I know many of the people who had been calling Cliven Bundy a hero tried to back down from that certain comments. I had thought I was going to write about those eventually, because when I was writing about Donald Sterling and Mark Cuban, it all seemed to relate. After all, Sterling has had racist business practices for a long time, but it was saying something overt that got him in trouble, because then it couldn't be ignored.
I imagine that Cliven Bundy has probably been a racist for quite a while, and that a lot of the people who had to back away from him kind of believe the same things, but they don't really say it, or think in those exact terms. They use code words like "urban" or "culture of work", and because those words don't specify race they think they are okay.
There is a lot to be said about how we fool ourselves or why we are happy to ignore things that happen as long as no one accurately states it, but I'm not going there yet. It does all connect though, which is worth keeping in mind.
Here is what Bundy said.
"They didn't have nothing to do ... 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 learned how to pick cotton. And I've often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn't get no more freedom. They got less freedom."
His statements were based on seeing African American in a public housing project, and it was specifically seeing old people and children hanging out on a porch. He then talked about how hard-working Mexicans were and what good families they have, so you could know that he is not racist.
I think when someone says something that is stupid and ugly the tendency is to dismiss it out of hand. Some people knew Bundy was scum all along, and some people were embarrassed by the association and fled.
That leaves unacknowledged racism intact. It leaves logical fallacies intact. It keeps it okay to have ugly thoughts okay, as long as you don't speak them. That is how the systemic problems stay in place.
One thing I appreciate about knowing the context of that quote is that he was looking at older people and children and complaining about them not working. I don't know the specific ages, but are we then talking about seeing the retired and the young hanging out while the other adults are off at work? Because that's not a racial thing; that's normal.
Of course, under slavery it wouldn't be normal, because then there is no retirement age, and since there isn't schooling childhood play time is abbreviated, but the objection in this case would not be to them not working, it would be to them not having to work all the time. Surely Bundy is not saying that black people have to work more than other people, right?
Well, maybe he is. After all, without slavery they are getting abortions, going to jail, and not having a family life. Of course, with all those abortions there shouldn't be all of those children hanging around not working, or even any young men to go to jail after a while, and is it possible that the old people and the young people that he saw were related? Like maybe those are grandparents and grandchildren, and then after work the parents will be there and they will all eat dinner together? I'm no anthropologist, but if you see children, that sounds like there could be families.
I am going to go ahead and leave more freedom under slavery, and not having anything to do without learning how to pick cotton alone, because I think those statements are stupid in a pretty self-explanatory manner, and I think there's something more important here in Bundy's defense of Mexicans.
It does seem in this case to be specifically people from Mexico, in this case, and specifically undocumented workers because they "come over here against our Constitution and cross our borders, but they're here, and they're people...Don't tell me they don't work, and don't tell me they don't pay taxes. And don't tell me they don't have better family structures than most of us white people."
There is this still this false belief that people who get assistance are not working and paying taxes. Many SNAP recipients are employed. Many of them are employed at Wal-Mart, and many of those employees are getting housing subsidies too. There are homeless people who have jobs.
You can't rule out any of these people paying taxes. They may not be paying a huge amount, but assuming a lower income, whatever they do pay they are feeling. However, a nice family that is taking deductions for mortgage interest and property tax, children along with childcare or education deductions, and maybe some charitable donations (like tithing) pays a lot less in taxes than you might think.
Then of course, there is the grazing rights issue. I feel like the cattle and timber companies that use BLM land are getting away with a lot, compared to the usage fees, but Bundy didn't want to pay that. He didn't want to stop using it either, where someone else could pay the fees and get the benefits.
So honestly, my very first thought when he made his racist comments is that of course he would be pro-slavery. He does not believe in paying to use land; why would he believe in paying for labor?
There was more to it of course, and Rachel Maddow did a brilliant exposition on that, which you can watch:
There is a lot that is interesting there, but someone who wants to be cheap with his operating expenses for his own profit being supportive of illegal immigrants is really not surprising at all. Sure, he says they are people, and good people because they work hard and have families, but I suspect what he really loves is their lack of power.
Illegal immigrants will work long, hard hours in horrible conditions. You do have to pay them, but not very much. If they start causing trouble, it is easy to get them arrested or deported. They are easy to abuse. I think that's the way Bundy wants his black people.
We are still seeing that it is far too easy to abuse African-Americans, and we are seeing great efforts to keep that in place, that people are ignoring with double-speak and code words and urging the protesters to avoid violence when it is the cops who are bringing it. We need to look at these things clearly, not just jump away from the ugly and uncomfortable only when it is in the open.