I WAS in the beauty shop as it all was happening last Friday. A room full of black women on a hot June night in Pasadena, Calif., watching the world's first interactive movie chase scene (Dude! Road trip to Brentwood! This O.J. thing going down!) on a portable black-and-white TV.
Blow dryers were stopped for better hearing, hot curlers were left in a little too long because no one could take her eyes off the screen. A room full of black women trying to common-sense it all: "Well, if she thought he might kill her, what was she doing living two miles from him?" Then, rationalizing: "I guess she thought those babies needed their daddy." Silence as we put ourselves in Nicole Simpson's shoes. Agreement as we watched O.J. and Al Cowlings while they Thelma and Louise-ed it up the San Diego Freeway. Then, a little too loudly from under the hood dryer, somebody said what we were all thinking. "Girl, there's another black man gone."
Let me tell you something about how being black is different from being white. OK, this may not be true for every black person. I'll only speak for myself and other black people I know. Maybe it's different where you are. Whenever something happens -- a murder, a bombing, school children held hostage, disgruntled former employee goes on a rampage, arson fire burns down a whole community -- whenever some kind of man-made disaster happens, black people hold their breath, hoping and praying that the responsible party is not one of us.
Sure, we respond to the tragedy, we grieve for the loss of life, but it's all just a little worse somehow if the perpetrator is black. See how that works? An armed man takes a bus of school children hostage. A white person says, "I hope the children are all right." I say: "I hope the children are all right and the gunman isn't black."
Being black also gives you a special power of hearing. America tut-tuts over the fall of a hero. It says: "How could this happen to O.J.? He had it all!" We hear: "See. I told you so. Lock up your daughters."
Black people have special tears, too. It's true. We cry tears that have already been cried before, recycled tears. We heave a special sigh, a 400-year-old sigh, a sigh that begins in Othello's chambers, races through history and passes over young Emmett Till, swirls around Rodney King and now greets O.J. in Los Angeles County's jail.
Our grief is the grief of people who know what it is to have the evidence stacked against us, a people who have heard "guilty" so many times before, people who know what "It's gonna take a miracle to get out of this one" really means. O.J. leaves us armed with nothing but our tears and sighs to make the case for the black man. He leaves me with the burden of proof, to push back the seeming river of evidence -- the bloody glove, the blood-stained driveway -- that says rage and crime come to us naturally, that the black man is to be feared on all counts.
The trouble is that I'll never get to call my witnesses. You'll never meet my father or uncles or cousins or my brothers and friends -- black men who live peacefully, who don't beat their wives.
Yet here is the deepest truth: We cry special, recycled tears for the victims, because we especially know what it is to be caught in circumstances that are not of our making. African-Americans know what it is to be minding our own business, to be caught unawares, to struggle and to go down fighting, to be left by the side of the road, brutalized. We know what it is to think you are sure who someone is and to realize with your final breath that that person is altogether someone else.
Alison Taylor is a free-lance writer in Los Angeles and was story editor for TV's "Roc." She wrote this for Newsday.