The Judge, The Video And The Slur [Corrected]

Judge Michelle Odinet of the City Court of Lafayette, Louisiana, resigned last week after being heard on a video using the term “nigger” while watching security footage of a foiled car burglary outside her home. In her letter of resignation to the chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court, Odinet said she was stepping down “after much reflection and prayer, and in order to facilitate healing within the community.”

“My words did not foster the public’s confidence and integrity for the judiciary,” she wrote. Yeah, I would say that that’s accurate. Still, it’s a strange story. In the video, voices off camera inside the judge’s home are heard saying “nigger” repeatedly and laughing as they watch security-camera footage of someone trying to break into a car until the criminal was foiled. Also used: “mom,” which is the judge, who was clearly joining in the hilarity.

The video was originally sent by an unknown source to a local newspaper, and when she was first questioned, Odinet tried to huminhumina out of the mess. She initially said she had no recollection of the conversation shown, and claimed that her “mental state was fragile” because of the attempted burglary. She also used the excuse that she had been “given a sedative at the time of the video.” Then she played the Pazuzu card (“That’s not me talking!”) protesting that “Anyone who knows me and my husband, knows this is contrary to the way we live our lives.”

Finally, the judge couldn’t deny that the jig was up. The Lafayette branch of the NAACP demanded that she resign. Criminal defense lawyers representing black clients demanded that the judge to recuse herself from their cases. Odinet’s lawyer confirmed that she had used the racial slur in the video, though it did not show the faces of those speaking.

“There was never going to be a situation where African Americans would appear before her and not file motions to recuse,” the lawyer said, accurately. “She understands that she’s done with being a judge, but she’s just starting her efforts to try to earn forgiveness from her community. She knows that’s going to be a long haul.”

I think she will have to change her name, get plastic surgery and move to Kamchatka.

Now the ex-judge’s records are being examined to determine if her handling of cases involving blacks showed signs of bias. Her lawyer says,  “She welcomes that because it would show that she hasn’t, in practice, acted as a racist.”

Further observations:

1. Nobody is saying who sent the video to the local paper. It had to be someone present during the discussion. This was either a true betrayal of trust for malicious purposes, or a public-minded whistle-blowing incident to expose a racist judge.

2. The latter is admirable, if she is in fact a racist. The former is despicable.

3. Of course once the judge’s use of the taboo word—completely legal and constitutionally protected, used in what was believed to be a private setting as a group was maligning a criminal—had to be disqualifying once it was revealed to the public. But is the use of the word in a group definitive proof of racism all by itself?

4. The episode has similarities to the Donald Sterling case, when an NBA team owner was secretly recorded in his own bedroom by his girlfriend as he made  denigrating comments about minorities, resulting in his being fined and losing his team. He was about to be honored by the local NAACP before the tape was released.

5. To be clear, the use of the word in a publicly-revealed recording is sufficient to count as a judicial ethics violation, as it raises the appearance of impropriety. But what should be our conclusion if the review of the judge’s rulings show no racial bias whatsoever? Would that make her a non-racist who just uses inappropriate language with family and friends? Or would that show that she is a racist who still understands that racist conduct is not acceptable for a public official?

6. If it is the latter, should her thoughts and biases disqualify her for an office of trust?

7. With these facts, there could be no question that the judge had to resign. Would the same apply if she never uttered the word “nigger” in the video, but was part of the conversation in which others used the word?

14 thoughts on “The Judge, The Video And The Slur [Corrected]

  1. 6. Thoughts and biases should not disqualify her provided she can remain impartial.
    7. She said that “Anyone who knows me and my husband, knows this is contrary to the way we live our lives.” If she was present when the word ‘nigger’ was used and did not object or try to put a stop to it, then she would be lying about the way she lives her life. Kendi says we all are either racists or anti-racists; I don’t agree with that the way he presents it. But, I do believe that in some circumstances, such as being in with someone who uses racist slurs or tells racist jokes, one must act forcefully as an anti-racist in that moment.

    • Yup, thanks. I had forgotten what the tape contained, and was fooled by the transcript in the EA post I went back to check, which included “[black people]” which is one way the media quotes the slur. I’ll fix that.

  2. I will regard all expressed outrage stemming from the use of the word “nigger” as entirely fake until black people who use it are similarly cancelled, shamed, and forced to resign. Instead, the word is used so frequently in popular music, movies, and comedy acts that it has lost all of its former meaning.

    • It is and has been a puzzlement to me that blacks would allow and seem to enjoy using a derogatory term created by whites to describe themselves. When I was growing up, this word was considered to demonstrate evil attitudes and intentions, as well as an ignorant belief system; when I got older, it remained in that category, much as the C-Word (to describe women) was offensive. I still flinch when anyone, black or white, uses either word. (But I think I’m not watching the same comedy acts or listening to the same music you do… It’s not a rarefied atmosphere here, but I just don’t encounter the word.)

      • Many on Fox News seem to happily adopt the term “deplorables”. Doesn’t compare to “the word”, the one that word that nobody should utter, but, semantically, it’s very similar: embracing a derogatory term coined by your “enemies” to poke them in the eye.

      • The exposure is involuntary. I’m constantly telling my 22-year-old stepdaughter to turn her music down or go to her room to watch whatever movie she’s blasting in the living room. I am also still slightly shocked whenever I hear the word spoken (and have told my stepdaughter several times to be careful with its use). I can attest that her and her friends are exposed to and use the word on a daily basis.

        As an illustration of the word’s evolving status, a few years ago, the following line was included in my Father’s Day card (actually poster):

        “…thanks for being a real ass nigga, and keeping it one hunnit”

        This included gold sparkles decorating every other letter.

        Efforts to punish white people who are overheard using the word, regardless of the context, rather than arising from some deeply felt sense of pain, are exercises in power.

        • Exactly this. I’ve heard members of the black community claim that they’ve repurposed the word and removed the negative connotations by incorporating it into expressions of their culture. Great. Good for you. But it’s racist to condemn non-black people for adopting the non-slur connotation when they observe and repeat the expression. You can’t assume intent purely on the skin color of the speaker.

    • deckhand_dreams, I think you make an excellent point. I have discussed this issue – in very pleasant circumstances, I might add – and it was suggested that blacks were permitted to use the word “nigger” because they used it in conversation with other blacks…and that it had different connotations.

      So…what is to prevent whites from appropriating the word and using it in their own context, maybe even with a different meaning, when speaking with other white people? How is that different or more wrong than what blacks supposedly have done?

      My next question: what about words like “whitey” or “uncle tom”, which blacks say to white people (or about them) in a clearly derogatory, racist manner? Are words classed as “racist epithets” only racist when whites or Asians or Hispanics use them?

      That must be the case or Chappelle (and numerous members of the Democratic Black Caucas) would have been forced to grovel years ago.

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