Sadly, judge’s racial slurs are nothing new

by Elwood Watson

Last week, a Lafayette, Louisiana judge resigned from her position after she and members of her family appeared to hurl vile racist slurs on camera.

A surveillance video showed people inside former city court judge Michelle Odinet’s home laughing and giggling, gleefully saying the N-word while watching security camera footage of a burglary attempt at her residence. While Odinet is never seen in the video, a woman’s voice believed to be hers repeats the racial slurs. “Like a roach,” the woman adds, laughing.

Footage from the incident, which occurred a few months earlier, was eventually uploaded to social media. As you’d expect, the public reaction was fierce, and the video led to an outcry from politicians, state officials and civil-rights groups throughout the state.

Josh Guillory, the city’s mayor-president, made it clear that he was “disgusted and appalled” after watching the video, and the Lafayette Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People demanded that Odinet submit her resignation. Governor John Bel Edwards and the National Bar Association echoed similar sentiments.

Not unlike many racists when caught red handed exposing their true behavior, the disgraced judge released the following statement to the public: “Anyone who knows me and my husband knows this is contrary to the way we live our lives. I am deeply sorry and ask for your forgiveness and understanding as my family and I deal with the emotional aftermath of this armed burglary.”

Not content to be quiet after being exposed for such embarrassing behavior, Odinet further claimed that her “mental state was fragile” following the alleged burglary, “I was given a sedative at the time of the video, I have zero recollection of the video and the disturbing language used during it.” Oh please, cry me a river. Or as the young folks say, “Bye Felicia!”

I guess she decided to take a page from Roseanne Barr, who in 2018, blamed Ambien for her racially offensive tirade against Valerie Jarrett, former President Barack Obama’s chief of staff. Barr was quickly terminated by then ABC President Channing Dungey. In a wickedly witty statement, a spokesperson for Ambien wrote in response to Barr’s remarks “racism is not a side effect of our medication.”

Odious antics aside, Olinet engaged in the most racially primitive language possible. Comparing Black people to apes, monkeys, animals and other less-than-human species is classic racist rhetoric straight out of the pages of regressive, old-fashioned, eugenic-minded, racial stereotypes. The entire issue is sickening.

One can wonder how many Black people who have come before her have been treated fairly. Indeed, the state may need to consider reopening any cases she has rendered judgment on as it relates to Black defendants.

The fact is that, since stepping foot on the shores of America, Black lives have been routinely scrutinized, objectified, sexualized and racialized. Many Black people — children as well as adults — have never been seen as fully human by their white counterparts. All too often, we have been seen as primitive, largely denied any degree of humane acknowledgment from mainstream society.

One has to ask: would the judge have reacted in similar, abhorrent fashion had the man who attempted to rob her home been white? I think we know the answer.

Most members of the judicial system are decent, law-abiding human beings who manage to admirably perform jobs that require judicial discretion and an abundant degree of conscientiousness. There also is a faction — one is too many — who are not as decent and shamelessly abuse their power.

White denial notwithstanding, Black people are human beings and deserve to be treated with as much respect and dignity as any other group of people. Such sadistic behavior and wicked disregard for people of color cannot continue.

Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.

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