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Things that became racist in 2020 no 453: Portraits of white people in American courtrooms

Tom Winnifrith
Wednesday 23 December 2020

Cripes I have a number of portraits of my ancestors who are, like me, white, hanging in my house. When my wife, a person of colour, says that they look like boring old stiffs – which I fear they may have been – what I guess she really means is that their presence offends her and is a reminder of colonialism and oppression and I might as well be displaying photos of the Nuremberg rallies.

Yes, it is 2020, and so portraits of white folks join drinking coffee, sand, dating people of colour, not dating people of colour, knickers, etc, etc as being, by definition, racist. These are not portraits of white folks who might have been racist but any portraits of any white people.

In the US state of Virginia, Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge David Bernhard ruled that Terrance Shipp Jr’s upcoming trial of charges of eluding police, assault on a law enforcement officer, and other counts will be held in a courtroom that has zero portraits on the wall. Public defenders raised this issue in a motion, which they called “Motion to Remove Portraiture Overwhelmingly Depicting White Jurists Hanging in Trial Courtroom.” 45 of the 47 portraits are of white jurists.

“While to some the issue of portraits might be a trivial matter, to those subject to the justice system it is far from the case,” said Judge Bernard as the portraits “may serve as unintended but implicit symbols that suggest the courtroom may be a place historically administered by whites for whites.”

“The Defendant’s constitutional right to a fair jury trial stands paramount over the countervailing interest of paying homage to the tradition of adorning courtrooms with portraits that honor past jurists,” the guilty white liberal judge noted.


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About Tom Winnifrith
Tom Winnifrith is the editor of When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
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