THOUGH I'M 42, African-American and low-key about many things, it never ceases to amaze me how often racism knocks on the door.
This time around it came in the form of a cowboy hatted freeloader named Cliven Bundy, who without prompting, began expounding on “the Negro problem”.
Yes, you heard that right.
Out west in general and Nevada in particular, there’s been long simmering argument about the federal government owning certain land and charging fees for cattle that graze on said land. Bundy doesn’t feel he should have to pay any grazing fees, for various reasons. The federal government thinks otherwise. The issue has been going back and forth since the 1990s, with Bundy repeatedly losing cases and then losing appeals.
Earlier this month the Bureau of Land Management warned Bundy that if he didn’t remove his cattle from the disputed lands, they’d remove and sell them. Bundy’s family and supporters staged a sort of armed sit-in against the feds, who wisely decided not to mess with crazy. You know it’s a messed up situation when the federal government looks like the most reasonable person in the room.
While this has been going on, Bundy has been holding press conferences and talking to reporters about how he sees the problem. During one of these, he roamed way into a field full of cowpies.
Bundy wondered out loud why Blacks, Mexican or Asians weren’t standing with him. Then in the next breath, he noted how African-Americans don’t work, live off of government welfare and various other appalling stereotypes.
Funny enough, the ignorant racism itself isn’t that startling. After decades of looks and comments, both directed at one personally and just found laying about in mass media, one develops a certain thick skin to the foolishness. People say all sorts of stupid things on a variety of subjects.
What is startling was Bundy’s old brand of racism, where African-Americans are referred to as Negros and we’re sitting around waiting for free checks from the government. A strange thing to hear for this college-educated, mortgage-holding African-American. Yet according to Bundy, I should be wondering whether me and mine had it better when slavery was law of the land. Really, man? REALLY?
All these occurred after my wife asked what I wanted to do for my birthday this summer. I had been contemplating going horseback riding, in full cowboy boots and hat, because hey, why not? What American wouldn’t enjoy being a cowboy, at least for an afternoon? But the harsh and blinding reminder that some of my fellow Americans still consider my people separate and not equal stings, though I’ve heard the sentiment so many times before. It’s always the blindsides that hurt the most.
On the flip side, it’s also the sudden surprises that bring a lot of joy. People magazine recently placed black actress and 2013 Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o on the cover of its 50 Most Beautiful People issue.
No guns were involved in Nyong’o getting these honors, just a lot hard work, talent and a smidge of very good genes.
That said, she’s only the third African-American woman to grace the cover of that annual issue in 25 years and the sixth African-American woman to win the Oscar for Best Support Actress in 86 years.
There’s a problem alright, but not quite the one Bundy thinks.
It’s the 21st century and the future is here, with all its technological wonder. Yet still cowboys roam the American plains, herding cattle to market and helping people to be fed. But the ghosts of old attitudes and thoughts still keep us fenced in and separate from each other, even though we are equal.
A device about the size of a wallet can pinpoint anywhere a person is on the planet and lead them through uncharted lands. Yet there’s no app for racism and no reliable map to lead one out of ignorance. That’s the real problem.