It’s here, where Los Angeles Times columnist Erin Aubry Kaplan is apparently under the impression it says something about race relations in America that people are more outraged about the recent OJ Simpson If I Did It thing than they are about Michael Richards calling his comedy club hecklers niggers. She writes:
I’m not equating racist invective with charges of double homicide. But the reality is that there is far more tolerance for a white person’s unseemly behavior than for similar behavior of somebody who isn’t white, especially if the unseemliness involves race. Richards’ “racist rant” has been described as a terrible but isolated incident. O.J., meanwhile, is condemned for his character.
Leaving out the fact that for the last few days you can’t go to a news site or read a newspaper without finding out the latest on Cosmo-gate — i.e., Michael Richards is being well and truly pilloried for his racist idiocy, and rightly so — let’s note that Ms. Kaplan is pretty much lying through her teeth here: she is clearly making an equivalence between racist invective and charges of double homicide, or at least bringing the two within shouting distance of each other so she can make a pretzel-logic point about race. But this isn’t the right comparison anyway. If any comparison in this case is valid, it should be the one between racist invective and exploiting the murder of one’s ex-wife, which one is accused of performing, by writing a recounting of the murder as the murderer. Both are repugnant; the difference the latter is repugnant without the need to bring race into it at all.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but for my money, the truly pertinent thing about the recent Simpson event has nothing to do with Simpson’s race or the ramifications of such; it has to do with the fact that he is sociopathically clueless, and his sociopathic cluelessness was at least temporarily enabled by one of the largest media conglomerates in the world. Even if one assumes that Simpson is innocent of slaughtering his former wife and the poor guy who happened to be with her when the knives came down, the fact that Simpson apparently thought it would be a neat idea to write a fictional account of murdering the mother of his children — and that various arms of News Corp. thought such an account would be a perfect thing to get up on the bestseller lists and garner some nice ratings during a sweeps month — is, in a word, monstrous.
This is depraved behavior, pure and simple, and if you believe that Simpson did kill his wife and her friend and got away with it, it’s just that much worse. There’s really no circumstance where such a memoir, fictional or not, is even plausibly morally acceptable. It’s nice that Fox and HarperCollins have come to their senses and apologized for their part in this fiasco; to date I’m not aware of Simpson doing so, but then why would he. I’m not going to bother to argue whether there is a racial component to the public perception of OJ Simpson, since there is, and it’d be foolish not to recognize it. I am going to argue, however, that everything else about this If I Did it episode is so morally repugnant that the race-based element of the story is, at best and at this point in the Simpson saga, a minor consideration indeed.
I’m also not going bother to rationalize Richard’s outburst, since I find it appalling, and the reaction to it both gratifying and unsurprising: When a white guy calls a black man a nigger, he ought to find himself in a deep pile of crap, and when he does so as an insult, that pile of crap should increase by another six feet, piled up directly on top of that white man’s head. I do think Richards’ response of “stop, drop, and abase” was the correct one. Only Richards knows what’s in his own heart, but at least he (or at least his advisers) understood that the smartest thing to do was recognize publicly that he’d done something wrong and apologize for it in a big way; starting by apologizing on the David Letterman show last Monday was a good start to that.
And I think that rather than race has to do with Richards’ getting a “better” end of things than Simpson, inasmuch as either of them is in a “better” situation. Richards recognized that what he did was wrong and moved in a timely fashion to apologize; Simpson has yet to apologize for crassly exploiting the murders he was accused of performing, and it seems unlikely that he ever will. Or to put it more bluntly, Richards’ showed he had a conscience; Simpson didn’t.
That’s not an issue of race. It’s an issue of character. In that regard, at least, Ms. Kaplan is entirely correct.