A Hesitant Defense of Cliven Bundy

I’ve stayed away from the Bundy story until now. It seemed like the latest bit of 24-hour news sensationalism, and I still think it is. Even as I type these words I’m not exactly interested in the whole story. I don’t plan to do my homework and could care less what I’ve missed or what will show up later.

I only became interested in the story after the racial remarks Bundy made that were decried by every ideological color on my spectrum of social media. That was what caught my attention.

I read this piece by the New York Times, that distilled his remarks about, in his words, “the Negro.” In these remarks it is hard to understand what he is talking about, but he does wonder aloud about whether slavery was a more free condition when compared to the than the plight of Black America today, which, prima facie, may seem ridiculous to some people.

*

Let me say two things about this:

1. Bundy’s subject position, as a white man, gives him very little to no credibility, but that does not change the fact that he is pursuing a line of reasoning that does have some precedent. It was Frederick Douglass who, with infinitely more credibility than Bundy, said “I denounce the so-called emancipation as a stupendous fraud” in 1888. It was Carter G. Woodson, founder of Negro History Week and Black History, who wrote, in The Miseducation of the Negro, what Robert Nesta Marley and Lauryn Hill would go on to echo as “mental slavery,” a psychological, spiritual, and structural form of lynching.

That Bundy should not to be leading the public conversation about race in America goes without saying, but taking his words as being intentionally racist would be, on my reading, a serious and grave mistake. I don’t think Bundy has much to say about Black America that we haven’t heard before, but the salient point is that, for those of us concerned about the mass incarceration of Black men and other forms of inequality that persist for people of color, this is nothing particularly new or even controversial. One might call it a rather odd blend of Leftist social critique, mixed with Right wing political theatre. The controversy is that he dared to speak in words that are not presently sanctioned in public discourse, and mostly for good reason.

2. There is the other racial group that Bundy spoke about. The Mexicans. You wouldn’t know that if you didn’t listen to the actual clip of his ramblings. (And, no, I don’t think it’s a big liberal media conspiracy; after all, both sides are ignoring it, and both sides just need the TV ratings.)

Watch it, here. It’s less than four minutes:

If you don’t want to watch it, fine, at least read these remarks Bundy makes about Mexicans (and whites):

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. When you see those Mexican families, they’re together, they’re picnicking together, they’re spending their time together, and I’ll tell you, in my way of thinking, they’re awfully nice people.

Of course there is something patronizing about Bundy’s phrasing and his words are hardly polite or politic. Plus, he goes on, I think, to say that this is why Mexicans should be brought into the Republican Party, which might suggest racial favor toward “good minorities” (Mexicans) and bad ones, which reminds us of the “model minority” issues with Asian populations. But, all things considered, speaking as a Mexican, I can say that I smiled when I heard that part.

I’ve heard racism before, I’ve even heard it when it wasn’t spoken, but, to these brown ears, this just isn’t it. In fact, the affect I experienced from it was exactly the reverse.

*

I don’t know what to think about Bundy’s politics. I haven’t read enough to begin to understand what the hell is going on over there. I find the wisps of anarchism, and of the USA being rooted in an anarchic ethos, very interesting. I find his GOP Republican Party FOXNEWS constitution-defending patriotism nauseating and cheapening. The media’s political field day and handwringing is predictable and we’ll surely forget about all of this very soon, but I must admit publicly that I cannot find fault with Bundy on the issue of race, in his own words I’ve shared, although I wouldn’t say that he is modeling an effective way to promote racial reconciliation and healing. At worst he sounds cavalier about slavery and uses antiquated terminology (had he used the N-word, this would be a totally different story!), but I think the full context and delivery show more nuance when seen in full.

That our groupthink society has bullied us into taking strong and stupid positions on issues we don’t really know anything about is, to me, a far more grave and sobering matter than the exploits of some crazy rancher in Nevada and his nut-job friends and opportunists. Guns are scary, and angry white folks brandishing them is particularly scary, but I am at least equally as scared of the unthinking assumptions and forced positions that are taken because of the fear that this sort of ideological mess engenders.

No, I don’t “stand with Cliven Bundy” or some nonsensical posturing like that, but I am willing to given everyone a fair chance to speak and be understood in terms of what they mean to say. Insofar as that’s the case, I will defend him as I would any other. Anything less than that seems nothing short of idiotic.

 

  • BTP

    I guess some are shocked to find an octogenarian Nevada cattle rancher expresses himself inartfully when speaking of race. But that Bundy shouldn’t be leading the conversation about race is true only in the sense that a conversation about race is simply impossible in this country. Or has anyone failed to notice that the President is silent when a mob of blacks beats a white motorist to a pulp but has lots to say when a wealthy recipient of a NAACP lifetime achievement award gets prickly when his gold-digging girlfriend hangs out with black ballplayers?

    Please don’t misunderstand: I never speak of race at all. Ever. I am much more sophisticated than these rubes who imagine themselves free to speak their minds on whatever topic they like.

    • SamRocha

      I don’t think that it’s impossible; but it is hard. Much of what is hard about it, though, is rooted in very real pain and wounds and fear. I’ll defend Bundy within the limits of what I take to be his intent, but I am not comfortable using it to make general statement on the conversation on race, however strained it may be.

    • craig

      “But that Bundy shouldn’t be leading the conversation about race is true
      only in the sense that a conversation about race is simply impossible in
      this country.”

      Agreed. Nobody wants an actual conversation about race, because that would have the potential to be unexpectedly thoughtful, even as it had the likelihood of being heated or at least tense. What the left constantly demands is ‘conversation’, which is not the same as conversation; it is a euphemism for ‘shut up and be harangued until you agree to let us tell you what you are permitted to think’.

      Bundy is blunt, but like Phil Robertson he has valid points that the left desperately wants to avoid confronting. Nobody comparing the 1950s to the present longs to bring back Jim Crow, and claiming Bundy does is slander pure and simple. His point, which a Christian ought to be able to make, was that much of what was done in the name of civil rights was in fact atomizing society and destroying the family. It is only in this sense that, despite Jim Crow, things were sometimes better then for minorities than they are now.

      It makes no sense to defend (as the left so often does) the right to
      lament collateral damage inflicted on foreigners in the wars America
      wages, yet simultaneously rule it off limits to lament collateral damage
      inflicted on Americans at home in the “war on poverty”, “war on drugs”,
      “war on women”, etc.

      Sure, there is now political and economic opportunity to point to for many — at least those who manage to escape first being counted among the aborted infants, neglected youth, and feral adults. But the ‘Great Society’ and subsequent changes have all proceeded from a secular point of view that holds the only important things as politics and economics. ‘Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral’ is not a philosophy for Christians.

      • SamRocha

        Let’s be fair to all sides and admit that thoughtfulness is not a virtue of either side these days.

        And your comment on “war” is wordplay: there is a huge difference between real war and “war on x.”

  • Ken

    Slavery is evil. It treats human beings, created and given dignity by God, as farm animals. Segregation were laws enacted and enforced by state governments which said that a group of people were inferior to another race. Have you ever looked these two concepts up in the Catechism? The concept that these evil and horrible institutions are in anyway better to any condition is beyond comprehension and shows an embarrassing ignorance.

    If a person wants to discuss the break down of the family in African American communities and why that has happened that’s fine but to compare it these two forms of evil on a Catholic website is inconceivable. Just because “liberals” called him out on this doesn’t necessarily mean they were wrong.

    Isn’t there an editor on this site that could vet this type of nonsense?

    • SamRocha

      Ken, you may want to read what I’ve actually written. The truth of the matter is a finer point: namely, that “slavery” is not reducible to the monstrous institution of slavery, that there are forms of slavery and oppression that remain afterwards to the present day. If that is out of bounds for Catholics to read and write about, then I guess I go burn all my Dubois, Woodson, X, James Cone, and Cornel West. But I am not going to do that because you are quite wrong about this.

      • Ken

        Yes, I can read and I read your posting. Cliven Bundy said that in some ways blacks or his term, “negros” were better off in slavery because it helped keep the family structure together. You said in your posting this “but the salient point is that, for those of us concerned about the mass
        incarceration of Black men and other forms of inequality that persist
        for people of color, this is nothing particularly new or even
        controversial.”

        To say that his comments have any “salient points” is utter nonsense. Slavery didn’t bring families together it ripped them apart. The idea that slaves were sitting as a family unit around a campfire and happily signing hymns is ignorant. A person cannot and should not compare the plight of blacks today against slavery and say that it was better in anyway. Did you read my post? I said it’s fine if you want to discuss the breakdown of the family structure but it’s wrong to say that slavery is was, in anyway, better.

        Also, your list black authors doesn’t validate your inaccurate logic on this matter.

        • SamRocha

          If you add what I wrote before (” I don’t think Bundy has much to say about Black America that we haven’t heard before”) what you quoted, I think you would find my point and, on my reading, Bundy’s. Then, if you supplement that with my list of authors, in the post and here in comments, you might find the fact that what Bundy said in his poorly worded and credibility-lacking comparison was, in fact, very close if not identical to that point about slavery as being related to more than the 400-year institution. That his wording made it seem cavalier is, perhaps, a separate issue, but I don’t the whole commentary, on balance, shows that, especially when you measure it against his much clearer words on Mexicans.

          (Let me also add how refreshing it is to get some proper push-back on this. Cheers, seriously.)

          • Ken

            He said that he wondered if “Negros” were better off as slaves. Here’s the quote ““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.”

            I understand the point you are making regarding the incarceration and the cycle of poverty. Those are legitimate points to discuss. He’s not saying that. He’s asking a rhetorical question of whether government aid is worse than slavery. It’s a worthy discussion to ask whether or not government aid is actually helping or hurting people I get that but for a person to wonder if it’s worse than slavery is absurd and undermines the evil of what slavery is.

            Also the generalization that he makes about the “negro” having abortions, not having a family and being on government subsidies are horrendous characterizations.

            You’re reading too much into what he is saying and giving credit to a person who doesn’t deserve it.

          • SamRocha

            Fair point. I read that litany, especially about incarceration, as being a fairly common refrain coming from those concerned about the state of Black America. That you saw my equivocation of it to Bundy’s words is a matter of some respectable differences in judgement, but insofar as that is my reading (and it still is) *that* is my point. But your own point is very well taken.

  • $51060174

    have you considered going back to Mexico given all of the oppression you faced as a minority?

    • SamRocha

      Not really, but I am moving to Canada very soon.

      • $51060174

        I’m surprised seeing that you identify as Mexican you would not want to move there…. Or even Cuba, they have free health care.. What a relief it will be for you.. Good luck.

        • SamRocha

          Why not New Mexico, Sacramento, or San Antonio? And health care is actually “free” in lots of places: England, South Africa, Brazil, and even Mexico. Canada, too, of course.

      • Ken

        You should delete these comments from this person. They aren’t appropriate.

        • $51060174

          Ken, stop being a racist, there is nothing wrong with living in Mexico.

        • SamRocha

          See my comment policy in the “About” tab.

          • Ken

            Hey, I want to apologize for my comments yesterday. I was overzealous in my responses. I really feel strongly about racial justice so sometimes my heart goes way ahead of my head. I should have read your posting more carefully the first time. Please forgive me.

          • SamRocha

            Please, Ken. Be at peace. I understand your sentiments, and hope that, as Jasper is showing here, you can see my own. But you were right to push back and I appreciated the criticism. I hope you come back and push me again. God knows, I sure need it.

  • $51060174

    have you considered going back to Mexico given all of the oppression you faced as a minority?

    • SamRocha

      Not really, but I am moving to Canada very soon.

      • $51060174

        I’m surprised seeing that you identify as Mexican you would not want to move there…. Or even Cuba, they have free health care.. What a relief it will be for you.. Good luck.

        • SamRocha

          Why not New Mexico, Sacramento, or San Antonio? And health care is actually “free” in lots of places: England, South Africa, Brazil, and even Mexico. Canada, too, of course.

      • Ken

        You should delete these comments from this person. They aren’t appropriate.

        • $51060174

          Ken, stop being a racist, there is nothing wrong with living in Mexico.

        • SamRocha

          See my comment policy in the “About” tab.

          • Ken

            Hey, I want to apologize for my comments yesterday. I was overzealous in my responses. I really feel strongly about racial justice so sometimes my heart goes way ahead of my head. I should have read your posting more carefully the first time. Please forgive me.

          • SamRocha

            Please, Ken. Be at peace. I understand your sentiments, and hope that, as Jasper is showing here, you can see my own. But you were right to push back and I appreciated the criticism. I hope you come back and push me again. God knows, I sure need it.

  • Donalbain

    Who ever would have thought that a states right, sovereign citizen, neo-confederate would turn out to be a racist?!?!

  • Donalbain

    Who ever would have thought that a states right, sovereign citizen, neo-confederate would turn out to be a racist?!?!

  • Ken

    He said that he wondered if “Negros” were better off as slaves. Here’s the quote ““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.”

    I understand the point you are making regarding the incarceration and the cycle of poverty. Those are legitimate points to discuss. He’s not saying that. He’s asking a rhetorical question of whether government aid is worse than slavery. It’s a worthy discussion to ask whether or not government aid is actually helping or hurting people I get that but for a person to wonder if it’s worse than slavery is absurd and undermines the evil of what slavery is.

    Also the generalization that he makes about the “negro” having abortions, not having a family and being on government subsidies are horrendous characterizations.

    You’re reading too much into what he is saying and giving credit to a person who doesn’t deserve it.

  • SamRocha

    Fair point. I read that litany, especially about incarceration, as being a fairly common refrain coming from those concerned about the state of Black America. That you saw my equivocation of it to Bundy’s words is a matter of some respectable differences in judgement, but insofar as that is my reading (and it still is) *that* is my point. But your own point is very well taken.


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