Character Must Win Over General Prejudice

In the aftermath of the O. J. Simpson trial, I would like to talk about race relations in America as it exists today. My focus will be on the relationships between blacks and whites, although what I have to say applies to relationships of all combinations of races.

After the verdict, the phrase I most often heard from some whites on TV and on radio was, "I guess we really do have a race problem in America!" This phrase was uttered in one form or another. I might add that those who said this were among the 75% or so of whites who believed Mr. Simpson was guilty.

The first jurist to speak to the press emphasized that the jury (ten blacks, two whites and one Hispanic) did not even discuss race in arriving at their decision in less than four hours of deliberation. It would be logical to assume that the 25% or so of black Americans who think Mr. Simpson was guilty and the 25% or so of white Americans who think he was not guilty have arrived at their conclusions based on factors other than race. Or I should say, devoid of personal racism. The question which looms over the country is, "How about the 75% of whites who believed he was guilty and the 75% of blacks who believed he was not guilty?"

Herein lies our problem when talking about the sensitive subject of race relations. Are we to speak of blacks and whites as herds with each individual in each herd sharing all the experiences, values and beliefs of everyone else in his or her respective herd?

I personally feel very sorry for blacks who have not had a close friendship with or respect for any whites, as well as whites who have not experienced a close relationship with or respect for any blacks. Such encounters of admiration totally alter one's view of the "race difference".

Those who have not had such an experience may very well fall for the "herd mentality" which does seem to plague quite a few in our society. The herd mentality is like any other sinful pattern of behavior practiced in the human condition. Out of some sort of spiritual fault, some of us judge others by the color of their skin, rather than by the content of their character.

How do we overcome the race problems that we presently have in our country? I think, each of us who cares must "continue" to see and treat others as individuals and not as members of a herd. If another individual insists on identifying himself or herself as a part of a herd, then the effort to see them as an individual, no doubt, will be harder to do. However, the burden will not be for individualists to change, but for them to change.

Running with the herd means relating yourself to everyone else in the herd. The drawback to this attitude is that one will be identified, by others, with the worst element or people in the herd. With the attitude of recognizing your own unique individuality, you can properly discriminate by associating with individuals of high character (regardless of skin color).

The O. J. Simpson trial and final verdict has given us the opportunity to openly discuss race relations in America. I reluctantly believe, from the evidence, that Mr. Simpson was guilty. I also believe from his past physical and psychological treatment of his wife that he lacks moral character. For holding this opinion, I would very much resent being called a racist by someone possessing the herd mentality. But I would find no justifiable cause to accuse any members of the jury of racism, who honestly claimed to make their decision based solely on their own interpretation of the evidence.

If America is to last as a civilized nation, then the relevance of individual character must triumph over the generalizing prejudice of the herd mentality.

--Kenneth J. Wolf #47 (10/21/95)

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