Another View: OJ should not be a black idol

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The Independent Online
I can't speak for every member of the black community about OJ Simpson's visit to Britain. Some regard OJ as an untarnished hero and are convinced that he is innocent. Some describe him as a sell-out and coconut (brown outside, white inside). They feel that OJ was never black enough, citing his inter-racial marriage and rumours that he never socialised much with fellow blacks once he had made it.

My feelings are mixed. I'm terribly proud of this handsome black man, who, despite humble beginnings, strived and made it Big within highly competitive arenas like Hollywood and American sporting life. In this sense, OJ is a wonderful role model. He has shown us all that it is possible to reach the dazzling peaks, whatever your origins and despite the racism that still scars most black people's existences.

Having said this, OJ was also a regular wife-beater. The heart-rending, frightening tapes of Nicole Simpson begging her enraged husband for mercy are a matter of public record. I'm not sure whether or not OJ killed her. Like many black people in this country and the States, I reluctantly suspect that he was capable of it. But a man isn't necessarily guilty of premeditated murder just because he has a violent streak. And the LA prosecutor's office, by doing damned silly things like putting a thick, white trashy neo-Nazi policeman on the witness stand, failed to make its case against OJ.

I would have acquitted OJ. And I'm intensely irritated by the view that he should have been electric-chaired or jailed for life, even though guilt could not be proven. Still, OJ was - during his trial - revealed to be a dangerous character whose smooth, chivalrous, public image did not match the private hell through which he put his family. In this sense, that he represents hypocrisy, misogyny and appalling brutality, he is a dreadful role model.

So black Britons face a dilemma. This man has not been found guilty of anything except marital violence, which he may now sincerely regret. He has, in some ways, been a shining example and he has suffered unjustified abuse from the white media.

So should we hang out the flags and treat him like a flawed brother who deserves praise and support as much as criticism, or should we turn our backs on him on the basis that we deserve a better representative?

I am a great believer in forgiveness, so I don't think that OJ should be ostracised. But much is required of those who put themselves forward as public figures. And OJ has proved to be an idol with feet of clay.

Black people in Britain should have the confidence to set him aside and seek out heroes with higher standards.

The writer is a reporter on the BBC's forthcoming series 'Black Britain'.

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