Thursday, January 26, 2017

Racial History

A couple weeks back, I watched the now Oscar nominated ESPN 30 for 30 Documentary OJ: Made in America. It's a 7.5 hour, five episode exploration of OJ Simpson, not only his murder trial, but his place in American and racial history, particularly as it pertains to LA. It's incredibly done - and episode three is perhaps the greatest piece of documentary film making I have ever seen.

That episode, which I'd recommend to anyone, centers on the history of the relationship between the LAPD and the black community. It's a sad, tragic story. For me, it was eye-opening. I have a history degree. I am well-read. I care to know and understand issues of social and racial justice as well as I can for a privileged white guy. I was floored by just how much well-documented history I was simply unaware of.

I don't mean the countless thousands and thousands of beatings, rapes, and lynchings that went virtually unnoticed in our nation's history; I mean the dozens and dozens of serious abusive incidents, intensely publicized and covered by media that are just lost to even the sympathetic white racial narrative.

I know, intellectually, that Emmett Till was not the only black teenager who's life brutally ended for being black, and I know, intellectually, that Bull Connor was not the only law enforcement to use dogs and fire hoses to quiet peaceful protesters. However, it's real easy to believe those were isolated incidents when they are the only ones you know. Episode three opened my eyes to this huge middle-ground of racial injustice - events that were covered, named, exposed, and then all but forgotten. Not forgotten by the black community, for sure, but lost to white history altogether.

You sort of know there's a lot you don't know - if there's one thing education teaches it's just how ignorant we really are - but this has really rattled me the last few weeks. Probably more so because my white sense of justice tells me there should be some way for me to remedy this oversight, when there really isn't. Part of understanding injustice is the reality that we, who come from the class of perpetrators, can never even understand it in ways that we'd like to.

Healing comes not in understanding or explaining - not even in apology or reconciliation - but in mourning. We have to be comfortable with the grave discomfort of injustice, because no matter what we do now, or moving forward, it cannot be undone.

Racial tension is not something new and its not immediate. Whatever problems we have now are firmly rooted in the past. If we don't understand that, we cannot act in appropriate ways in our own lives. This OJ documentary really helps put that in perspective for me. It's worth seeing. I hope you do.

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