The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia


May 3, 2014

GOP jumps from wagon before band got the chance

The Back Porch

— Republicans made a cause célèbre of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy until, in a video interview, he used the word “Negro” and questioned whether black people were better off as slaves picking cotton.

Bundy is in trouble with the feds over grazing rights on federal land. No doubt his big cowboy hat and drawl gave him just the Everyman appeal former President Reagan had.

And then there was that word, a term out of place in today’s society but once used by people to describe dark-skinned people. The disparaging version is known as the N-word.

And then there’s the context — or lack thereof. Bundy may be a federal criminal. He may be a racist. But nothing in the so-called damning video excerpts on The Washington Post website confirms that.

Here’s what Bundy said, not just the sound bites repeated by the media.

“And so what I testify to you, I was in the Watts riot. I seen the beginning fire, and I seen the last fire. What I seen is civil disturbance. People are not happy. People are thinking they don’t have their freedoms and they don’t have these things. And they didn’t have them.

“We’ve progressed quite a bit from that day until now. And we sure don’t want to go back. We sure don’t want the colored people to have to go back to that point, and we sure don’t want these Mexican people to go back to that point.

“And we can make a difference right now by taking care of some of these bureaucracies and do it in a peaceful way.

“Let me talk to you about the Mexicans. These are just things I know about them, the Negro. I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro. When I’d go through Las Vegas and north Las Vegas, and I would see these little government houses. And in front of that government house, the door was usually open and the older people and the kids, and there was 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, and so now what do they do. They abort their young children. They put their young men in jail because they never, they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, ‘Are they better off as slaves picking cotton, 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. They had less family life. And their happiness, you could see in their faces they wasn’t happy sitting on that concrete sidewalk. Down there, they was probably growing their turnips.

“So that’s all government; that’s not freedom.

“Now let me talk about the Spanish people. You know I understand that they come over here against our Constitution and cross our borders. But they’re here, and they’re people. And I’ve worked beside by side by a lot of them. 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 awful nice people. And we need to have those people join us and be with us, not not coming to our party.”

Bundy is a rancher, a man who lives off the land. It’s conceivable the cotton-picking comments referred to a person’s ability to know how to work the land and provide for a family. He was talking about job skills.

The real horror for the Republicans and even worse horror for the Democrats is this: What if Bundy’s right?

What if all the government programs championed by the Democrats have made dependent slaves of all the poor people in this country because government has exploited it to serve itself and not those in need? What if throwing money without providing education, life skills, safe playgrounds and safe neighborhoods hasn’t been the answer from on high? What if those who insist on maintaining the status quo to salve their consciences are knowingly, or unknowingly, keeping their boots on the necks of the nation’s poor?

Nah, it’s just easier to call an uneducated, rural white man a racist. If it’s Bundy’s fault, it’s not theirs, and they can sleep better at night.

— Young is a Register-Herald columnist. E-mail:

© 2014 by Nerissa Young

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