I was squeezing a tomato in a Tom Thumb when the O.J. verdict came in. I'd run in to get something for dinner, and though I'd been determined to get back out to my car before the verdict, I didn't make it. Instead, I watched the verdict on a television in the video-rental section. I found the sight of O.J.'s happy little face and the joyous cheers of the African-American store employees crowded around the TV with me equally troubling.
Call me a cynic, but I spent enough quality time at the Walker Railey trial in San Antonio to be sick of murderous husbands hiding behind expensive lawyers who know how to pummel bumbling cops and prosecutors.
"It was a great day for African-Americans," one of the dismissed jurors said on "Nightline" shortly after the verdict.
I don't think so.
Nor do I think it was a great day for African-Americans one week later in Dallas when a handful of high-profile blacks took after white Dallas Independent School District school board president Sandy Kress.
In both cases, I saw blacks making important judgments based primarily on skin color.
Often disregarding the facts, they assumed that because O.J. was black, he was innocent--a victim of a racist plot. Likewise, they assumed that because Sandy Kress was white, he was evil--and should be drummed off the Dallas school board.
Whites, of course, have been making such color-based judgments for centuries. Far too many still do.
It's called racism.
That's what makes the Simpson and Kress controversies so troubling. To my mind, both offer evidence of the very racial problems America--and Dallas--sorely need to overcome.
One afternoon last week, Sandy Kress sat behind the desk in his law office, 40 floors above the streets of downtown Dallas, and spoke to me with enormous candor and introspection about what the hell happened to him last month, or, for that matter, what's been happening to him on and off for the past two years.
That's how long he's been president of the DISD board of trustees. That's how long he's been in hand-to-hand combat with teachers, principals, administrators, parents, politicians, business folks, and fellow board members. That's what happens to people who seek to dismantle a stale, long-suffering school system and essentially start over.
"I really believe this--if you're going to make things change, you're going to be punished," Kress says. "And this is not Sandy Kress, talking like a graduate of political science 101; this is Sandy Kress who has lived this."
Kress is actually smiling. He is not bitter. He is not angry. In fact, he is getting a little tired of friends coming up to him and telling him how sorry they feel for him because he's been under so much fire recently.
Specifically, the night of October 10.
That was the evening the public had what some might describe as a come-to-Jesus meeting with the school board over the Dan Peavy tapes--those illuminating pearls of worldly wisdom that really brought us together after the O.J. verdict.
It's hard to imagine anybody--let alone a person with responsibility for 150,000 school children--saying the things that Peavy said in a series of conversations that the FBI has determined were tape recorded from his home phones. The minute those comments were revealed, Peavy clearly had to go and he did--though he took his sweet time doing it, apparently bewildered at all the commotion over his racist musings.
One reason Peavy may have hesitated is because lots of people who knew him, including fellow school board members, knew he was a crude, rude, filthy-mouthed asshole. Not to mention a backwoods yahoo--as anyone who ever went to his office or visited him at his Peavy Road home instantly knew.
You see, Peavy had a penchant for collecting "darkie" statues, as they were called back in the Old South that Peavy grew up in and apparently misses a whole lot.
Any high-ranking school official can tell you about all the little "Sambo" figurines Peavy kept on his desk at his office. One, just to give you an idea, was a little black boy perched on the edge of an inkwell. His neighbors can tell you about the statue he kept in the front yard of his home for several decades--the one that, upon election to the school board in 1988, he was finally shamed into moving. To the side of the yard.
"This was a two-foot thing--a darkie crouched down in a servant's position, holding out a bucket," says Daisy Joe, mother of two grown children, wife of a retired janitorial service company owner, and longtime resident of Peavy's neighborhood. "When we moved there 24 years ago, we were the first blacks in the neighborhood. When I saw that statue, I inquired as to who lived there, and I was very offended. I'd pass by it and want to throw a brick at it."