Should We Take Herman Cain Seriously?

June 6, 2011  |  

It took me some time to accept the idea that there really is such a thing as a black Republican.  I don’t know when it happened, but I imagine it occurred around the time when the Jay-Z/Nas collab song, “Black Republican”, dropped. The song, though mostly tongue and check, made the possibility of a black republican in today’s political climate less laughable. Perhaps a black Republican is just the flip side of the same political principle coin, in which some blacks believe that racial justice and equality could be achieved through the political process.

I try to keep this theory in mind as I try to rationalize the existence of Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather Pizza and current Republican/Tea Party endorsed candidate for president. Cain’s campaign has been making a lot of headlines lately for his “frank,” yet sometimes oddball talk about race and politics.  When he is not keeping “it real” by declaring the absence of racism in the Tea Party, he is wowing mostly white middle class audiences with his platform on issues such as eradicating all Muslims from the federal government. Some of the things he says borders on the line of being a live action version of Uncle Ruckus, the cartoon character from the television show, “The Boondocks.”

Although Cain has never served in elected office, he is the fifth favorite in a recent Republican poll, and was declared the projected winner of the recent GOP presidential debate. Not bad for a candidate whose greatest claim to fame is pizza dough. As pointed out by the New York Times, Cain’s ‘positive intensity’ rating, as measured by Gallup, places him in the same field as Romney and Huckabee. This means, assuming his name recognition grows, he may very well start to gain momentum.

Does this mean that we should take his candidacy seriously?

As people of color, our political perspective is just as complex and diverse as our hue. Though many of us do identify with the Democratic Party, there are some of us who are independents, conservatives or – gasp – do not bother to vote at all.  This is why it wouldn’t be fair to outright dismiss Cain’s candidacy as just another race traitor lackey for the conservatives, because in an unusual way, many black Republicans feel that they are too addressing issues related to racial inequality and social standing in society, even though their approach to addressing these issues are different. Whereas black Democrats believe that the government is responsible for social issues, and as such, must be the guiding force for change, black conservative argue that economics, along with behavioral pathologies, such as abortion and drug addiction—not so much racism—are the root of current inequalities and that the greatest equalizer is the free market system.

Cain’s candidacy seems to perfectly tap into the frustration that many blacks feel about today’s political landscape. Unlike his ABC (American Black Conservative) predecessor Michael Steele, Cain uses his racial identity to not only win over votes, but to speak directly to the black community.When Cain makes racially charged declarations such as, “the media was scared that a real black man was running,” it echoed, in a sense, similar sentiments that we’ve recently heard from many black pundits and politicians who have been critical of President Obama, including Dr. Cornel West, who, a couple of weeks ago, made statements challenging Obama’s “blackness.”

But sometimes, Cain’s tactics are a little over the top; for instance, during his 2004 Georgia Senate bid when he used stereotypical language and imagery in a radio ad to urge black voters to support Republicans. Essentially, his core message appeals to the conservative nature of the African American community, particularly on social issues. Cain is not the first candidate on either side of the political aisle to use race or stereotypical imagery for the purpose of swaying black voters. In the mid-term election, the Democratic National Committee waged a multi-million dollar advertising campaign, which included the use of civil rights leaders in an effort to reach out to African American voters.

So does this mean that we should view Cain’s candidacy as a threat to President Obama? Herman Cain doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning the white house, let alone the nomination. I’m not saying that I agree with his candidacy, but at this point, I don’t agree with either side of the political spectrum. But why should we feel like the Democrat Party are the only ones worthy of being taking seriously – especially when in my politically Independent mind, neither party has the best track record of developing and fostering a black political agenda?

Charing Ball is the author of the blog People, Places & Things.

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  • T Breezy

    Why don't we vote for someone that has EVERYONE'S agenda in mind for America?? That's whats wrong American politics now, you never have anyone in office that is strictly for the people. There is always some type of interest involved that makes them biased and unfair. Granted you can't please everybody but at least do what's in the good for the country.


    Recent polls have shown that the #1 concern of the black community is jobs and the economy. Although Obama made many promises, the fact is that the black community, along with the U.S. in general, is worse off after two years, not better off. Whether you like Herman Cain personally or not (and I do!), his policies WILL work to improve the economy, reduce the deficit, AND get rid of the healthcare bill that the majority of Americans do not want.

  • Hollywood4Cain

    Don’t underestimate the Cain Train, friends. With his rising poll numbers, his fundraising will take off too. America is desperate for a change of course, before Obama ruins us.

    Check out this humorous little bit of Hollywood trickery that pits a stuttering, stammering Barack Obama against Herman Cain as they debate the merits of health care reform. Barack Obama’s worst nightmare, indeed!

  • Barbbtx

    It seems you do think he has a chance, otherwise why the hit piece?
    Conservatives will vote for Herman Cain because of who he is and what he stands for. It's that simple. I don't expect he'll get a lot of the black vote, because most of them are liberals. Liberals hate the things Cain stands for.
    They believe in collectivism, not individualism.

  • timothy o nichols jr

    Uncle Tom is more like it. Republicans represent the rich in America. Any black that runs for office as an Republican needs an Black history education; because they have either lost their damn minds, or forgotten where they come from. Herman Cain; is no more than a yes-man; an properganda tool to screw with black peoples mind. Why go backwards; I would vote for Obama again and go forward with the plan. My black people need to wake up and smell the coffee, before it is too late.

  • The GOP could learn a lot from the College Bound Brotherhood.

  • Sergius Martin-George

    “As people of color, our political perspective is just as complex and diverse as our hue.”

    That’s good news–to the extent that it’s true ( I presume many readers, both black and white, feel similarly). However, something tells me,
    Ms. Ball, that either you don’t really believe what you wrote, or, at the very least, don’t think that’s how things should be. Otherwise, how can you reconcile such declarations with the first sentence of your piece:

    “It took me some time to accept the fact that there really is such a thing as a black Republican.”

    Fortunately, hundreds of thousands of black voters, who really do represent political perspectives that are, in fact, complex and diverse,
    have rejected the kool-aid to support black independents and Republicans, or at least have reconciled themselves to their existence. Unfortunately, for some, still, it’s all about the diversity–unless you’re talking ideological diversity.

  • Chris

    Charing, could you explain to me what it is about the Democrat Party that draws blacks? What is it that they have done for you in the last 20-30 years that earns the affection of the black community. If anything I think they hold you back. They keep you dependent of the government and in may cases in the welfare system. What is black unemployment up to now in percentage? Has Obama or the Democrats proposed anything that would bring that number down? I remember that woman before the 2008 election that said “If we vote in Obama, I won’t have to pay my gas and my mortgage!” Last I heard in an followup, she was down and out. I believe that the Democrat party is using you as pawns, exploiting your fears for votes. The Republican party is just as far from perfect as well, but typically they are ones that have proposed policies that would give you a better option at being individually successful, without government dependence.

  • I am supporting Herman Cain, and I think he CAN win. He has that ability to express strong opinions without being divisive. He is very likeable. Here is why I am supporting: