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Gayle Wald Along the Color Line: Memory, Community, Identity (onJudy Scales-Trent, Notes ofa White Black Woman: Race, Color Community [University Park: Perm State UP, 1995]); and Gregory Howard Williams , Life on the Color Line: The True Story ofa White Boy Who Discovered He Was Black [New York: Dutton, 1995]) Of the many dismaying aspects of the television coverage of the OJ. Simpson trial, perhaps none was more predictable than the media's discovery of "two Americas": one white, one black. On the evening news, the narrative that came to be known as the Aftermath of the Verdict consisted of two obsessively replayed sets of images—one ofblack people celebrating the jury's decision to acquit Simpson, a second of white people registering shock and dismay at their perception of justice gone awry. Although news anchors assured viewers of the authenticity ofthese representations, nevertheless the careful framingofpopular response to the verdict—and hence, the careful framing of race— was evident everywhere. In a number of the broadcasts I watched, for example, "black response" to the verdict was solicited by plainclothes reporters stationed on street corners or in the occasional barbershop. By contrast, "white response" to the verdict was sought by professionally attired reporters stationed in suburban cafes and bars, where happyhour patrons had been cued to offer their "spontaneous," two-second assessments of the Trial of the Century. This racialized framing of popular response to the OJ. Simpson trial had a number of effects. First, the dramatic juxtaposition of two competing sets of images reinforced and even naturalized a prevailing thesis of racial binarism, in which "black" and "white" define the terrain of racial subjectivities (to the exclusion, it should be noted, of related social factors such as class, region, gender or age). Second, because blacks and whites were depicted as generally monolithic groups, each capable of voicing only prior, seemingly biologically based opinions , the television media's representations conflated race with ideology . Moreover, by portraying public response to the verdict in terms of two opposed, racially derived interpretations, the TV news all but completely erased from media visibility subjects who could comfortably occupy neither of these preordained positions. This neither/nor group included ideological "race traitors"—for example, white women who supported the jury's verdict—as well as those racial "others" who habitually go by other names. To be sure, the trial of OJ. Simpson furnished the news media with 192the minnesota review a multiplicity ofpotential racial or ethnic "angles"; in addition to a black defendant, itinvolved a Jewish victim, a Japanese-Americanjudge, Hispanic domestic workers, a "mixed" jury and "integrated" legal teams. In the end, however, these complexities were abandoned for a narrative that privileged white voices. Indeed, in light of shows such as CBS News' series of "town meetings"—slicklyproduced media forums masquerading as thenew public sphere—notonly were the voices ofLatinos and Asian-Americans largely absent, but also black men and women who expressed solidarity with victims ofdomestic violence were barely given a voice—or, if they were, then only as anomalous cases whose existence lent credence to the representation of univocality within each racial group. To raise—once again—the issue of race in the OJ. Simpson trial may seem an odd way to introduce two recent autobiographical books by black Americans in "white-skin disguise," as one of the book's authors , Perm State law professor Judy Scales-Trent, puts it. Yet like the trial, these two books—Gregory Howard Williams' Life on the Color Line, and Scales-Trent's Notes ofa White Black Woman—remind us that race is itself a narrative. The Simpson spectacle, especially the flood of racist media coverage unleashed by the announcement of the verdict, was but the most recent reminder of the poverty of our public mediated discourse on race, a discourse that these books take pains to critique. For Williams and Scales-Trent, both of whom "look" white but who "are" black, the inability to take refuge in definitional certainties about race is at times a source of frustration. Yet "life on the color line," as Williams' book puts it, is also a source of insight into the effects of received racial narratives, into how U...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 191-197
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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