This is for those who keep asking what I think of Herman Cain. In particular, it’s for those who want to know what the tea party’s embrace of this black businessman turned presidential candidate says about my claim that the tea party is racist.
I might eat the plate of crow those folks proffer if I’d ever actually made that claim. What I have said, fairly consistently, is something more nuanced: racial animus is an element of tea party ideology, but not its entirety. As I once noted in this space, the tea party probably would not exist if Condoleezza Rice were president.
Modern social conservatives, in my experience, do not hate black people en masse. To the contrary, there are two kinds of blacks they love. The first is those, like Rice, who are mainly mute on the subject of race, seldom so impolite as to say or do anything that might remind people they are black. The second is those who will engage on race, but only to lecture other blacks for their failures as conservatives conceive them. And that, friends and neighbors, is Herman Cain all over.
“I don’t believe racism in this country today holds anybody back in a big way,” he told CNN recently. Had he contended too many African Americans use racism as an excuse for failure to succeed and even failure to try, Cain would have gotten no grief from me; I’ve made that argument often.
But what he said was that racism is no longer a factor. He surely warmed the hearts of his conservative fellow travelers who swear blacks have the same opportunity to succeed as whites if they’d only get off their lazy so-and-sos and do it.
It is a claim spectacularly at odds with reality, given that African-American unemployment runs twice that of whites, given that the Agriculture Department admits to systematically discriminating against black farmers, given documentation of a “justice” system engaged in the mass incarceration of young black men.
But what made the claim truly bizarre is that two days later, Cain branded himself a victim of racism. Specifically, he said some black people are “racist” because they disagree with his politics. So blacks aren’t held back by racism, but Cain is?
Lord, give me strength.
He thus neatly encapsulates what has become an article of faith for many white conservatives; namely, that it is they, not black and brown people, who are the true victims of bigotry. Mind you, they have not a shred of a scrap of a scintilla of evidence to support this cockamamie idea, but they believe it anyway. And now they find support for their idiocy in this Negro from Atlanta.
One of the least-discussed impacts of the black experience in America is its emotional toll. African Americans were psychologically maimed by this country, the expression of which can still be seen in the visceral self-loathing that afflicts too many.
Meaning the black child who equates doing well in school with “acting white.” Meaning the famous black man who bleaches his skin. Meaning the famous black woman who rationalizes her use of a certain soul-killing racial epithet. Meaning Herman Cain.
In his diminution of African-American struggle, he comes across as a man profoundly at odds with the skin he’s in. He seems embarrassed he’s black.
For what it’s worth, I suspect black folks aren’t real happy about it, either.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. He chats with readers every Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EDT at Ask Leonard.