arrangement and withdraw form the course. The vast majority, however, do make the effort to learn from and appreciate the opportunities that diverse viewpoints can frequently provide.

During my first year of teaching, more than a decade ago, there were some conflicts that reared their troublesome heads, although they were overshadowed by more pleasant experiences. The negative situations tended to derive from insensitive comments from students who would use the word “Negro” as opposed to “African American” or “Black” when referring to the group. Some older students (mostly those over 55) used the word “colored.” For these students this term was a “polite” form of reference to African Americans.

During my second year of teaching I even had one student go as far as to say “your kind” when referring to African Americans.

There were those ever so paranoid White students (mostly male) who assumed that I (and all Black and Latino faculty) were beneficiaries of affirmative action and that is why we were teaching him and his peers.

For the record, I made it clear to people who held this point of view that I had no doubt benefitted from affirmative action and was not ashamed to admit it. Moreover, I made it clear that veterans, alumni, well connected people, White females and millions of other Americans from these groups have been the recipients of such a policy as well.

Given as to what I already knew as the sadly diminutive level of knowledge that many Whites, professors as well as students, had in regards to Blacks and other minorities, I was not totally unprepared for the naïve questions and comments I have been confronted with.

On my student evaluations some students complained that I spoke too much about African American history, diminished the accomplishments of White men, was hostile toward conservatives etc… One student even said I suffered from a “persecuted” complex.

The fact is that none of these charges and allegations were true. While I do not profess to be perfect and indeed, none of us are, I am indeed fair to all my students and allow all viewpoints to be expressed in my course. In fact, my former department chair mentioned to me that he noticed on a number of my student evaluations the comment “that I was very open minded.”

If anything, it was certain students themselves who were exposing their resentment with me for taking them out of their pre-conceived comfort zones. Many other faculty of color can attest to similar situations.

Occasional tension and ignorance notwithstanding, I will concede that I have seen considerably more interracial interaction among younger students and faculty of different ethnic groups on this campus than when I first started in 1997.

It is not abnormal to see students of different ethnic groups sitting with one another in the dining hall, student center, football and basket ball games etc… It is also not that unusual to see interracial couples of varied backgrounds on campus as well.

The same could be said, though, on a smaller scale in regards to faculty interaction. One possible reason for this could be the very low number of Black faculty on this campus. Nonetheless, such a transformation is noteworthy.

The fact is that something good did come out of the campus blackface incident. It has forced students, faculty and administrators to engage in an ongoing effort to address and confront their own assumptions, pre-conceived notions, arrogance and prejudices. Such a change in behavior does not happen overnight. One must constantly check themselves no matter how racially progressive they think they are.

This in and of itself, is a good thing.

Dr. Elwood Watson is a full professor of History and African American Studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of several award-winning academic articles, several anthologies and is the author of the book Outsiders Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown v. Board  (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Spring 2008)

 

 

 

 

 

Congratulations Brother President! Congratulations Mr.President!

elwood-watsonBy Elwood Watson

Think about the following:

· 1789 – The U. S Constitution declares that Black Americans were only three-fifths of a human being.

· 1857 Dred Scott decision was handed down by the Supreme Court

· 1896 – The separate but equal doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

· 1954- The Supreme Court supports the idea of educational equality in Brown v. Board of Education.

· 1964 – President Lyndon Johnson signs into law the Civil Rights Bill that was approved by congress.

· 1965 – President Lyndon Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act on August 6th.

· 1989 – Douglas Wilder of Virginia becomes the first African-American elected governor of a state in modern times.

· 2008 Illinois Sen. Barack Obama is elected president of the United States of America.

As I tuned in to watch the election returns on the evening of November 4th, I watched with great anticipation the possibility that American history would forever be changed. Throughout the night I called my siblings as well as friends all over the nation. All of us hoping and many of us praying that we would see a new day in American politics where the most powerful political office in the world which had been occupied by 43 White men would finally be shattered. Fortunately, our prayers were answered! While there have been allegations that several of our presidents have had Black ancestry, most notably Warren G. Harding, such information has largely been obscured to the margins of history.

It is virtually impossible to state in one word what the election of Barack Obama as America’s 44th president signifies. This is a nation where Blacks were brought to the shores of Jamestown as slaves and stripped of their native religion, culture and human dignity. Many of our people were perennially lashed down by centuries of cruel and inhumane treatment – Black codes, Jim Crow, legal segregation, poll taxes, oppressive sharecropping systems, lynchings, racial profiling etc … Segregated schools were legal until 1954. Before the Voting Rights Act of 1965, political and economic apartheid was the law of the land in the South. During the past 40 plus years a more sophisticated and subtle form of racism and racial discrimination has plagued our nation.

No one can deny that President–elect Obama ran a first-rate campaign. He was savvy in his use of the Internet, blogs, and other tools that are a mainstay in the lives of many Americans, especially those under 30. In fact, it was with this group of voters – the millennial generation that Obama made an indelible impact upon. They are young, idealistic, deeply rooted in the idea of multiculturalism, extremely ethnically diverse (a number of them are biracial and multiracial), much more accepting of interracial dating, friendships and marriages, and imperviously immersed in technology. This is a group that saw themselves in Obama. To see racially diverse groups of college students hugging, screaming and cheering alongside one another would have made Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., proud. Indeed, he (Obama), personifies the very factors that they (the under 30 crowd) represent. Observing elderly Black people who were fortunate to live long enough to witness such a historical moment as they beamed with pride brought tears to my eyes.

Indeed, polls demonstrated that Obama did well among the majority of all voting groups including White blue-collar workers. This was a demographic where he was not expected to do so. It was a fact that surprised many pundits and other nay-sayers. While he did not receive the majority of White votes, it is apparent that a considerable number of them rejected the paranoid rhetoric of Joe the plumber, the conspiracy theorists and the “Obama is a Muslim/Arab” crowd. They knew their personal economic situation, the current financial condition of the country and realized that something needed to change. These were among the Americans who were dancing in the streets, singing hallelujah in churches and toasting glasses with one another in bars along with other Americans.

Reading various right wing Web sites and listening to several conservative talk radio programs, it is apparent that not everyone was pleased about an Obama victory. Some incensed White callers have been decrying the fact that “those people” (The Obama’s) will be moving to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and assuming the title of first family. Such a reality irritates the far right to no end. Some segments of the fringe left who feel that Obama is “not radical enough” are less than content as well.

However, I am sure that I speak for millions of Americans, especially many African-Americans, when I say that the majority of us are thrilled beyond our wildest dreams that a handsome, intelligent, dashing Black man along with his elegant, beautiful wife and adorable daughters will be one of the most important and talked about families in the world. They will soon be the nation’s first family. I went to bed that night thanking God for what had just transpired. Another historical barrier had been shattered. Barack Obama is indeed a phenomenon. Congratulations brother president! Congratulations Mr. President!

Dr. Elwood Watson is a full professor of History and African American Studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of several award-winning academic articles, several anthologies and is the author of the book Outsiders Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown v. Board (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Spring 2008)

The Sad Reality of O.J. Simpson

By Elwood Watson

October 3rd is a day that has deeply associated itself with O.J. Simpson. It is a day he will probably never forget. On this day in 1995, he was acquitted of the double murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her waiter, body builder friend, Ronald Goldman. More than a decade later, on the exact same day, Simpson and his co-defendant were found guilty of attempted kidnapping and robbery. Multiple other charges were levied against both defendants as well.

I was attending an academic conference once I heard the verdict announced. Seeing Simpson on Court TV as the charges against him were being read made my mind flashback to the stark differences of his current trial and the previous one conducted thirteen years earlier. The frenzied media atmosphere that saturated trial number one deeply contrasted with the virtual news blackout that greeted the more recent O.J. Simpson.
The original Simpson trial was a television spectacle with all the makings of a potential Hollywood movie. There was sex and violence, success and failure, interracial and religious issues, gender differences, racial conflict, allegations of sexual deviancy and other factors that made for a titillating spectacle.

Intense media coverage of the first trial made it difficult to avoid. Stories about the case became daily tidbits on the major three networks. Related networks such as CNN covered the trial for its entire duration.

On the contrary, the second trial produced no such level of media obsession. The truckload of media outlets, lines of adoring fans and ardent detractors and people (on both sides) arguing in public with one another was virtually nowhere to be found. In fact, the most recent trial garnered very minimal attention.
What made the seeming lack of public interest this time around so interesting was the critical absence of a response from many in the African American community. To be sure there were some African Americans who followed the second trial intensely, but they (like many Whites and other-non-Blacks), appeared to have adopted a considerable level of indifference to Simpson. The fact is, it was very difficult for many of his fellow brethren to rally around Simpson this time. The mindset among many in the Black community is that Simpson should have learned to have – to paraphrase a popular saying – “left well enough alone.” As far as people were concerned, he should have been grateful and counted his lucky stars that he was acquitted for the brutal murder of two people who were slaughtered and decapitated like animals. Many thought Simpson should have had the common sense to recede into obscurity.

Personally, I can understand this mindset. Most people who had been exonerated of sadistically murdering two human beings (guilty or not), would probably stay out of the public eye for the reminder of their lives or at the very least keep a very low profile. This is particularly true if there had been a considerable degree of ambiguity in regards to the person’s innocence. There were also other Blacks who felt that after his successful first trial – while he made some brief overtures of gratitude – that Simpson still largely “kept his distance” from the African American community.

One thing is for certain, rather than drop out of the rabid eye of the public arena, Simpson continued to have numerous run-ins with the law. From verbal altercations with police officers to testy encounters with neighbors and others; he sporadically and infamously kept himself in the news.
Once the sheriff’s deputies handcuffed Simpson and led him from the courtroom, I began to think about what must have been running through his mind. Did he realize that he would not be in such a predicament had he used better judgment in the first place? At this point, it is very likely that the 62-year-old Heisman trophy winner will spend a large portion, if not all, the remaining years of his life in prison.

It’s a situation that is as senseless as the horrific murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.

Dr. Elwood Watson is a full professor of History and African American Studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of several award-winning academic articles, several anthologies and is the author of the book Outsiders Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown v. Board  (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Spring 2008)