Is Herman Cain the Most Unctuous Black Man Alive?

Why the Hermanator experience is making me sick

  • Share
  • Read Later
Ethan Miller / Getty Images

This presidential election has not lacked for clowns, and in a circus Herman Cain fits right in. But as the black clown, Cain’s foot-in-mouth moments mostly involve insulting the black community. This could be to establish his independence from the community in order to earn his bona fides with the GOP electorate or a way of appeasing the white conservatives he’s courting. Or it could be that his foot and his mouth are magnetized. Whatever the reason, as a black person, the Hermanator experience has been as distasteful as rancid, spoiled, stinky, curdled milk.

(MORE: The Cain Mutiny: What Does It Mean That the GOP Faithful Are Flocking to Herman Cain?)

First Cain’t told blacks we were “brainwashed into not being open-minded or considering a conservative point of view.” Brainwashing is a highly offensive charge that suggests the black mind is defective or has gone to sleep. In a world where black intelligence is constantly maligned and denigrated and underestimated, this cuts deeper than the quick. Alleging that we’re not intelligent enough to make rational political decisions would hurt if it weren’t so comical coming from his mouth. Also, has the GOP offered a reasonable alternative?

Then the black Sarah Palin said, “Obama’s never been a part of the black experience in America.” Now we’re doing teenage-level disses? What is this narrowly imagined black experience that Obama has never been a part of? His background is unique, but he’s black, so it was a black experience. Also, never includes now, and Obama today is a central figure in the modern black experience: we’re in the Age of Obama. But let’s deign, for the sake of argument, to accept Hermy’s childish suggestion that because Obama has lived a life that’s different than most black people’s lives that means he’s not lived the black experience. Well, even after accepting that “you ain’t black” silliness, you’re still left with Obama’s redefining what it means to be black to include the presidency and thus becoming the most iconic black man in America today. The mountain came to Muhammad.

(VIDEO: TIME Interviews Herman Cain: ‘9-9-9’ and Beyond)

Also, Big Daddy Cain recently said racism no longer “holds anyone back in a big way,” which is a disgusting and dangerous statement because it gives leverage to those who want desperately to believe that lie. Racism is like the weather: we only talk about its extremes, but it’s always there. America has institutional inequities built into its structures that guarantee that millions of blacks have no chance at success. Those systems operate powered by white privilege, which works automatically, no need to apply or activate it. And much of modern racism is subtle and hidden; there are fewer smoking guns now than ever. For my book Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness?, I asked about 100 people, What’s the most racist thing that’s ever happened to you? More than a third of them said the answer is unknowable. It’s something that they weren’t aware of happening but that materially changed their lives. There was no confrontation, no ugly words, just power exerting itself in a smooth, efficient, prejudiced way to maintain the vast inequalities of this country. Racism is far from over, and the success of some blacks — including Herman Cain — doesn’t refute that.

Cain is a clown. You see it in the way he constantly mollifies white audiences with self-effacing, racialized comedy that borders on minstrelsy (referring to himself as “black-walnut ice cream” or suggesting that the Secret Service call him “Cornbread”). You see it in his stunning gaps in knowledge and understanding of foreign policy and domestic affairs. He says if you don’t have a job, don’t blame Wall Street, because it’s your fault, which in a crippling recession with historically high unemployment numbers means he’s either frighteningly blind or offensively ignorant. This is not a man of serious intellect or realistic solutions or admirable character. This is a buffoon.

Cain is what I long imagined the first black President would be like: a Republican who many blacks find unctuous. But is he really the most unctuous black man in America? I’d say it’s a race between Clarence Thomas, Flavor-Flav and the Hermanator, and if Cain isn’t No. 1, he’s no worse than tied.