Recently, the media has been somewhat abuzz with the comments Cliven Bundy has made about African-Americans. Bundy’s started gaining notoriety when the media picked up on his battle with the federal government concerning federal land he has been using for cattle grazing which has come to a standoff between Bundy and the federal government. He had become somewhat of a hero to people standing against perceived government overreach. Lately, he has been gaining more attention about comments he has made about “the Negro” and wondering if African-Americans may have been better off as slaves. Understandably, his vile words and thoughts have received a good deal of backlash, and Bundy has responded in a somewhat predictable fashion. In the wake of the backlash, he spoke about how he loves all people and how he is not a racist. In an interview with Chris Cuomo, Bundy continues, “Maybe I sinned … and maybe I don’t know what I actually said. … If I say Negro or black or slave … if those people cannot take those kind of words and not be (offended), then Martin Luther King hasn’t got his job done yet. … We need to get over this prejudice stuff.”
It is easy to point out the things he has said, examine what is wrong with them, and explain why they are racist. However, this does not get to the root of the issue. If we were to examine one thing he has said, I believe it is the quote above. There are two phrases that stick out to me most. The first is “if those people cannot take those kind of words”. With this phrase, Bundy is trying to tell African-Americans (as well as other people he offended) how they are supposed to feel about his use of the word “Negro” (yes, he mentions black and slave, but he is just trying to deflect and have people ignore the context in which he used the other words). He does not seem to realize that it is 2014 and that “Negro” is not an acceptable word that should be used in any discourse. He seems to not care about the incredibly negative connotations that word has, or its ties to slavery and further oppression that African-Americans have faced, and still continue to face, in this country. Bundy doesn’t seem to get that the words he used are not ok and that people should not have to take his use of those words lying down. They have every right to speak up and speak out against his flagrant and cavalier use of them.
The second phrase, and the more important one to me, is “We need to get over this prejudice stuff,” specifically the phrase “this prejudice stuff.” With this phrase, we get a full understating about how Bundy feels about what he said. His positing of the concept of prejudice as mere “stuff,” or ancillary noise, shows that Bundy is somebody who is not only out of touch, but also somebody who doesn’t care about the struggles others have had to face in the United States. He wants to sweep prejudice under the proverbial rug and never really have to talk about it. I think it is clear that his words and actions say otherwise.
Finally, I get to my main point: the issue I take is not specifically in what Bundy said (as offensive and horrible as it is), I take greater issue in the attitude he has about what he has said and what his ideas are. Bundy comes from a position where he does not have to think about issues pertaining to racial inequality or other forms of inequality and oppression in his day to day life. Many other people do not have that luxury. Because of this, when these issues do come up, Bundy and others like him want to ignore the harsh realities some people have to face, and they either try to minimize the problem by saying it is not as bad as it was, blame the victim for the problem as Bundy demonstrated, or they say that we should all come together and not speak about these issues anymore. Neither of these options are viable. Avoidance, victim blaming, and minimization of oppression that has occurred and continues to occur does not solve any problems. With Bundy’s statements, it is clear that we still need to take about race and racial inequality. This is not about trying to divide people or get people angry. It is about solving real problems that are occurring. Yes, these issues are not the most comfortable ones to speak about, but avoiding them is not the answer. Moving forward, we need to have discussions about the current state of people who are members of minority groups and other disenfranchised classes, how things have changed, or not changed, from how these groups have been treated in the past, and how we can work to find solutions to the problems we have today. I don’t claim to have any solutions that would be sufficient to solve or mitigate some of the current issues at hand; what needs to happen should be a learning process for everybody.
“If you won’t listen to reason, there’s always…Towanda.”