Sunday, November 26, 2006

the o.j. - arbuckle discrepancy?

erin aubry kaplan of the los angeles times penned a head-scratcher of an op-ed this week. in the la times, it was titled, "The O.J.-Kramer discrepancy -- Recent PR disasters reveal greater tolerance for a white man's unsavory behavior than a black man's," while the strib named the piece, Kramer-O.J. discrepancy says a lot about inequality -- Richards' racist rant is brushed off as an isolated incident, while Simpson is condemned for his character.

huh? i understand the idea of a racist double standard when it comes to crime and justice, and to public opinion about crime and justice. as a criminologist, i've seen racial disparity in the operations of the justice system and i'm personally committed to uncovering and redressing these inequities. while michael richards' racist comedy club meltdown was awful, however, mr. simpson was accused of murdering two people.

ms. kaplan reassures us, after 11 paragraphs, that she isn't "equating racist invective with charges of double homicide." fair enough, i suppose, but isn't this comparison precisely the point of her editorial?

Richards' "racist rant" has been described as a terrible but isolated incident. O.J., meanwhile, is condemned for his character.

if ms. kaplan believes that o.j. simpson has been unfairly condemned because of his race, couldn't she have found a more fitting comparison? i dunno, perhaps the situations involving senator ted kennedy and roscoe "fatty" arbuckle were somewhat more comparable to the accusations against mr. simpson -- at least when stacked up against mr. richards' cringe-inducing speech.

though the now-senior senator was never tried for murder, his behaviors were alleged to have contributed to the death of another person. senator kennedy's public image has never quite recovered from chappaquiddick, but he remains a powerful and generally respected public figure to this day. mr. arbuckle's career was pretty much cooked after he was tried for manslaughter in the death of a young actress, but it may have been even worse for him if he hadn't been white. mr. arbuckle never wrote an if i did it book like mr. simpson; given the public outcry over his alleged crimes, however, would it stretch credulity to suggest that a black fatty arbuckle might have faced a lynch mob?

so, i am sympathetic to ms. kaplan's larger point about race and justice, and i think some data could be martialed in favor of her assertions about mr. simpson's public image. but c'mon, comparing OJ and michael richards? unlike brentwood in 1994, only one person died at the laugh factory that november night: the formerly-likeable actor who played cosmo kramer.

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