What OJ Taught Me

There is a big difference between “what you know you don’t know” and “what you don’t know you don’t know.” I learned about this important difference on this date 17 years ago.

I was working at a boys’ school near Washington, DC at the time, and I remember that many teachers had wheeled televisions into their classrooms because we had learned earlier in the day that a verdict would be announced, a verdict that would finally bring closure to “the trial of the century.”

What I knew I didn’t know was Judge Ito’s decision, but like just about everyone else I knew, I assumed that the former NFL star would be found guilty of murder. But what I didn’t know I didn’t know was the reaction of the student body — and the wider community for that matter –almost exclusively along racial lines.

In hindsight, I was wrong to assume that everyone had seen the Simpson trial the same way I did. Sociologists who have since studied the responses to that infamous verdict suggest that part of this can be explained as a collective reaction to the countless injustices African Americans have experienced with the American judicial system over the years. What’s amazing, though, is that almost no one saw this coming before that late September day in 1995.

Seven-teen years after the fact, the reaction to the OJ verdict still makes me wonder how well we really understand one another. If we broaden the discussion beyond race and include gender, language, religion, and cultural differences just for starters, how should we begin to think about these gaps in understanding? And what should we do to address all of this?


3 thoughts on “What OJ Taught Me

  1. I think Chabon makes a good case (others have made it) re: perceptions of the massive injustice at the acquittal of the guys who beat Rodney King a few years before. Not sure if whites were stunned by those acquittals, even though many people of both races were shocked by the infamous footage of the beatings.

  2. An important introspection, headmaster, but needing a lawyerly tweak. OJ was not acquitted by Judge Ito, but rather by a jury in South-Central Los Angeles. And that is the point. The jurors, many of whom were non-white, appeared to use the verdict to punish some serious police misconduct in the case. As well, the urban jury deliberated in the case in the shadow of an earlier acquittal by a suburban, Simi Valley jury, of the police officers who had brutally assaulted Rodney King.

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