Richard Cebull, chief judge for the U.S. District of Montana, took the nation aback this week by forwarding a set of shared remarks about President Obama. The judge passed on a racially offensive e-mail message that made jokes inferring that President Barack Obama’s mother had sex with dogs. The e-mail features a “touching” story of Barack asking his mother why he’s half-White and half-Black. It concludes with her telling her son that “from all she can remember from that party,” he should be glad that he doesn’t bark.
So, this federal judge who has made decisions impacting the lives of countless people of color, had no problem forwarding an e-mail implying that the President of the United States is of mixed race because his mother was a drunken, sexually promiscuous woman who had sex with dogs.
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This e-mail is disturbing for a multitude of reasons, one of which is the fact that the judge’s sentiments are shared by millions of Americans who can’t quite understand why this joke is a sad and telling reflection of America’s long-held perceptions of Black people. African Americans have long been compared with monkeys, perceived as being less than human, and given extraordinarily long prison sentences by judges like Cebull who care nothing for us or our families.
Part of the reason that allegedly God-fearing Americans had no problem enslaving Black people for 400 years is because they believed that we were subhuman and not deserving of basic dignity or human rights.
So as much as Judge Cebull wants to apologize and characterize this mishap as a simple error in judgment (this is what Black people always hear), the fact remains that this issue goes far deeper than any racist would like to admit. There is no way, with any clear conscience, that any of us can maintain our faith in a justice system that empowers leaders who joke about Black people having sex with animals.
The sickness is beyond comprehension.
The Code of conduct for U.S. Judges, published by the U.S. Judicial Conference, calls for judges “to act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.“
Judge Cebull’s actions do not inspire confidence in his integrity or his impartiality. Cebull’s colleagues and fellow judges should be first in line to ask him to step down, since his actions reflect poorly on the entire judiciary, and not just him. Also, his fellow Republicans must realize that overlooking this kind of behavior does nothing to fight the perception that the party works to harbor America’s racial terrorists.
I can’t imagine Judge Cebull sharing a similar joke about Jews or the gay community and being allowed to keep his power. I also can’t imagine anyone feeling comfortable trying to defend this kind of activity by a man in his position. Even Cebull’s friends and allies should speak up, admit that he is wrong, and ask him to resign. America is a nation that is trying to move forward, and none of us benefit when we are still comparing Black people to dogs.