Commentary: Playing the race card in Cain's sexual harassment scandal

The Miami HeraldNovember 8, 2011 

PITTS LEONARD 1

Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr.

CHUCK KENNEDY — KRT

Pious racial indignation over Cain’s offenses

Do you think it gives Clarence Thomas a warm, fuzzy feeling to know he is one of Ann Coulter’s blacks?

That is how Coulter put it on Fox “News” while defending Herman Cain against sexual harassment charges that threatened to engulf his campaign last week. Liberals, she said, detest black conservatives, but the truth is, “our blacks are so much better than their blacks.”

“Our” blacks? Really?

Social conservative pundits tend to be astonishingly obtuse when discussing race (See Exhibit A above), so it is good they rarely do so. Last week was an unfortunate exception, as one of “their” blacks struggled to frame a coherent response to allegations that he harassed female colleagues in the 1990s when he headed the National Restaurant Association. Though accusations of sexual impropriety have beset a bipartisan Who’s Who of black and white politicians, the right wing came out in force to argue that people are only questioning Cain because he is a black conservative.

This would be the same Cain who not so long ago said racism was no longer a significant obstacle for African Americans. This would be the same right wing that is conspicuous by its silence, its hostility or its complicity when the injustice system imposes mass incarceration on young black men, when the number of hate groups in this country spikes to over a thousand, when the black unemployment rate stands at twice the national average, when the president is called “uppity” and “boy.”

But they scream in pious racial indignation when Cain is asked questions he doesn’t want to answer.

A “high tech lynching,” said blogger Brent Bozell.

“Racially stereotypical,” sniffed Rush Limbaugh.

“I believe the answer is yes,” said Cain himself when asked on Fox if race was the cause of his woes, adding honestly, if hilariously, that he has no evidence whatsoever to back that up.

If you didn’t know better, you’d think Cain was some hybrid of Emmett Till and Kunta Kinte. Nobody knows de trouble he’s seen.

The candidate has spoken of how he left the Democratic “plantation,” the implication being that more blacks should vote Republican. It would seem on the surface to make sense. As a 2008 Gallup Poll proved — and simple observation reiterates — African Americans tend to be as conservative as your average Republican on some key moral issues and are more religious than the average Republican, to boot.

So why don’t blacks vote Republican? The answer is simple. Black people are not crazy. Being not crazy, they understand a simple truth about conservatives: They have never stood with, or up for, black people. Never.

Forget modern controversies like mass incarceration. Social conservatives, then based largely in the Democratic Party of the early to mid 20th century, opposed the Voting Rights Act. They opposed the Civil Rights Act. They opposed school integration. They opposed the Montgomery Bus Boycott. They opposed a law to crack down on lynching.

These are the people for whom African Americans are now supposed to vote? To make the argument is to betray a stunning contempt for the intelligence — and memory — of black voters.

In talking about race, conservatives have all the moral authority of a pimp talking about women’s rights. Granted, “their” blacks might disagree.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132. Readers may write to him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com. He chats with readers every Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EDT at Ask Leonard.

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