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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