On October 3, 1995, OJ Simpson was acquitted for of the murders of his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ronald Goldman. The jury consisting of 10 women and two men, of which there were nine blacks, two whites, and one Hispanic, took less than four hours to reach a unanimous decision in the trial that had gripped America for an entire year.
The Simpson trial was held up as a litmus test for the racial chasm that afflicted the great American experiment. During the trial, the defense team compared the prosecution's central witness to Adolf Hitler, and referred to him as "a genocidal racist, a perjurer, America's worst nightmare and the personification of evil." Fears grew that race riots would erupt all over Los Angeles. Police officers were put on 12-hour shifts, and a line of over 100 police officers on horseback surrounded the L.A. county courthouse on the day of the verdict, in case of rioting by the predominantly African American crowd.
An NBC poll taken in 2004 reported that, although 77% of 1,186 people sampled thought Simpson was guilty, only 27% of blacks in the sample believed so, compared to 87% of whites. And, following Mr. Simpson's conviction in civil court for the wrongful death of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman, most whites believed justice had been served and 75% of blacks believed the verdict to be racially motivated, according to polling reported in USA Today.
On December 5, 2008 OJ Simpson was sentenced to what amounts to a life sentence for armed robbery, in an atmosphere that can best be described as anticlimactic.
On January 20, 2009, after having won almost 53% of all votes cast, a black man by the name of Barack Obama will assume the office of President of the United States.
Have we really torn down such a vast racial divide in just 14 years? I think not. I do not believe that such a vast racial divide exists in the America that we all live in. I know that I strain the limits of credibility by making such a statement from the lily white confines of the great state of Vermont, but please humor me for a moment.
In my lifetime I have seen Catholics and Protestants killing each other for past sins, real and imagined in Ireland. I have observed the middle east peace process evolving into an institution, a bureaucracy that tries to alter the tradition of slaughter between Jews and Arabs. Ethnic cleansing in southern Europe and the African continent have left millions dead and mutilated. Race riots on our shores have destroyed countless lives and property. In less violent examples, a Japanese technician will not answer a tech support call from Korea. A Taiwanese will not accept a call from a Chinese. And in the UK, in bold headline type, the London Times declared that the likes of Barack Obama would never be elected in Great Britain due to institutional racism.
Racism exists everywhere and, to some extent, exists in everyone. If we substitute the term "ignorance" for racism, we will get closer to the heart of the issue. Ignorance of something is accompanied by a fear of that which is not understood. Racism, then, is a manifestation of the fear of something, or someone that we do not understand, or about which we are ignorant. Said differently and substituting the terms in the above sentence, we get: "Ignorance exists everywhere". And to complete the thought, ignorance is the root cause of racism.
Ignorance is the universal evil, not racism. Ignorance fosters fear. Ignorance fosters violence. Ignorance clouds reason, and blocks the path to understanding. It precludes the ability to realize that no grandfather wants to see his grandchildren facing harm. It limits the ability to understand the universal joys of art, music and the laughter of children.
And, ignorance is curable.
So, have we received a miracle cure for ignorance in the last 14 years? To a degree, yes. The reasoned debate spawned by the original OJ trials, the unfortunate on-air antics of IMUS in the morning, and the oratory of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright have forced the debate into kitchens, dining rooms and meeting halls across this great nation. The ascension of black conservatives has forced American society to rethink racial stereotypes. Globalism has introduced us to people who have no common history with us ("Hello, this is Bangalore, how may I help you?"), and has introduced us to what we do have in common, be it a laptop, toaster or lost baggage.
The America that elected Barack Obama is a different America than that which cheered, or abhorred the original OJ verdicts. It is younger, it is wiser, it is stronger and it is less ignorant. And, most importantly, it is a nation focused on hope, focused not on past sins, but on the boundless possibilities of a bright future, an enlightened future, a future where we will not put our children and grandchildren in harm's way.
During this Christmas season, remember the laughter of children and grandchildren, laughter that is hopeful and free of the ignorance that we accumulate over the years. Remember that the Arab, the Jew, the Muslim, the Hindu, the Christian and the atheist all share a love of life and family. And remember that if we concentrate on this common ground, our ignorance of those different from us will recede with each interaction.