Take another shot of courage
Wonder why the right words never come
You just get numb
—The Eagles, Tequila Sunrise
I’m going to be a little controversial today.
You may have seen the recent standoff between Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy and the federal Bureau of Land Management. Bundy has for years grazed his cattle on what is ostensibly federally-owned land and refused to pay the per-head fee for doing so after the land was officially closed off to protect an endangered tortoise (how closing the land only then to re-open it for a fee protects the tortoise escapes me). Recently his ranch was surrounded by armed federal agents, his cattle were confiscated and some of them killed under circumstances that have yet to be explained fully. Only after scores of armed private citizens came to Bundy’s aid did the government back down and give his cattle back (what was left of them, anyway).
Last week Bundy was back in the news, this time for comments he made about blacks. Discussing his recollection of driving past a government housing project in North Las Vegas, Bundy said:
“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro . . . in front of that government house 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? 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.”
[And then of course there’s the part that CNN, the New York Times, and the rest of the media edited out: “They got less family life, and their happiness—you could see it on their faces—they wasn’t happy sitting on that concrete sidewalk” The media also didn’t report his preceding comments on the Watts riots: “People are not happy, people thinking they don’t have their freedoms, they didn’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 go back to that point.” But I digress . . .]
Tea Party types who had come to Bundy’s defense quickly ran for cover, denouncing Bundy’s statements (as edited by the media) as racist.
I’m not so sure.
Mr. Bundy’s choice of words certainly leaves something to be desired (although I seem to have missed the memo that “Negro” and “colored” were no longer just antiquated but were now considered racist and offensive—maybe someone should inform the United Negro College Fund and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), but let’s bear in mind this man is a rancher, not a professional orator. And if we’ll calm down a second, step back and examine what he actually said, maybe—just maybe—we’ll see that he has something of a point.
First, Bundy was not advocating slavery, nor was he stating affirmatively that blacks were in fact better off as slaves. He did not attribute his observations to some imagined inherent racial inferiority, and he did not blame blacks themselves for their situation. He was posing a rhetorical question—“I’ve often wondered . . .”—not stating an opinion, and while his comments are stated in terms that are obviously too global, I think they can be understood as a clumsy attempt to use hyperbole to illustrate something about the black condition, particularly as it relates to poor blacks.
Consider the following:
No one can deny that housing projects exist. And while not all blacks live in government housing, they in fact occupy the projects in grossly disproportionate numbers. According to HUD, although blacks make up just 13% of the population, 48% of government-subsidized households are black. While we’re on the subject of government subsidies, note that 40% of welfare recipients and 24% of food stamp recipients are black. There is nothing racist in this observation, it’s simply the statistical fact: relative to their proportion of the population, blacks receive more government subsidy assistance than the population as a whole.
Bundy said that the people he observed in the projects had nothing to do. This is not shocking: if you’re in a government housing project, you are most likely poor, and there is a disproportionate likelihood that you are unemployed. This is particularly so if you’re black. Black unemployment in fact has long exceeded the national average by a wide margin. As of last month, “official” unemployment among blacks was 12.8%, roughly double the national rate of 6.9%, and considerably worse than it was prior to LBJ and the Left’s “war on poverty.” Bundy referred more specifically to young blacks having nothing to do; unemployment among blacks 16 to 19 currently sits at 30.9%, four-and-a-half times the national average. These figures obviously have a direct effect on poverty, which impacts 27% of the total black population. Again, this is not a racist statement; if you are black, particularly a young black, statistically there is a much higher chance that you are unemployed, poor, living in government housing, and receiving some form of welfare.
That’s not racist. That’s just a fact.
Bundy then remarked that blacks—again, his context was his observation of poor blacks in government housing—abort their babies and put their young men in jail. Well, do they? Black babies are aborted at a rate of 41 per 1000 women. That’s more than double the national average of 18, and by some estimates over 13 million black babies have been aborted since Roe, the equivalent of eliminating 30% of the entire current U.S. black population. This is exactly as Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger envisioned it, as she expressly intended her organization’s abortion function as a means of racial cleansing. Blacks also make up nearly half of the total U.S. prison population, and 1 in 3 black men can expect to serve prison time during their lives. We can debate whether blacks themselves put those black men in jail; the cause isn’t as important here as the statistical fact itself that a disproportionate number of blacks are incarcerated.
Carrying the domestic analysis further, while the rate is dropping, teen pregnancy among black girls remains more than double that of whites. 72% of black children live in single parent households. And blacks are wildly more likely than whites to be the victim of violent crime, almost always at the hands of another black.
So to recap, blacks in the U.S. are significantly disproportionately likely to:
- Be poor
- Be unemployed
- Receive government subsidies
- Be impacted by abortion or teen pregnancy
- Grow up in a single parent home
- Spend time in jail
- Be the victim of violent crime
There is nothing racist about making the observation; these are simply the statistical facts of the black condition. I think we can all agree that these are not good things, and there is almost surely a relationship between them. And this, I think, was the essence of the point Bundy was trying—however inartfully—to make: that blacks would be better off with meaningful jobs that allowed them to get off government assistance and out of government housing, and with that maybe improve the other aspects of their domestic circumstances.
But let’s assume for a second that Bundy’s statements in fact are racist. Why does that—as the media and Left have been trying to claim—render all the substantive points and questions raised by his standoff with the BLM illegitimate? If someone is a racist does that mean that they are a crackpot and wrong an all issues, all the time, under all circumstances?
To be sure, Bundy’s substantive case against the BLM has problems. He has in fact—he freely admits this—not paid the grazing fee, to the tune of over $1 million. Although his argument that in the charter creating the State of Nevada the United States obligated itself to sell all federal land back in 1864 has some facial appeal, in context it has issues:
Sec. 10. Five percent of subsequent sales of public lands by United States to be paid to state for public roads and irrigation. And be it further enacted, That five percentum of the proceeds of the sales of all public lands lying within said state, which shall be sold by the United States subsequent to the admission of said state into the Union . . . shall be paid to the said state[.]”
Bundy and his supporters point to the language “which shall be sold by the United States” to argue that the federal government had a duty to sell all federal holdings. And that is a fair reading. The problem is, the word “shall” has been frequently misused in legislation in this country, up to and including the Constitution itself. The title of Section 10 refers to “subsequent sales,” and this suggests that the “which shall be sold” language was really intended simply to refer to those lands that the United States sells if it sells them, rather than imposing an affirmative obligation to do so. Even so, legitimate questions remain:
- Why does the federal government still own more than 80% of all land in the State of Nevada?
- If it’s federal land, and therefore publicly owned, why isn’t it open to all without a fee?
- Why is Senator Harry Reid, who is supposed to represent the people of the State of Nevada (actually he’s supposed to represent the State itself, but the 17th Amendment killed that) vocally taking the side of the federal government against one of his own constituents?
- Why does the BLM need to show up with helicopters and dozens of armed agents (including snipers) carrying military style weapons to collect a bill?
- And while we’re on the subject, why are so many non-military federal agencies (EPA, NOAA, U.S. Postal Service, Department of Education) arming themselves?
Racism or no, what we do see here is more overkill from a federal government out of control.