Like many Americans, I have been following the story of Cliven Bundy, the squatter rancher who refuses to get off federally owned land or to pay the his fees for using federal land. Instead, when the government decided enough was enough after 20 years, Bundy kicked it up a notch by bringing in his pals and going for an armed standoff with the government. The story, while compelling, didn’t reach the level of feeling like something I should write about, despite the clear example of Bundy’s white supremacist beliefs reflected in his views about the government.
No, it was Bundy’s comments about “The Negroes” a few days ago as reported in the New York Times that really started to make me sit up a bit straighter: “I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is 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 their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.
“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “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.”
Hold up! Did this man just say “The Negro?” Cliven, it is 2014, not 1964, and the last time I checked Black folks/African Americans have not been called Negroes since before I walked the earth and that was over 40 years ago! By the way, despite the struggles and challenges that African Americans have faced since the 1960s in the fight for equality, I hardly think we were better off picking cotton. I am haunted by my father’s account of being the age of my daughter (now nearly 9) picking cotton in the 1950s while living in a shack with no running water. As a son of sharecroppers, life was not easy; I can only imagine what life was like for my great-grandparents who were born into slavery in Arkansas. No, Cliven, have a seat. In fact, have all the seats and stop talking.
In many ways, it would be easy to look at Cliven and see him as a product of his environment and write him off as an old racist. However, here in Maine, one of our state’s largest papers is the Bangor Daily News, which allows bloggers to write under their banner. And recently, it allowed a young man who was one of those bloggers to post an offensive piece in defense of Cliven’s bold and unchecked racism.
Frankly, this is not the first time that the Bangor Daily News has allowed writers to spew racist thoughts unchecked and clearly unedited. And I am guessing they do so under the guise of stimulating conversation and generating page clicks. Long-time readers may remember the now-former-pal incident and the fact that she, too, writes for the Bangor Daily News.
Interestingly enough, the blogger says the issue is that Cliven is simply a poor communicator who may be ignorant about racism. No, Cliven is not ignorant about racism, he knew that his words would create a shitstorm and I suspect that after what Cliven sees as a success in getting the federal government to back down after he pulled out his armed goons, he is riding the wave of white supremacy which emboldened him to push even further. America has never faced her painful past when it comes to slavery and to suggest in any context that Black folks may have been better off when they were truly seen as inhuman pieces of merchandise whose only purpose was to serve whites is telling. What human is better off being devalued? Not allowed to raise their own kids? To exist only to serve another with no humanity of their own. To still be burdened with the scars of generations of those long denied their own humanity?
This blogger, in choosing to write this, revealed his own lack of compassion and his willingness to reduce these issues down to the political. That is an insult to the many men and women of color in this country and, yes, the few of us in this state. As a Black woman who makes her home in Maine, this piece is a public example of the unintentional racism that is the norm for people of color in this state. No one is ever a racist, we are always told that we need to understand…no, this Black woman is tired of understanding why my humanity continues to be chopped into bite-sized pieces when people deny my past and choose to rewrite history and distill it down to nothing. The fact that a large publication clearly allows such views to be shared speaks volumes about how people of color are viewed in this state. We are seen as nonexistent. I guess it’s a good thing that my exit Maine plan is in full effect; spring 2016 can’t come soon enough. Maybe a winning lotto ticket will speed it up.