Well-intentioned ignorance

“Today, [Cliven] Bundy revealed himself to be a hateful racist,” said Harry Reid because, you know

Reid is partly wrong. Nothing in what Bundy said or how he said it or what he’s said subsequently suggests he’s hateful. He’s not spouting David Duke-isms here. What he is is ignorant. Profoundly and painfully ignorant, of both how life works outside his experience and of our history.

I don’t think anyone can have a complete view of race issues in this country, particularly regarding those of African Americans, without thoroughly studying the Civil War. The issues that led up to it, what happened during, and Reconstruction. It is the single most important event in the history of our people and, in many ways, the questions it raised and the flaws it exposed in us are not resolved to this day. No conversation about the experience of African Americans in this country can happen outside that frame of reference. Even though it’s 150-year-old news. It’s a painful reality, but that debt of human suffering has not yet been paid. Not by half.

If Bundy actually thinks anyone would be better off under slavery, then he’s bought off on the enduring and most popular vision of it perpetrated by fiction like Gone with the Wind. That’s made pretty clear by his suggestion that slaves had a “family life” worth envying by modern African Americans. Absurd. Watch 12 Years a Slave. That’s reality. That’s slavery.

It may be the case that the underlying notion of Bundy’s ridiculous comments (that welfare and state support perpetuate rather than resolve issues of poverty and hopelessness) were made with sincerity and without malice, but the aperture through which he’s seeing the world is fatally flawed. Unfortunately, his opinions regarding welfare are not far removed from a lot of conservatives who are now shunning him. That’s an indictment of the results of two centuries of collective shame. Of thinking we’ve moved past racism because Barack Obama.