Devon W. Carbado

When the names Rodney King, O. J. Simpson, Mike Tyson, Marion Barry and even Clarence Thomas become symbolic, like "Scotts – boro,” black women are left without a way to talk about how some of the Scottsboro "boys” (accused of raping two white women) actu­ally did commit acts of violence and murder against their girlfriends and wives. Black women are left without a way to address Rodney King as anything other than a victim, even after his second arrest for domestic abuse. And we have no response to Tupac Shakur’s name­less accuser, whose lonely plea—"I did not deserve to be gang raped”—paled in comparison to Vibe magazine’s five-page cover story on Shakur as the misunderstood thug.

—Kristal Brent Zook1

SUBSEQUENT TO THE announcement of the not-guilty verdict in the O. J. Simpson criminal case, a considerable amount of legal and nonlegal commentary focused on the extent to which the Black com­munity’s response to the verdict differed from the white commu­nity’s response. The explanations for this difference varied, though most were based on the idea that the difference reflected a racial di­vide in American society. In this essay, I offer another way of think­ing about the Black community’s response to this case—that it re­flects the subordination of gender issues, including domestic abuse, in antiracist discourse. The arguments I advance develop along two related trajectories: (1) Black racial identity is essentialized in an­tiracist discourse, and (2) Black male victimhood is privileged.

The essentialism argument is that implicit in antiracist discourse is the notion that there is an "essential," ungendered racial experi­ence: the Black experience. However, this Black experience is often con­structed, predominantly or exclusively, around Black male subordi­nation. The victimology argument is that Black men occupy a privi­leged victim status in antiracist discourse. This status is reflective and constitutive of certain gendered notions about race and racism: that racism against Black men is representative of racism against all Black people. I refer to these male-centered conceptions of racism as "un­modified antiracism." To illustrate how unmodified antiracism is im­plicated in the Black community’s response to the O. J. Simpson case, I discuss the Black community’s discourse about this case in two po – litical/cultural narratives, each of which mediates the Black commu­nity’s understanding of race and racial injustice—the Black Male/White Victimhood Narrative (Black people, especially Black men, are treated unfairly in the criminal justice system, particularly when the victim is white) and the Black Male/White Female Narra­tive (Black men are lynched, figuratively and literally, by white soci­ety for having sexual relationships with white women). I argue that these narratives contain political symbols of race and gender that fa­cilitated the construction of O. J. Simpson as a racial victim in a way that obscured that he was (also) a domestic abuser.