I remember when O.J. Simpson was on trial for murder. O.J., a Black man, was a former NFL running back, who had acquired worldwide fame from his talents both on and off the field. He was accused of killing his former wife Nicole Brown Simpson, a white woman, and her friend Ron Goldman. The nation was fixated on this trial, so much so that it was televised.
I was a freshman in high school at the time in an inner-city school that was 99.99% Black. For weeks on end, the teachers allowed students to watch the trial during lunch time because everyone was eager to watch the event unfold. As I was new to the high school, I often hung out with my older sister, which meant that I was with her and the advanced students watching the trial from her American History teacher’s classroom.
Now, I will never forget her History teacher, who would later be my teacher. She had honey-brown skin and butterscotch-colored hair that seemed to glow. She was small in stature, but her personality could fill a room. She was a proud African-American woman, who relished teaching the parts of history that our textbooks left out – namely the history of Blacks and other minorities in the U.S.. Her zeal and pride for minorities were contagious, and her students were touched with her fervor. This made watching the trial very intense and very exciting. It was clear that she and my school were rooting for the Black man to be acquitted; they wanted O.J. Simpson to be found ‘not guilty.’
Fast forward to the day the verdict was announced. Everyone in the school rushed to grab their lunches and hurry to the available televisions in the school. Eyes were widened; bodies were leaning toward the screens; the school was silent. It was more serious than the final play at a championship game. The verdict was announced. O.J. Simpson was found ‘not guilty’ of the crimes.
The result could only be described as SHEER PANDEMONIUM! There were shouts of triumph and joy. Hands clapped and feet stamped! The History teacher leaped in the air. People literally ran in celebration. The bellowing sounds of victory made the floors and walls shake.
I was excited and pleased to see such joy displayed amongst my people, but I didn’t join the celebration the same way most of the school did. Sure, I smiled, watching everyone, but I couldn’t quite grasp how his acquittal equalled a victory for Black people everywhere.
Years later, I’ve been able to reflect on why something didn’t sit well with me during the entire O.J. trial saga…Besides the deep racial divide in our country over who wanted O.J. to be imprisoned and who wanted him to walk, there was the issue that Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend didn’t receive justice.
I know that for many Black people, including many Black Christians, O.J.’s guilt or innocence was irrelevant; they simply finally wanted a win for “our side.” It didn’t even matter that a woman was dead!
I have seen this narrative played over and over again in the Black community—the careless disregard for the plight of women in favor of the exaltation of the Black race via the Black man. This post is not about debating O.J.’s guilt or innocence (I honestly don’t know). It is not even a bashing of my own community, but an illustration of the complexity in the quest for justice when sex and race intertwine, and a reflection of what it means to be both a minority and a woman in a society where ‘justice and equality’ are often elusive.
I think of all the wonderful groups that advocate for racial reconciliation, especially within the Church. I appreciate the work they do. Their voices are needed. Yet, when I bring up the historical similarities between the oppression of people of color and the oppression of women, their voices fall silent.
I have found that many people want to keep the subject of women’s rights separate from the subject of equal rights for minorities.
Likewise, I love the advocacy of many honorable women and men for the cause of women’s equality both in the Church and in society. Yet I have found that the voices of minorities are often drowned out…
I long for the day that I don’t feel the tension between being a person of color and a woman. I should not have to choose which part of me receives justice!
I long for the day when we, especially as Christians, will love our neighbor as we love ourselves and not just love the parts of our neighbor we see reflected in ourselves. Favoritism has no place in the body of Christ. Partiality has no place in righteous judgement.
May we be people who identify as ‘Christian’ before any other demographic.
May our ultimate allegiance be to the righteousness of God above any other cause.
May we follow the ways of Jesus, who died to make us one.
And may we remember that, “The LORD gives righteousness and justice to all who are treated unfairly” (Ps. 103:6).
Leah Ross loves Jesus and is an evangelist at heart. She is passionate about healing the wounds of sexism and racism within the Church. When she’s not actively loving on her five children or enjoying a date night with her high school sweetheart husband, she can be found volunteering with her school board, running in a race, or performing at ‘open mic’ Poetry Night. Her life goal is to hear Jesus say, “Well done!”