Clive Bundy’s Racist Meltdown

Nevada rancher Clive Bundy–Sean Hannity’s hero, the Tea Party’s id, and the latest cause celebre on Fox News–has just had his predictable meltdown, expressing overtly racist sentiments to a New York Times reporter. Right wing politicians, including presidential hopeful Rand Paul, are now trying to beat a hasty retreat from their embrace of him as an anti-government poster boy for Republican activism. This is in the NYT this morning:

“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.”

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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13 Responses to Clive Bundy’s Racist Meltdown

  1. andrewclunn says:

    So will distancing themselves from someone, as soon as he expresses racism, be used as “evidence of Republican racism!” by Democrats? Let’s wait and see.

  2. prettygirlrox says:

    Thousands of black servicemen and women, and policemen have died protecting people like this.

  3. John says:

    Santi before you blog about the bundy rancher being racist, make sure your facts are straight.
    In the news today there was more on the standoff in Nevada between the rancher and BLM. I don’t pick sides on what is going but apparently the news sorce selectively edited the you tube tape to make the rancher look more racist. They released the entire transcript today. His terms definitely are racist but also from his generation (he s 92). One time it was socially acceptable even amongst blanks to use the term. I thought you should see the transcript for yourselves for you to decide. It honestly surprised me. Especially regarding Hispanics. He mentions they are even nicer than whites.
    Now seeing the whole transcript puts his comments into more perspective.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      Thanks for the link. If Mr. Bundy has a fraught relationship to the issue of race, saying racist things one moment and kinder things in the next, of course that complicates the issue. This is how people evolve. He’s from a generation in which the use of the word “negro” was widespread. I get it.

      But what those who are defending Bundy are proposing, essentially, is that the bar should be set very, very high before saying that someone is a racist. But if you do that, you invite brazen people to find ever further lines to come up to without crossing them. American society is better, in my view, if the bar for calling “bullshit” or “racist” on a thing is set pretty low (just as with calling someone a homophobe or sexist should be set pretty low). There are no laws against being a racist, a homophobe, or a sexist–you can express reactionary opinions–but I think it’s healthy that, culturally, people look askance at those who do–and use these terms to express their social disapproval. If you find such terms toxic and unjust, I assert that racism, homophobia, and sexism are themselves toxic and unjust.

      But obviously there’s a balancing act here. Nobody wants to shut down honest discourse by setting the bar too low. But those defending Mr. Bundy should think about the social consequences of setting such bars too high. Such consequences include a society in which blacks, gays, and feminists are demonized and laws against them and their dignity gain a greater chance of passage.

  4. Staffan says:

    My problem with racist allegations is that are always made by people who can’t produce a definition of racism, essentially making it a holy word with themselves as the priests whose prerogative it is to interpret it. Is the quote racist by any reasonable definition of the word? You ask if the truth matters, but how can there be a truth if the words have no meaning?

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      It’s a fair question that you ask. I could give an answer, of course, but you’re making a general observation, and to that I would reply that when “bullshit” or “racism” is called on something you get a sense of where a culture’s intuitional or moral set point is at. Even in South Carolina in 2014 (for example), you can’t fire a lesbian police chief without pitching up a shit storm from a rural community. Is the mayor who recently tried to get rid of the lesbian police chief a homophobe by some formal definition–or just a very, very conservative religionist? I don’t know, I’m not Freud. But I can see by the controversy that the cultural set point on gay rights has changed in South Carolina, even out in small towns.

      Likewise with racist comments. Put the word “negro” and “cotton picking” and “slavery” together in the form of a question about African American well-being in America in the 21st century and everyone can see you’re coming from the moral universe of the mid-20th century racist (even if they can’t define it). They know exactly the sort of moral universe a person like Bundy comes from, and it is not the same as the vast majority of Americans today (at least in the sense of how to talk in polite society). The word “racist” is shorthand for someone who thinks about race in the idiotic terms of Archie Bunker from the 1970s. What Bundy said is like being in a packed elevator and loudly calling women “broads” or an administrative assistant a “secretary.” It shows you’re dense and retrograde. You’ve disrespected people in a way that is not in accord with their own self-definition of themselves and their dignity in the 21st century.

      And progress in the way we talk about one another in general terms (respectful as opposed to dehumanizing or demonological) is a sign of human progress generally because we know exactly what happens in history when you start turning vast classes of people into second-class citizens and outsiders: you disregard their humanity. It’s what made the thought that the Jews should be eliminated from Europe possible in Germany in the 1930s and 40s.

  5. Charles says:

    Bundy is not an educated man. He is a rancher from Nevada! So he uses the word negro. What is wrong with that? Even Harry Reid called them negro’s. Ok now he wasn’t saying they need to go back picking cotton but was using their plight as proof that this nanny to grave out of control government has made their lives more wretched than when they were slaves. Get it! In our “Politically correct world we would say that, Black Americans divorce rate has gone up along with the number of Black abortions and un-employment. Perhaps, the Welfare system has made them modern day slaves? Slaves to an un-rewarding system that doesn’t teach anyone the necessary skills needed to gain pride from their own accomplishments! People are judgeing this man to quickly based on some kind of ad hock political view. Bundy is a rancher, in his world ranchers raise cattle. Negro’s from the south raised cotton. This is a fact is it not? This is also Harry Reid’s smear campaign at work to discredit Bundy’s legitimate point that Government is out of control! It is misdirection. Instead of looking at out of control government now we are looking at Bundy. He is a rancher not a slick politician like the thief’s in Washington who are the real problem!

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      The sorts of idiotic loose talk of a Clive Bundy is not innocent. Stop pretending that people can talk about classes of people with casual derision and that it means nothing. Not giving pushback to stereotyping racist, homophobic, antisemitic, anti-Muslim, or sexist comments is not a relief from political correctness, but a sign of cowardice. If slavery is wrong, if discrimination against homosexuals is wrong, if demeaning women is wrong, and you see it, and you don’t speak against it, you’re weak. You’ve failed the community existentially. You’ve allowed a little bit of ice to form around the heart toward your fellow human beings.

  6. Rob says:

    “Does the truth matter or not” is your byline. Well, does it?
    You jumped on the “Bundy racist” bandwagon, even relishing his “predictable meltdown”, before you had the facts. You hadn’t even heard his whole statement, he is clearly not a racist.

    So, if truth matters, why be part of the diversion? The “divide and conquer” crowd?

    Do you think this is really about turtles? The same turtles that Dianne Fienstein used to shut down the only rare-earth mine in the US, thus handing billions of dollars in business to a Chinese company who just happened to be affiliated with her husband, and was a big campaign donor?

    So, if truth matters, please show me the link where you posted the story about “dirty” Harry Reid, and his multi-billion dollar deal with the Chinese for this land which they want for a solar power project. Where’s that story? The person who did that research was actually a truth-seeking reporter.

    • Santi Tafarella says:


      Your partisan slip is showing, and casting blue pipe smoke into the discussion does not change what Bundy said. All you have to do is look at the top of this page, read Bundy’s statements, and see the language and sensibility of a racist. What you’re saying is akin to catching a lover in bed with someone else and then making excuses for what’s right before your eyes. This isn’t hard. You’re making it hard.

  7. Staffan says:

    ”It shows you’re dense and retrograde. You’ve disrespected people in a way that is not in accord with their own self-definition of themselves and their dignity in the 21st century.”

    But this is essentially saying that racism, sexism etc is in the eye of the person who may or may not be offended. Given that we use these terms for social interaction I woudn’t say that’s unreasonable, but what kind of society would use this terminology – a tolerant and open-minded or one divided into various groups that mistrust each other and constantly feel offended? I think the latter.

    Black people face a lot of problems in society, and I’m sure many of them are very frustrated and angry. Then you tell them that even a 92 year old man talking about “the negroe” in the parlance of half a century ago is reason to be upset. It sounds like a what-could-go-wrong strategy to me.

    • Santi Tafarella says:


      Black people, Jews, women, and gays are not weak and take crap from dense and retrograde pre-modern individuals all the time (both verbally and nonverbally). They deal with it, and they decide when to push back and when not to bother. They don’t need my help or yours at that level. But that doesn’t mean that retrograde sentiment shouldn’t be pushed back against if one is so inclined. Why let the idiotic, the bully, and the unprincipled control the public square?

      I see this as an example of the broken window theory applied to social interaction. If you send a signal of indifference to retrograde expression, you get more of it.

      • Staffan says:

        I never said they were weak, and at least for Black people we’ve seen a lot of anti-white violence following the Treyvon Martin controversy, even against women. But you fail to see those broken windows; you can only see the 92-year old talking about “the negroe.” This is not only out of proportion but it’s also telling Black people that they aren’t angry enough – and yes, like everybody else they are affected but what other people say and do.

        Anthropologist Ruth Benedict identified your attitude as North European guilt culture many years ago. In Academia it’s usually refered to as dignity culture but in the public debate simply as white guilt. Did you ever consider that you’re thinking may be distorted by such a tendency? Here is a little introduction and presentation of contemporary research in the field,

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