In Defense, Sort of, of Black Republican Herman Cain

It's easy to dismiss the presidential candidate's rhetoric, but much harder to ignore the very real foundations of black conservatives.

By Channing Kennedy Jun 27, 2011

There’s been a headline bouncing around the progressive blogosphere recently, saying that black Islamophobic conservative (and Tea Party presidential favorite) Herman Cain pulled the "race card" when faced with recent criticism. The backstory is that Cain claimed that, as president, he’d make it so any new legislation would be limited to three pages; Stewart poked fun at him for this, as is his job, and Cain responded thus (via ThinkProgress’s Judd Legum):

I did an interview on Sean Hannity’s show on the way over here. I had been traveling the campaign so much I did not hear what Jon Stewart said on Chris Wallace’s Sunday morning show last Sunday. Where he was mocking my three page bills. Did you see that show? And then he mocked me with a, you know, Amos and Andy-type brogue. And Sean said you didn’t see that? And I said no Sean, I didn’t see that, I’m out campaigning. And so they played the clip. And I said, well Sean, first of all if he really thinks that I’m serious about a bill only being three pages the joke’s on him. And I said secondly, as far as him mocking me, look I’ve been called every name in the book because I’m a conservative, because I’m black.

Sticks and stone may break my bones, words are not going to hurt me. I was on that radio show because a happen to be an American black conservative. I labeled my self. I’m an American Black Conservative, an A-B-C. They keep trying to put labels on me. I have been called "Uncle Tom," "sell out," "Oreo," "shameless." So the fact that he wants to mock me because I happen to be a black conservative, in the words of my grandfather, "I does not care. I does not care."

ThinkProgress and Alex Pareene at Salon both trumpeted the ‘because I’m black’ line from this video. But look again; Cain’s saying that he’s being mocked because he’s a black Republican. And, frankly, that’s a completely different point, and a much tougher one to dismiss.

Remember, Cain’s been fighting his way up through middle-America corporate boardrooms for longer than some of our readers have been alive. He’s assuredly been called all the nasty names he lists and worse, long before internet commenters were a thing. And, putting ourselves in his Tony Lamas, the names that hurt the most are likely the ones that imply that he isn’t fully black. And what else is ‘black conservative’ as a jibe, if not an insistence that blacks be monolithic? Is Cain — a rich southern cowboy-hat-wearing black man — a walking punchline? Or is he simply that one uncle you see at Thanksgiving, suddenly given a national platform?

In a must-read essay at the Nation, titled "Three Things I Love about Herman Cain’s Campaign," Melissa Harris-Perry writes:

Herman Cain’s candidacy is a cautionary tale against the simplistic racial reasoning that has dominated much of American political discourse in the past few years. In order to meaningfully confront Herman Cain’s use of racial authenticity claims and his insistence that his candidacy proves the Tea Party is not racist requires far more complex racial understandings than we have been offered in recent years.

I suggest that we do away with all blacker-than-thou arguments about who does and does not get to be "really black" or "black enough." Engaging in these life-experience-authenticity-litmus tests allows us to imagine that biography determines political solidarity. Herman Cain is a reminder that it does not.

Let’s be clear: Cain’s a terrible, terrible candidate whose policies would do awful things to communities of color. But his Tea Party-nonsensical policies aren’t much different from Michele Bachmann’s, or Rand Paul’s, and he’s as ridiculous a person as either. He’s a former pizza chain CEO who pits gays against Muslims, wants alligators to guard the Mexico border, and can’t remember what’s actually in the Constitution. Truly, the path to "LOL Herman Cain black conservative" is paved with easier punchlines.

So did Jon Stewart make fun of Cain because he’s a black conservative? Well… watch the Daily Show clip for yourself. At about 2:10, there’s the "Amos and Andy-type brogue" that Cain mentioned, followed by a billboard mockup that reads "HERMAN CAIN 2012: I DON’T LIKE TO READ." Serious question: how would you feel about this bit, and about liberals, if Jon Stewart was talking about that one uncle of yours?