Clive Bundy, Racism, and the Outrage Machine

Clive Bundy, erstwhile Western Hero and Neo-American Revolutionary, has fallen from grace after inexplicably musing to reporters (on camera) during a press conference that black Americans might have been better off as slaves than on government welfare (full comments can be seen in the embedded video below).

To the extent Mr. Bundy had achieved stature he didn’t deserve (and he had), he’s been brought back down to earth.

Such is life; our essential humanity — its blessed and not-so-blessed aspects — has a way of revealing itself, despite our own (and others’) best efforts.

But I’m less interested in Clive Bundy — who, if we leave him alone, will just fade back into the sagebrush from whence he came and live out the rest of his days with his family and cattle — than I am in our predictable response to his comments.

To wit, the following hue and cry heard throughout the land:

Bundy’s a racist! Whoever can denounce him fastest is the winner!

A racist, huh?  Like George Wallace.  Like the KKK.

Wait a minute.

Did you watch the same clip I did of Bundy’s remarks?  If you haven’t seen it, stop for a minute and watch.  Then come back.

Done?

What did you see?

I saw an ignorant man.  I saw a man obsessed by a sincere but paranoid (though, in my view, not completely paranoid) fear of government overreach and his conception of government welfare as slavery.  I also saw a man who articulated sincere appreciation and respect for people of whatever color and creed who work hard and value family.  I saw a man who drew a logically horrendous analogy while musing out loud.  And I certainly saw a man who was wrong.

But I didn’t see a racist.

Or maybe I did.

After all, what is a racist, anyway?

KKK lynch mobs?  Check.

A parent who refuses to let his children play with children of another race?  Check.

Governor George Wallace, who refused to integrate Alabama’s schools?  Check.

Anyone who says something likely to offend a minority . . . or the finer sensibilities of the educated white majority?  A white rancher who makes a misguided and ignorant remark about black history in a political battle?  Uhh . . . check?

Maybe the word we’re looking for is just “ignorant,” rather than “racist.”

Maybe the word we’re looking for is just “wrong,” and not “villain,” “despicable,” or “evil.”

Or, maybe racist is the word.  Perhaps I’m wrong (entirely possible), and maybe this post makes me a racist, too.  And maybe I just can’t see my own racism, and everyone around me just shakes their head and says, “How can he be so blind?,” as I strenuously protest that, despite what I wrote, “I’m not a racist!

It’s come to the point where any one who says something offensive, or even just wrong, about a minority is a racist.  Heck, it’s even come to the point where anyone who associates themselves in any way with someone who says something offensive is tainted with the same scarlet letter.

All you supporters of Clive Bundy and the state reclamation of public lands, denounce him, now, or else you’re racists, too, because you support the racist rancher!

If you ever wondered why journalists (and others) put that ridiculous saying, “Retweets != Endorsements” on their Twitter profiles . . . well, here’s your answer.

These days, it seems we’re always looking for something we can be appalled at, if for no other reason than to justify our distaste for those who disagree with us and to reaffirm our self-worth . . . because we’re offended at another’s bad conduct??

The outrage machine churns on at full speed, attempting to fulfill what sometimes appears to be an insatiable desire to take offense, even to the point where we take offense for other people, and inflict punishment on their behalf.  We have a tendency to expand the circle of offense outward, to encompass all associated with the original offender.

We go along rooting out the evil we perceive with all the zeal of an old-time Protestant preacher — and with about as much indignation, (lack of) nuance and subtlety, and measure of brimstone.

Bundy thinks all blacks should be slaves!  

That’s not what I heard.  What I heard was a man who misguidedly compared welfare reliance to physical bondage and compelled servitude.  Of course that’s a ridiculous comparison — and it tells you quite a bit about the man’s education and (limited) propensity for nuance.  But it doesn’t tell me much, if anything, about his motivation, and it doesn’t tell me he’s a racist.  And it certainly doesn’t say anything about the racism of people who happen to agree with his stand against the federal government.

Frankly, I don’t really care if Clive Bundy is a racist or not.  I don’t feel sorry for him.  He picked a fight with the USA.  He had his 15 minutes of fame.  Then he opened his mouth and inserted his foot.

But I do push back on the ever expanding definition of racism, and our continual obsession with offense and outrage.

Frankly, I’ve heard much more offensive things come out of the mouths of our political representatives who personally attack one another during campaigns, Facebook comment threads where people question each other’s morality and motivations, and, yes, occasionally out of my own mouth, and certainly in my own mind (thank heavens I’m not judged — at least not here — by all my unuttered mental musings…).

And yet, the outrage machine generally passes these by with little more than a cursory nod of acknowledgement.

After all, we’ve got better things to do . . . .

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