This week, I spent some time on the radio in New York debating Karen Hunter from MSNBC about the legitimacy of the presidential candidacy of Herman Cain. Cain has surged in the polls lately, making some wonder if he actually has a chance to win the Republican nomination for president.
Cain continued on his trail of silly statements this week by saying that racism is not a factor in economic inequality in America. The candidate argues that educational and geographic differences account for disparities in wealth levels and unemployment. The statement is curious, because these words serve as further evidence that Cain never studied structural inequality in school. Also, to continue Cain’s argument, inequality exists because Black people are either naturally, culturally or strategically inferior to whites, which is the convenient explanation taught to us in White Supremacy 101.
While I won’t go into all the reasons that Cain is wrong in his statements on racism, the truth is that Cain seems to be building his campaign by making one eyebrow raising statement after another. In fact, he has become the shock jock of the Republican Party.
Being a shock jock is great for the radio and selling books, but it’s not the stuff that makes one into a serious Commander-in-Chief. Even within the Republican ranks, Cain’s candidacy merely deflects attention away from the flaws of more serious contenders, like Rick Perry’s love for the Confederate flag and all the other things that make Republicans just so darn interesting. But when the dust settles and the smoke clears, Republican leadership will ask Cain to walk off the track in the same way the pace setter is removed after the first two laps of a big Olympic race.
Cain has also made a career of hurling insults at Black people that no white man could ever get away with. His words have not been measured or diplomatic enough to garner broad-based support, and are about as sloppy and ignorant as a man killing a fly with a shotgun. Most of his comments are not the kinds of things he could say about other ethnic groups; if he were to say that all Jews were brainwashed (as he said about African Americans), he’d be off the stage before finishing his sentence.
Herman Cain has become, in many ways, the perfect racist. America lives under the interesting premise that a racist can’t be Black. That’s like believing that a man can’t hate his sibling, or that a woman can’t advocate for a man to beat his wife (as Whoopi did to Oprah in “The Color Purple”). The truth is that racism is typically most effective when you put a Black face on it, and Herman Cain has volunteered to become the cute little political puppet which allows white America to say the things that they are afraid to say.
It is their ability to put Cain out front to absorb the criticism for racist remarks that makes millions of right-wing Americans so happy about his racial politics. Cain validates and brings security to a set of ideas that are generally unacceptable to those who understand America’s ugly racial history. In this regard, Cain is a breath of fresh air because he is the only Republican who doesn’t change the subject when the issue of race is brought to the table.
As an older Black man, Herman Cain certainly understood the challenges of Jim Crow. But Cain was also able to evade Jim Crow by willfully standing to the side in the fight for Civil Rights (yes, he has admitted that he avoided the Civil Rights struggle). So, Cain cannot, in any way, connect his contributions to the Black community, nor his readily marketed ethnic legitimacy to that of his fellow Morehouse graduate, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. While he might have validity among those who gladly accept the rewards that come from the sacrifices of others, Cain cannot profess to have been willing to make necessary socio-political sacrifices himself. He stands on the backs of the brave, yet joins forces with the descendants of their historical oppressors.
Instead of marching for progress, Cain learned long ago that making whites feel comfortable was a powerful and simple key to success. He seems to think that Black folks who are unwilling to give in to structurally oppresive forces are somehow making things worse for themselves by not standing and applauding the grace of whites who’ve decided to no longer hang our relatives in the middle of the night. No different from the way he ducked and hid from those who marched with Dr. King in the 1960s, Herman Cain is ducking and hiding from doing the right thing today.
So, not only is Herman Cain a political gimmick, he is also a coward. That is just a couple of the many reasons that Herman Cain can never be President of the United States of America.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.