Herman Cain Plays the Banjo for White Conservatives (Again)
Sometimes they make it all too easy...
Once more, Herman Cain proves true my observation that Black Conservatives are indeed the garbage pail kids of American politics. Like an expert at Three-card Monte or a proverbial "race pimp," Herman Cain expertly dealt from the bottom of the "race card" deck during a fund raising appearance before Republicans in Nashua, New Hampshire. There, Cain explained that white people should not have buyer's remorse over the election of Barack Obama, America's first black President. Instead, Cain suggested that (white) voters should realize that:
"...there are some people who will say, 'I'm not going to vote for another black guy because this one didn't work out.' "And my response is, 'Well, what about those 43 white guys you put in there? How did they work out?' "Don't condemn me because the first black one was bad."
The levels of hypocrisy demonstrated by Cain and his supporters in this moment are so glaring as to almost not merit comment for they are so utterly obvious. Presumably, Conservatives are colorblind. Yet, race is central--as it was in his minstrelesque CPAC speech several weeks ago--to Cain's performance. Again, Herman Cain suggests that he is "one of the good ones." Ultimately, Herman Cain is not like "those other blacks over there."
For a political ideology that ostensibly embraces individualism and rejects the politics of group identity, grievance, and victimology, it is ironic then that Cain has to signal that he is a different type of black man from President Barack Obama. That Cain needed to explain to a Republican audience that black folks are individuals, and not a nameless, faceless, horde of negritude that all walk lockstep like zombies is frightening to say the least--and a damning indictment of those that Cain would call political allies.
This is a twist on the trope where a white person slurs people of color in mass and then says to his or her "black friend" that no offense is meant because they are "a special one." Black Conservatives are garbage pail kids precisely because they smile with glee and acceptance as they are being patted on the head because of their status as "exceptional negroes." What Cain does not understand is that he is currying favor with a public which has demonstrated time and time again that they look upon black Americans with what can most politely be called racial resentment and hostility, and in the worst cases, naked bigotry.
The evidence that the New Right and the faux populist reactionaries of the contemporary Republican Party are awash in an ether of racial animus is legion. From the signs at Tea Party rallies where the President is cast as a monkey or a witch doctor, to racist emails sent by prominent Republicans, to a refusal by Republican Party leadership to condemn the xenophobic and obnoxious birthers, and a support for the Jim and Jane Crow tinged States' Rights movement, race is certainly central to popular Conservatism.
The above proposition becomes "check and mate" when public opinion data from sources as varied as the New York Times, Newsweek Magazine, the Pew Research Center, and the University of Washington all indicate that the Tea Party GOP is racially homogeneous, more likely to believe that black people are not hard working and are less intelligent than whites, that too much is made of "racial discrimination," and that white people are oppressed in America.
As a rebuttal to the charge of racism, Cain and other Black conservatives provide a smokescreen where they exonerate and protect White conservatives from any charge of racism in their hearts, deeds, spirits, or acts--despite the decades of evidence to the contrary. The Conservative pundit classes and the Right-wing rage machine will respond predictably: these facts are red herrings and distractions because the opposition to President Obama is based purely on differences of principle and policy, and never upon race.
This is a false dichotomy. The almost apoplectic hostility to President Obama by the Right is rooted in how the symbolic power of having a person of color as President is an existential upset to the White Conservative Soul. Their rage at Obama is inspired both by race and policy. They hate President Obama because he is a Democrat. And moreover, they doubly reject President Obama because as a black man he had the unmitigated gall to run for the presidency...and to win.
Black Conservatives are vexing in this regard because they deny the role which they play in contemporary Conservatism's race-baiting politics. For example, the Michael Steeles of the world play the buffoons and toadies who will bring the "fried chicken" and "potato salad". While the Juan Williams clique play the attack dogs who bare their teeth and attack "racists" at NPR and in the "liberal media" at large. And Herman Cain plays the loving apologist and embodiment of White conservative fantasies.
Herman Cain ended his trip to Nashua, New Hampshire by telling a story about how in the darkest hours of Jim Crow, he (then a high school student and ranked second in his class) was denied admission to the University of Georgia because of his race. Rather than embrace "bitterness" or "rage," Cain explained how "rather than get mad or lose faith in America...That experience inspired me to continue and believe in those beliefs that my parents instilled in my brother and I.”
I will not judge the many individual paths that people took to victory in the Black Freedom Struggle. Nor, will I comment about how there were some souls who played the free rider while others struggled, died, and faced unimaginable hardship while working to perfect American democracy for all. But I do find it curious that Herman Cain, rather than be enraged at the forces of political and social conservatism that denied him the full fruits of American citizenship, now chooses to lay in bed with them.
As opposed to expressing rage at racial injustice, Cain and others of his clan choose to express anger and consternation toward black and brown folk who are not Republicans--the ancestors and heirs to a struggle that won contemporary Black Conservatives their freedom--who they describe as still being on "the Democratic Plantation" or as "slave catchers" that run down "free thinking" black people. Once more, this is a tragic play on the stage of American life where in an oddly racialized version of Stockholm Syndrome, Cain and other Black Conservatives play the quislings to their White Conservative masters.
Denied a blues sensibility and sense of linked fate with other people of color,
black garbage pail kids Black Conservatives will keep tap dancing to this tune because it is one of the few songs they know by heart. As the 2012 election approaches, they will continue to do so ever more enthusiastically.