Louisiana State District Judge Timothy Ellender created a stir recently when he went to a Halloween party dressed as an African-American man in a prison jumpsuit, complete with wrist and ankle shackles.
Reportedly, the judge put on blackface makeup and an afro wig and went to a restaurant in Houma, about 60 miles southwest of New Orleans.
As one might expect, the NAACP was not amused.
“For a judge to take the time to paint his face black with shoe polish, put on an afro wig, a prison jumpsuit, and shackles ... and walk around in public, I feel he ain't fit to be a judge,” said Jerome Boykin, president of the local branch.
The judge, on the other hand, doesn't see what all the fuss is about and called his costume a harmless joke.
“It's a tempest in a teapot,” he told the local newspaper, the Courier of Houma.
Normally, this would attract scant notice, especially since Judge Ellender is fairly well known for doing, well, odd things - like keeping a shotgun in his courtroom and sentencing a habitual speeder to clean up trash from the bayou using the judge's boat.
This incident is brought to your attention precisely because Judge Ellender doesn't get it.
Many people complain that America society has become overly sensitized to the sensibilities of minorities, and there is some merit to the argument that intention needs to be taken more fully into account before condemning particular acts or words.
Judge Ellender, however, reminds us that we have not become a society sufficiently cohesive so as to make concern over “political correctness” unnecessary.
Despite the gains made by women and minorities in recent decades, ours is still a society run by white males.
Without suggesting whether that's the way it ought to be, we need to acknowledge that's the way it is.
Judge Ellender is not only a member of that portion of the population that to a large degree runs this country but, as a descendent of six-term Sen. Allen Ellender (D., La.), is likely to have had few obstacles in his career path.
In fact, he is unlikely to have suffered prejudice, stereotyping, or abuse of any sort while growing up and, by his own words, makes plain that he does not understand the anger, humiliation, and pain his choice of Halloween costumes could incite.
Black leaders said they would meet with Judge Ellender before deciding whether to file a complaint with the state Judiciary Commission, which could censure or dismiss the judge if it determines that he has violated the state's judicial code of conduct.
I suppose it's possible that Judge Ellender believes American society has matured to the point that everyone would see the humor in his costume.
Two other explanations, however, appear more likely.
The first is that Judge Ellender is remarkably stupid, in which case he should be falling all over himself trying to explain how his costume did not reflect his attitude toward the black community.
The alternative is that he is prejudiced and should step down from the bench because he can't be trusted to sit in judgment of others.
If you say “convict” and the judge sees a black man in chains, or you say “African-American” and the judge thinks “criminal,” then there will be no justice for any of us.
Which explanation would you choose?