Judging by my posts this week, you are safe to assume that I’m not terribly enamored of Republican presidential front runner Herman Cain. His “9-9-9” tax plan is a little too simple and doesn’t do what he says it will. He’s a little too glib — whether “joking” about electrocuting potential illegal immigrants or apologizing for it before then doubling down on it. But his use of and comments on race have left me especially uneasy.
For a while now, I’ve been trying to figure out what to say about Cain and his seeming race fixation. President Obama has been criticized by many in the black community for ignoring race in general and buffing specific African American concerns so that they blend neatly into his larger agenda for America. Cain, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. At every opportunity, it seems, he’s ready to invoke race — against black Democrats and in the most unfortunate ways.
In “Citizen Cain,” Newsweek’s profile of the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO, there’s a rather telling vignette that explains his anger.
Cain was a registered independent when he went, with Republican vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp, to Sylvia’s restaurant in Harlem in 1996, the magazine reported.
[A]n African-American man who was one of a group of Democrats said something like, “There’s no such thing as a black Republican. You guys must be Uncle Toms.”
The Cain who had worked so hard to make his own way was deeply offended.
“I said nobody had a right to tell me how to think and how to vote,” he says. “I was so adamant that I registered as a Republican.”
I totally get Cain’s anger. Throughout my entire career, I’ve been called an “Uncle Tom” by blacks and more than a few liberal whites who think I’ve strayed from what they think I’m supposed to think or say as an African American. This was especially so during the 2008 presidential campaign, when more than a few blacks thought I should actively support and never say a negative word about then-Sen. Barack Obama.
So I understand Cain’s visceral reaction to the enforced group-think that prevents people from having an independent thought or leading a fuller life. As writer, cultural commentator and my MSNBC colleague Toure forcefully argues in his new book, “Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness: What It Means to be Black Now,” there isn’t one way to be black in America. But Cain is blindly intolerant as he rails against what he sees as the intolerance of other African Americans.
Cain has said he left “the Democrat plantation a long time ago.” Blacks are not open-minded to consider a conservative point of view because they’ve been “brainwashed.” Cain has played the loathsome blacker-than-thou game with Obama. “He’s never been a part of the black experience in America,” Cain said of our mixed-race president. Earlier this year, chafing at the lack of media coverage of his campaign then, Cain said of the establishment, “They are doubly scared that a real black man might run against Barack Obama.”
And then there was his infamous comment, “I don’t believe racism in this country holds anybody back in a big way.” Things are infinitely better than they were in the Jim Crow days, but Cain’s “in a big way” caveat was lame. Look, y’all know I’m no racial grassy-knoller. But c’mon, man! As Toure pointed out in a clever “rant” for “The Dylan Ratigan Show” that compared to Cain to Flavor Flav, the water cannons and the dogs might be history, but racism isn’t because it is woven deep into the American fabric.
No one likes being called a racist — especially conservative Republicans. As I said on “Martin Bashir” last week, they don’t want to hear accusations of racism against them. And given the history of the GOP in this area, neatly summarized by Colbert King last Saturday, no wonder they’re sensitive. But they are perfectly happy to revel in Cain’s hurling charges of racism against Democrats. That ain’t right. America’s race problem will never be solved as long as folks such as Cain use it to further their own selfish goals.