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After weeks of spouting off about land rights and the constitution Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy popped the cork on the racism bubbling right beneath the surface of his stand – off with the federal government. And in barely a few hours everyone on the right wing from Senators to political pundits who days ago called him a ‘hero’ have been running from him faster than a stampede from a brush fire. Which is telling, because Bundy’s racial beliefs should have nothing to do with the validity of his protests. But his words, and the rapid evaporation of his support from the political and pundit class shows that racial animus was always at the heart of this entire conflict.


During a recent press conference with a few reporters Bundy decided to get philosophical about “The Negro

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.”

I bet Solomon Northrup would disagree. Now to be fair, he had plenty of nice things to say about Hispanics, but I think the die has already been cast. Bundy’s attitude is not surprising for a man of his race and age. More importantly his belief that African Americans were happier, more noble, thrifty, hard working or responsible, in some mythical past time period (when discrimination against African Americans was legal, and socially acceptable) has been echoed by various other public figures in the last year from celebrity chef Paula Deen, Duck Dynasty Star Phil Robertson and most recently by former Republican VP pick Paul Ryan (R-WI) . However, Bundy being a racist should have no bearing on whether or not you believed in his claim that the federal government had no authority to actually require him to pay grazing fees. Unless of course you’re a racist too and Bundy’s rant just blew the cover off of your covert rant against Obama.


Cliven Bundy, like George Zimmerman, like Phil Robertson, like Paula Deen is a dog whistle, a cultural cudgel with which to attack the United States, and specifically the first African American president who sits in the White House. The right wing in America, whether it be Sean Hannity or Alex Jones, realized during the “Birther” debacle that blatantly screaming “There is no way I will suffer the authority of a negro in the White House” gains them no favor with mainstream America. Obama got elected, twice, by a lot of Blacks, Asians, Latinos and whites, and blatantly attacking the president racially is offensive to a good many Americans. However, hiding that racism by championing the actions of undeclared bigots is a perfect veil under which to express hostility towards Obama and African Americans while still retaining plausible deniability.

You think all black teens are thugs and potential criminals, but are afraid to say it out loud, for fear of being exposed as a racist? Just claim you’re a gun rights advocate who strongly empathizes with George Zimmerman. Think African Americans have a degraded ‘culture’ but know what will make a pariah at dinner parties? Say you’re a free speech supporter who stands by Phil Robertson. The list goes on and on. Public, politicians and pundits will support men and women who have done something obviously wrong as a way to launder racial beliefs into something more palatable to the mainstream, at least until the truth gets exposed.

Cliven Bundy’s ‘protest’ against grazing fees has been going on longer than Obama has been in office.  However he openly welcomes supporters who view his protest as an act of rebellion against the illegitimate presidency of Barack Obama. If race were not one of the underlying motivations bolstering Cliven Bundy’s actions, why would did he feel the need to go off on some Freudian rant about “the Negro” to begin with? It is impossible to separate Bundy’s protest (and to a lesser extent the government’s tepid response) and his sense of white male privilege. As Chris Hayes pointed out on MSNBC, if a group of Hispanic Americans banded together and threatened INS agents who wanted to deport illegal aliens what do you think would happen? Ask Elian Gonzalez. As Jamelle Bouie pointed out in Slate.com when African Americans defy the law and don’t pay taxes on grounds of moral or historical rights they end up dead in Philadelphia, or in jail like Wesley Snipes. If Cliven Bundy were anything other than white male rancher in Nevada he would’ve been in jail years ago.

So now Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Sean Hannity know they can’t publicly support Cliven Bundy’s ‘cause’ without being exposed as supporting the racism that undergirds it. Exposed being the key term, since in a couple of months they’ll all find another ‘victim’ to conveniently support. And they will gleefully and disingenuously throw that cudgel at Obama and Black America as well, at least until the next exposure comes along.

Dr. Jason Johnson


About The Author

Dr. Jason Johnson is Politics Editor for The Source and an Associate Professor of political science and communication at Hiram College. His articles and media appearances are available at drjasonjohnson.com

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