The Black Male/White Female Narrative
Although. . . sexual stereotypes apply equally to Black men and women, it is the Black male who has suffered the most because of white notions of his hypersexuality.
[W]hite men have a deep abiding fear that black men will take their women from them.
—Editorial in The Chicago Crusader (a Black newspaper)97
In their eagerness to gain access to the bodies of white women, many black men have shown that they were far more concerned with exerting masculine privilege than challenging racism.
As with the preceding narrative, the political purpose of the Black Male/White Female Narrative is to present O. J. Simpson as a victim of racism in a way that obscures that he is (also) a perpetrator of domestic violence. In this Narrative, both Nicole Brown Simpson’s and O. J. Simpson’s race and gender matter. Simpson represents first and foremost Black male sexuality, which white America finds threatening and seeks to control. His status as an athlete, his physicality, makes this image of him all the more compelling: he is buff and Black and uncontrollably sexual, particularly in the presence of white women. According to the Narrative, the criminal justice system has always been white America’s vehicle for controlling Black male sexuality, and in particular Black male access to white women.99
In this Narrative, white Americans are said to perceive Simpson as an "uppity Negro," a Black person who transcended racial and economic boundaries. Simpson is "uppity" in this Narrative not because he politically identified with the Black community and spoke out on its behalf (which as a factual matter could not be sustained) but rather because he achieved the American Dream of economic wealth, married a white woman, and thus attained a racial identity that seemed to transcend what Black manhood has been constructed to signify: criminal conduct.100 He had a certain crossover appeal that most other "black jocks," notwithstanding their professional and economic success, have never achieved.101 He was accorded the status of "honorary white"102 and became an "American hero."103 According to this Narrative, some white Americans resented him for this and were waiting for a politically acceptable way to turn on him.104 The murder of Nicole Brown Simpson provided the opportunity.105
Nicole Brown Simpson, on the other hand, represents innocent, white female sexuality, which white America seeks to protect from Black male sexual aggression. As described by Hard Copy, a television tabloid show, she was "blonde, built, and tanned"106—attributes of the American ideal of female beauty. According to the Narrative, very few people discussed Brown’s "wild" night life, her sexual relationships with other men, and her habitual drug usage.107 Brown’s private life is obscured, this Narrative suggests, to preserve the image of her as "sexually pure."108 But, as Brenda Moran, one of the jurors, pointed out subsequent to the verdict, Nicole Brown Simpson "wasn’t a saint."109
Professor Cheryl Harris argues that "[t]he need to cabin Nicole Brown Simpson as a worthy victim—to portray her as close to the ideal of purity as possible—in fact impeded the prosecution’s presentation of the evidence regarding her abuse."110 Harris reasons that, notwithstanding Brown’s race, she did not fit "within the paradigm of the worthy victim," primarily because of her relationships with other men.111 According to Harris, the prosecution obscured certain aspects of her abuse because Nicole Brown Simpson’s relationship with Simpson "could not be explained within the framework of permitted stories about domestic abuse that seem to require proof of unprovoked violence against a virtuous, innocent, and long-suffering wife."112
The Black Male/White Female Narrative has resonance in the Black community because of the historical lynching of Black men in the South and the antimiscegenation statutes throughout the country outlawing interracial marriage.113 The political force of the Black male lynching image cannot be overstated. Many Black children learn and internalize the story of Emmett Till, a Black boy who was lynched in 1955, allegedly for whistling at a white woman.114 This Narrative invokes two of the symbols that mediate the Black community’s understanding of cases like Emmett Till’s—the sexualized, aggressive Black boy and the unsexualized, passive white woman.115 Buttressed on these symbols, the Simpson case represents what Gary LaFree refers to as sexual stratification—heightened punishment for Black men who transgress boundaries of race and sex.116 More specifically, the case is understood to reflect white America’s attempt to punish Simpson for what it could not prevent—his sexual relationship with a white woman.117
Nevertheless, O. J. Simpson is no Emmett Till. As a political symbol, he is less innocent. The question then becomes this: why would the symbol of Simpson as the lynched Black man necessarily trump the symbol of him as a "self-hater" or "race rejector"?118 These latter two symbols are based on the understanding of his marriage to Nicole Brown Simpson as an expression of disidentification with the Black race and Black women in particular.119 According to this theory, Black men date white women because they internalize the notion of white women as the "’socially identified’ female ideal."120 Dating white women becomes a status symbol, an indication that one has transcended the attributes white America has ascribed to Black manhood.121
There are at least two reasons why the self-hatred symbol is not sufficiently compelling to disrupt the image of Simpson as a Black man being lynched for marrying a white woman. The first is perhaps obvious: the two conceptions are not mutually exclusive. One can argue that Simpson rejected his race based on his marriage to Brown and still maintain that he was prosecuted for Brown’s murder because he had married a white woman. One indication that some Black people understand that both symbols are simultaneously implicated in the Simpson case is the following statement: "He should have known better. That’s what he gets for marrying that white woman."122 If the statement were intended only to convey the idea that Simpson’s marriage to Brown reflects a cultural divorce from the Black community and especially Black women, the sentiment would probably be stated this way: "That’s what you get when you reject Black women." The former statement signals not only that a Black man has rejected a Black woman but also that a Black man has embraced a white woman, and for this he is being punished.
The second reason why the self-hatred symbol is not the predominant symbol mediating how some members of the Black community conceptualize the case is that the theory of Black male internalization of the white female as the aesthetic ideal is incomplete. Not all Black men who have relationships with white women acquiesce in the construction of white women as the ideal. Dating white women has always been, to some Black men, a means of political expression—that they (Black men) can do with "your white women" what they please. It has been the ultimate way for some Black men to reclaim their status as men, to transgress racial boundaries, to remasculate their Black male identities in Jim Crow America,123 to initiate themselves into what Frantz Fanon calls "’authentic’ manhood."124 Thus, Black male/white female sexual liaisons can be understood in terms of Black male efforts to assume the privilege of white men—the sexual subordination of white women. Whether Simpson consciously or subconsciously used Brown in this way is not clear and not terribly important. The more important point is that his relationship with her can be understood to represent an assertion of Black male power.
The Black Male/White Female Narrative may not fit the Simpson case, however. As an interpretative device, the narrative’s racialized and politicized imagery may not be completely accurate. Indeed, Simpson was a Black man on trial in America. But he was not necessarily on trial because he is Black and Nicole Brown Simpson was white. Simpson is not one of the "Scottsboro boys."125 In fact, prior to his arrest, Simpson’s relationship with the police was such that he could abuse Nicole Brown Simpson with a certain amount of impunity.126
Invoking this Narrative to understand the Simpson case is problematic for another reason: to the extent that one recognizes and condemns the violence Simpson inflicted on his ex-wife, one’s racial au – thenticity—the extent to which one is "really Black"—can be called into question. In the context of this Narrative, seeing Nicole Brown Simpson as a victim of Black male aggression is tantamount to seeing Black men in terms of sexual aggression and white women in terms of the cult of true womanhood. The male-centered construction of Blackness that informs this Narrative "tricks us into equating support for. . . O. J. Simpson. . . with support for black people, because anything else is considered race treason."127