Note the parallels between the character Othello in Shakespeare’s play, Othello, and the public’s perception of O J Simpson. Whereas Othello was the beloved Black leader of the armies of Venice, O J Simpson was the most loved player in the game of football, the American team sport most like war. Whereas Othello killed his wife, O J Simpson was acquitted of the murder of his spouse. However, the media and the public, particularly the white public, remained convinced that he was the killer. Othello killed his wife out of jealously, and the same motive is imputed to Simpson.
But did O J really kill his wife? He was acquitted by a jury of his peers. But still, did he? Yes, in the white public’s mind, and since they are in the majority that’s all that matters. Or so we are told. Not in so many words, but we are led to believe that by the media’s overt, angry portrayal of OJ as a man who got away with murder. Did he? Why this predisposition to see him as guilty, even though he was cleared by the courts?
Does it all go back to Othello? Whatever caused Shakespeare to write Othello, whatever was in the psyche of his audience that made them receptive to this tale, is that also in the minds of many who believe OJ “got away with murder,” namely that the unfettered, powerful Black man is a danger? When Othello was written, Black men still held positions of power in Europe. But the Atlantic slave trade was beginning, and so too was the rationalization, the justification, for African enslavement. Shakespeare’s play reflected, and accelerated, the process. Similarly, with the OJ case, it took place long after the days of bondage, but its long shadow still hangs over us. We are about as far away from the ending of chattel slavery today, as Shakespeare in his day was from the heyday of slavery. And so in the public mind, and in the minds of those who mediate it, the media, was OJ cast as Othello?
This parallel is made clear in the recent film ,“O,” starring Mikhey Phifer. In “O” Phifer plays the Black captain of a white college basketball team who kills his white girlfriend when falsely told that she has cheated on him. Clearly, a retelling of Othello. Note that Phifer’s character’s name is “Odin James.” James is Simpson’s middle name. Odin is the Norse king of the gods, reminiscent of Othello’s leadership of the armies of Venice, and O J Simpson’s leadership in the warlike game of football. And, of course, the initials of “Odin James” are O J.
Can we carry the analogy even further to perhaps explain what is happening today to President Obama? Obama is the Black leader, the Commander-in-chief, of the American armed forces. And like Othello, O J, and Odin James, Obama was very much beloved, but now a bumbling opponent is neck-and-neck with him in the polls and threatens to win the presidency. Will he? Note the persistent campaign asserting, at times screaming, that Obama does not understand America, that he is not an American, that he was not born here (his birth certificate notwithstanding} that he is a Muslim, a socialist, a communist, and simply that “he is not one of us!” Will it work? Or have we escaped from the spell of Shakespeare’s Othello? We await the final act, come November. . .
By; Dr. Arthur Lewin