These O.J. Simpson Quotes About Race Show His Conflicting Views
FX's The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story re-familiarized viewers with all of the details of the "trial of the century," when O.J. Simpson was found not guilty of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. But while figures like Marcia Clark and even Robert Kardashian received a lot of detailed shading and character moments, Cuba Gooding, Jr.'s performance as Simpson was a little more subdued — even though his name was in the title, he certainly wasn't the biggest focus. That definitely won't be the case with the ESPN documentary O.J.: Made In America, which centers on Simpson, beginning years before the trial. However, like American Crime Story, the ESPN series will focus heavily on race, and reading O.J. Simpson's quotes about race will help you see the full picture of him as a both a public figure and a man.
There's a contrast between the representation of Simpson as a black hero and some quotes, both directly from Simpson and reported by his friends and associates, show that he saw himself as able to "transcend" his race. American Crime Story touched on this, and the final scene of the season followed Simpson as he realized that his powerful, wealthy, white neighbors had abandoned him after the trial.
Simpson's own words make it clear that he had a complicated self view.
I'm not black, I'm O.J.
This was one of the best moments in American Crime Story, when Cuba Gooding, Jr., indignant, demands that he should be receiving better treatment. "I'm not black, I'm O.J." is how professor Harry Edwards describes O.J's sentiment in the HBO documentary O.J.: A Study in Black and White.
"My biggest accomplishment is that people look at me like a man first, not a black man. I was at a wedding ... and I overheard a lady say, 'Look, there's O.J. Simpson and some n******.' That sort of thing hurts me, even though it's what I strive for."
According to The New York Times' Robert Lipsyte, Simpson said this in 1969, in the prime of his football career, at a nightclub. Simpson seems to be showing some conflict over his experience, still emotionally wounded by racism even as he believes it passes him by.
"In the long run, I feel that my advances in the business world will shatter a lot of myths about black athletes — and give some pride and hope to a lot of young blacks."
In 1969, Simpson was negotiating for one of the NFL's most lucrative contracts with the Buffalo Bills. Vice Sports chronicled the whole saga and attributed this quote to Simpson's book with Pete Axthelm, Education of a Rich Rookie , in which Simpson reportedly states his intentions to become a business leader.
"I'm a black guy, always been a black guy, never been nothing but a black guy."
This quote is from O.J.: A Study in Black and White. Other interviewees in the doc seem skeptical of that statement, including Harry Edwards, but according to Simpson here, he sees himself as black.
"I think they’re going about the boycott the wrong way. You can’t change the world until you change yourself."
According to Earl Ofari Hutchinson's The Assassination of the Black Male Image, this is what Simpson said when asked about the proposed black boycott of the 1968 Olympic Games, before continuing, "All this is going to do is make some Negro kid in high school football who isn’t plain first string quit, saying ‘This guy isn’t treating me right.’"
"I'm going to take the challenge of helping black kids in every way I can. I believe I can do as much for my own people in my own way as a Tommie Smith, a Jim Brown, or a Jackie Robinson may choose to do in another way. That's part of the image I want, too."
It's interesting that Simpson throws in the "image" qualifier at the end of this statement, which comes from his contract negotiations discussion in Education of a Rich Rookie, as quoted by Jeffrey Toobin in his book The Run of His Life .
"As black men we need something up there all the time for us, but what I'm doing is not for principles or black people. No, I'm dealing first for O. J. Simpson, his wife and his baby."
And finally, this quote, also from the NY Times piece, seems to directly contrast that previous statement, even though they're both from around the same time — the height of Simpson's football career.
This contradiction gets at the heart of the two sides of O.J. Simpson. On the one hand, he's claimed that he wants to be an inspirational figure to black people everywhere. On the other, he doesn't always seem to identify with the black community. That contradiction should be a huge part of O.J.: Made in America as it explores his life and career before the trial of the century placed him at the center of a national discussion about race.