Midwest Voices

Cliven Bundy needs a patient, nonjudgmental black friend

Melvina Johnson Young
Melvina Johnson Young

Y’all know who I feel bad for? Cliven Bundy. I feel like he needs a black friend.

Yeah, I know he’s got that one black bodyguard. But, frankly, that guy’s done a crappy job or Cliven wouldn’t be in so much dang trouble.

See some people, like Cliven, need the kind of black friend who will patiently and nonjudgmentally explain why they shouldn’t try to touch a black person’s hair without permission, use the phrase “I’m not a racist but ” or say the N-word (ever wonder what those people think they’re missing out on?)

So, I’ll be his friend. And, I’m going to take the man at his word. Not about the cattle grazing thing though. (Some folks are calling him a cowboy hat-wearing, horse-riding, flag-waving, stand-behind-the-ladies, gun-wielding, cattle-grazing welfare queen. Feeding his huge herd off public lands our tax dollars pay for to the tune of a million bucks.) But, heck, I’m willing to look over that plus skip over the part where he’s afraid that it’s the blacks who are ripping off the government and taxpaying citizens.

No, I mean I’m going to take him at his word about the race thing. He says he’s not a racist because he doesn’t have hatred for blacks in his heart. He says he’s not trying to be hateful with his words and he’s sorry if he’s sinned (except for the “stealing from the American people” thing, of course). So, I’ll give him that.

I’m going to assume he’s good at heart (even though racism is so much more than how we feel about somebody “in our hearts.”) It’s not like he’s the only one using the ol’ “No hatred in the heart = No racism” equation.

We’re hearing it quite a bit these days. It seems like a good heart means no racism. No matter what else goes down. Shoot, even Grand Wizard Frank Ancona of the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan used it to put some distance between his “no hate” group and the tragic shootings at the Jewish Community Center and at Village Shalom in Overland Park.

So we’ve got to ask it: If Cliven doesn’t have any hatred in his heart, where did all that fetid junk that spilled out of his mouth come from? Is it possible for squalid stuff to live in your head without letting your heart know about it? I can’t say for sure.

I just want to tell my new friend where he went so wrong.

Well, there was this: “Let me tell you one more thing I know about the Negro.” Cliven! Buddy! That did not help you. Look, anytime you use a singular article (“the”) to talk about a whole group of folks (about 44 million) you fixin’ to be in trouble, man!

Some might not notice, but there is a little diversity within the group. Some African Americans are lawyers, some are farmers, some are doctors, some are factory workers, some are police, some are writers, some are maids, some are husbands, some are wives, some are servicemen and women, and some are deadbeats and thieves.

We don’t all think or act the same. And (secret as it’s kept) we don’t all know each other, either. So we can’t all really be held responsible for one another’s actions or lumped together all the time.

Here’s another tip for you, Big C: I know it can stress some people out keeping up with the “politically correct” names for black people, but “Negro?” Come on, man! That is so 1896. Put a little thinking muscle into it! Don’t you get “Oprah” or “The Cosby Show” reruns out there on the Nevada range?

I’m betting not. Because it seems like there was already an operational problem in your thinking way before you let the media in on your “Negro solution.” Like when you saw a half-dozen black folks in that open door “of the government house in the middle of the day,” why didn’t you automatically ask yourself if somebody might be laid off? Or, if somebody was just getting back from an early shift at work? Or, if somebody was taking a break between two menial jobs to be with their family? Or, if somebody was hustling doing day labor and hadn’t had the luck to connect with a boss for the day? Or, if somebody was an out of work veteran or disabled? Or, if retired grandparents were watching grandchildren?

How come? Seems like you hurdled right over all the possibilities that could be happening to real people and ran right to the racial stereotype finish line: “They just won’t work.” See how that messed you up?

Here’s another thing, Cliven: What do Las Vegas’ unemployment numbers look like? That’s kind of important. Now. I know some folks think that unemployment numbers really only affect white people because only white people really want to work. But actual experts will tell you that nationally and historically black unemployment numbers are always twice the white unemployment rate. One very big reason for that is that there tend not to be many jobs where African Americans live or can drive or find a bus to — especially since the crumbling of the American manufacturing sector. (Say! What employers or businesses did you see in that part of the city, C.B.?)

So, check those numbers out, bud! Unemployment numbers tend to tell us who can’t find work. (Side note: Check your racial math, too, buddy. Remember, some folks see African Americans to the power of four. If three black people are present, they see 81. There may not have been as many folks in that doorway as you thought.)

But whether it was 3 or 81, those black faces in the middle of the door in the middle of the day got you to ruminating about whether slavery might be a better deal for blacks as a whole because at least they had “family structure” and “something to do during the day.”

It’s honesty time, Broseph. You’ve got a problem: You think you know what slavery is. When you’re talking about you and other white people, “slavery” apparently means being forced to pay taxes and grazing fees or admit there’s a federal government. But when you’re talking about black people “slavery” seems to mean blacks expecting the government (i.e. other people) to take care of them like in slavery times. So, you conclude, freedom has given black people less freedom than slavery ever did.

Okey Dokey. Cliven, homey, this is where you stepped into the biggest cow plop. Because you really don’t know what slavery was or is. Like when you made your “black families were better off” argument.

In slavery “black family” was not a legal thing. Did you know that? Black marriages didn’t legally exist and black parents didn’t have legal rights to their children because it interfered with the property rights of white masters. “The family structure” was generally whatever white masters and the market decided it was going to be. Slaveholders decided to sell black fathers away from their families, or mothers away from babies on the breast, or children away from parents and siblings, at any time, for any reason, but mostly for whatever suited the pocketbook.

So to some of us, it’s actually been better in the 21st century. Family members can’t be sold down the river never to be seen again. Now. It’s important to realize the black people insisted on having families anyway during slavery — no matter what the law said or how masters and market tried to divide them. Proof? One of the biggest problems slaveholders noted in their slave-holding journals and periodicals (see “Debow’s Review” for example) was the constant and “aggravating” problem of enslaved fathers or mothers running away without permission to see their children and spouses. So, there was that. But there were no rights for black families. They had no rights to one another.

Now let’s talk about your “something to do all day” argument. That seems pretty important to you. Do you really think it was better in slavery, where work was “sunup to sundown” for men and “can see to can’t see” for women? Where childhoods and innocence were routinely stolen in relentless, backbreaking, never-ending work? (That’s pretty much what “slavery” means.)

Did you know that some people were literally worked into the grave? Coz you know slavery was more than picking cotton, right? It was rice, corn, sugarcane, tobacco, indigo, railroad building, factory work, land clearing, levy construction, slaughter housing, blacksmithing, carpentry, seamstressing, baking, on-call service 24/7 you get the idea.

It was literally slavery. And do you really think it was better when slaveholders took all the profits from the labor of enslaved blacks, laying claim to everything from their output to their bodies and names? Imagine. All the profits of that labor went to a “taker class” called “masters” for generations and generations, robbing black children of generations and generations of inheritance and accumulated wealth to the tune of trillions of dollars in current day money.

Shoot, if black folks had gotten the money they worked for, there might not be so many left standing in the door in the middle of the day.

What if somebody took your cattle away? Or your ranch? Or your children? Would that be OK with you if they gave you a substandard diet (food they made you grow) and a leaky cabin (which they made you build) “in return”? Would it make it any better if they claimed to take care of you?

Do you really think it was better in slavery when a slaveholder could come into any cabin, point to a man’s wife or young daughter (younger than you’d ever want to imagine) take her from the house and make her do sexual things while beating her or threatening to sell her family members? (See almost any slave narrative or the WPA ex-slave interviews, for example. Or don’t. Peep the genetic evidence: The average African-American is about 65 percent sub-Saharan African and 29 percent European.)

What if somebody did that to your wife or daughter? Do you really think it was better when a husband, son or father was beaten nearly to death or sold away for objecting to sexual violence against his female kin? Would you want to be that man?

Do you really think it was better when white slaveholders could make enslaved blacks work at the tip of the whip, the side of the palm, the edge of the brick or any other instrument handy?

Think it was better when they tied mothers to whipping posts and made husbands and children watch their clothes ripped off, their bodies bared, their skin flayed open? When they tied fathers to whipping posts and made mothers and children watch “until blood soaked the ground?” When they beat children while daring mothers and fathers to make a move? When an ear was cut off, an eye gouged out or teeth knocked down a throat to prove who was the racial boss? When they beat human beings to death with no legal ramifications or penalties whatsoever? (Though obviously the slaveholder suffered a financial loss.)

(Go ahead. Google Image “Gordon Slave.” Ask yourself if that's better.)

Would you want your human worth valued like that? If what’s in your heart is what you say is in your heart, I think you know the answer. Now that we’re friends, Cliven (not like that jive bodyguard who won’t tell you this stuff) there’s one more thing I think you could use a little help with.

You seem to feel that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s work is unfinished because white folks can’t say “Negro” or call slavery a pretty good deal for blacks as opposed to, say, his work being unfinished because there’s still a lot of stuff happening to hurt black people like higher unemployment rates, re-segregating schools and re-blocked voting rights.

You’re right. King was a pretty good guy who fought to end racism against black people. And, did you know he was also a warrior for ending poverty and the economic exploitation of people of all races? But (color you confused) he didn’t actually spend a lot of time on fighting for white guys who think slavery was a better system for solving black problems. So, knowing that now, could you do me a favor?

Could you stop inserting Martin Luther King Jr.’s name in places where it doesn’t really belong or make sense? I know that’s kind of a thing now. Where some people feel like if they invoke Martin Luther King Jr.’s name that automatically gives them non-racist status even though they’re saying and doing things that 15 years ago would have been universally recognized as racist. Even by racists.

So feel free to kick this around to some of your buddies in politics (Rep. Paul Ryan, Mike Huckabee, Rep. Michele Bachmann, et. al.) and media (Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, etc.) who’ve basically been saying the same things as you but in very carefully coded phrasing. Shoot, who’s to say you didn’t borrow an idea or two?

So Cliven, CB, buddy, pal, amigo stop talking with your head. Please. Listen to your heart. You say you’ve got some good stuff in there.

Oh! Could you text Donald Sterling and tell him I’m available next weekend. Seems like he could use a black friend, too.

Tell him that if he doesn’t want any black people coming to his games, the Clippers are going to develop a real problem with winning.