Most people by now have heard the name Cliven Bundy in the news. Most probably don’t even know what he was originally in the news for. This old man’s dispute over his refusal to pay grazing fees for his cows on federally-protected land has turned into a full-fledged racial controversy.
How? An ill-conceived press conference. In Bundy’s head, he was trying to make an insightful point about poverty in today’s America. The problem would appear to be that Bundy only sees this as being an issue in the African American community.
Here’s what Bundy said:
I want to tell you one more thing I know about the negro. When I go, went, go to Las Vegas, North Las Vegas; and I would see these little government houses, and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids and there was always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch. They didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for the kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for the young girls to do.
And because they were basically on government subsidy – so now what do they do? They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never, they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered are they were better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things? Or are they better off under government subsidy?
The main controversy I’ve heard seems to be centered upon Bundy’s antiquated use of the word “negro.” That is not the issue here. Words are just letters put together to create sounds. An old man said “negro.” That happens. That’s what people said when he was spry, young man.
Words are letters and sounds. George Carlin famously said, “There is nothing inherently wrong with the word ‘nigger’ in and of itself. It’s the racist asshole using it that you need to worry about.”
An old man using a word he likely grew up believing to be socially acceptable is not racist. Ill-advised? Probably. Ignorant? Perhaps? Did he call somebody a “negro” out of hatred? I don’t believe so. He was actually trying to make what he believed to be a good point. Spolier alert: it wasn’t.
The problem with Cliven Bundy is not his choice of adjective. His grammar could use some work, but his adjective isn’t the issue. This old man made the case that maybe black people would be better off if they were still slaves. He implied that being a slave to the government – through welfare and housing – was the same as being a slave to a 1800’s era white man. And he said that maybe the 1800’s version would be better.
We don’t need to hear an explanation of how awful that statement is, so we’re not going to go into that here. The lesson to learn here is to be mad about the right thing. I’ve read pieces on Thought Catalog and other places about this issue and they seem to be focusing on his word choice. If we’re going to get offended, we need to get offended about the right thing. A word is a word. It can’t hurt anybody. Antiquated ideas about forcing one man into the ownership of another man can potentially be bad. Let’s get mad about that. And the fact that he never payed his grazing fees.