One O.J. Simpson issue we can't pigeonhole

Comment

October 08, 1995|By KEVIN THOMAS

THIS HAS BEEN A strange and painful week; full of ironies and question marks.

Here I am, living in the mecca of interracial couples -- Columbia -- a black man married to the same white woman for nearly 14 years, and I had to call Austin, Texas, to find an expert on what mixed-race couples are thinking in the wake of the O.J. verdict.

Yvette Walker Hollis, publisher of New People magazine, a quarterly devoted to interracial news and opinion, was more than willing to answer my questions. It's been a while since the issue has come up, she said.

That may seem strange, considering the intense focus on race as a factor in the acquittal of O.J. Simpson.

But Ms. Hollis, who is black and married to a white man, recalled that more than a year ago, when the murders occurred, she was on the Oprah Winfrey show trying to explain why the fact that O.J. and Nicole were an interracial couple had nothing to do with the murder.

Since then, mixed-race marriages are hardly discussed any more.

'Spun in a different direction'

"The whole thing has spun in a different direction," said Ms. Walker: the length of the trial, the bizarre evidence and, of course, Mark Fuhrman.

It's as if people don't quite know how to pigeonhole the issue of interracial relationships in light of their own intense and conflicting opinions about race in general.

Many blacks who are championing O.J. as an icon of the civil rights movement -- a prospect that sickens me -- were among the most critical of his marriage to Nicole.

And many whites, Ms. Walker pointed out, are reacting to the Fuhrman tapes by disassociating themselves from any form of racism, including criticism of interracial marriages.

If there has been a downside to having so much attention focused on this controversial trial, it's that it has caused many people who might have considered an interracial relationship to think again, she said.

Even in Columbia, which must have one of the largest undocumented populations of interracial couples in the United States, I have to admit that my wife and I have been the subject of some perplexed stares of late.

Interracial couples are always stared at, but I had learned long ago to ignore them.

And as I explained to Ms. Walker, Columbia is the kind of place where interracial couples are so prevalent that the novelty has worn off for most residents.

Still, the other night at the Pizza Hut, more than a few people

seemed intensely interested in my family.

Since this was the day the O.J. verdict was rendered, I assumed the obvious.

I had to remind myself that people stare at people for a variety of reasons that may have nothing to do with race. And even if race is the reason, the truth is that even I feel curious about other interracial couples when I see them for the first time.

The one good thing

Ms. Walker sees this curiosity as perhaps the only good thing to emerge from the O.J. trial. The more people ponder interracial couples, the more apt they are to learn that mixed-race couples are people just like anyone.

That's what the magazine tries to project: the normalcy of interracial marriage.

The Simpson case may prompt some to search for symbolism in the fact that theirs was an interracial marriage, but the truth is that it was irrelevant.

If it were relevant then we would all conclude that spousal abuse only occurs in households where the couples are of different races, and we know that isn't true.

Racism is America's greatest sickness, and few could deny on the heels of the O.J. trial that we have a very serious problem to confront.

But we need to be reminded that with all the hatred this trial has generated, the human spirit can still transcend our petty preoccupation with race.

"The more people see interracial families living their lives and simply getting by like everyone else, the better," said Ms. Walker. "Ignorance and fear are far worse."

L Kevin Thomas is The Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.

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