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Is Herman Cain "Black" Enough?
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The attacks on Herman Cain that I’ve encountered in recent weeks have gone from dumb to outrageous. I’m not speaking of any substantive complaint, for example, that his 9/9/9 flat tax plan may be simplistic or that Cain took two opposing positions on abortion in the same interview. A longtime businessman, he is admittedly a political novice, who has been stumbling as he advances into the limelight. And even his smiley countenance and charming demeanor cannot make up in the long run for uninterrupted gaffes and evidence of knowing exceedingly little about international relations. I say this as a fan but as someone who sees Herman’s frailties.

What are maddening however are the assaults on Cain that have come from black celebrities. Harry Belafonte and Morgan Freeman, who are leftwing activists, have questioned whether this Republican candidate is really black. In contrast to the half-black Obama, who grew up in a white family in Hawaii, Cain, who looks like an African black and grew up in a poor family in segregated Georgia, is somehow making false racial claims. Despite the fact that he went to a black college, Morehouse, and preaches in a black Baptist church, Cain is dissembling when he describes himself as black.

In a sense his critics are correct. Cain is not black, if one defines that classification ideologically and associates it, like Freeman, Belafonte, and the Congressional Black Caucus, with the politically correct Left. Similarly Michele Bachmann is not a woman; indeed like Sarah Palin, the media are free to insult her gender identity because she’s not for abortion and gay rights, attitudes that determine who is or is not a woman. From a recent TV special I learned that it’s only by insulting a woman with the appropriate leftist social positions, like Nancy Pelosi, that one is liable to the charge of “sexism.” One is apparently free to go after women, blacks, or any other group that we’re supposed to reach out to politically if they fail to think like Freeman or former House Speaker Pelosi. The double standard is that blatant.

The invocation of race or gender is used by the social Left to appeal to the misled consciences of an electorate that is conditioned to feel guilty. We are urged to overcome the legacy of prejudice that weighs down on our souls by voting for members of historically disadvantaged groups. But we’re certainly not encouraged to vote for any random member of these groups, but only for those who are truly what they’re supposed to be and who demonstrate this identity by being politically correct. Otherwise they are race- or gender-traitors whom it is our duty to shun.


Perhaps the dumbest attack on Cain that I’ve seen is by Hispanic Republican syndicated columnist Mary Sanchez, who is tired of Cain’s “sunny pep talk.” This cheeriness has led him into saying “that he refuses to consider himself as a victim of racism.” His focus on career “has blinded him to the way in which it [racism] did harm others—and the ways that impact is still entrenched today.” Sanchez is particularly bothered that Cain’s autobiographical narrative does not indicate activism during the civil rights revolution and that instead of demonstrating, he followed his father’s advice to “stay out of trouble.” His father, contrary to the widespread belief that he was a poor chauffeur, according to Sanchez, went around greasing the skids for young Herman. Indeed “his father’s connections landed him a non-manual labor job in a laboratory during college.”

Apparently Cain didn’t measure up to the courageous activism of Michelle Obama’s father, a Chicago ward politician, or his street-organizing son-in-law, both of whom reaped the rewards of the civil rights revolution without endangering themselves. In what way was Cain, whose parents barely made it above above the poverty line and went to a black college on a scholarship to study mathematics, a less exemplary black than the affirmative action couple now in the White House? Unlike Obama, Cain was not lucky enough to have been picked as a poster boy for liberal university administrators or, like Michelle, to have a senior thesis on white racism written at Princeton singled out by the media. Unlike Obama he spent his college years doing differential calculus.

Does Sanchez really believe that Cain’s supposedly well-connected father was wrong to exhort his bright son to study rather than demonstrate? Which is more useful to our society and its black minority, spawning more street demonstrators (there was no dearth of them even in the 1960s) or producing more educated mathematicians and resourceful entrepreneurs? The black community needs more people like Herman Cain. It is sinking under the weight of lifetime political activists. If it continues to wail with Sanchez about the “entrenched impact” of racism, (God save us from this mixed metaphor!) it will not be doing itself a favor.

(Republished from The American Conservative by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Ideology, Race/Ethnicity • Tags: Republicans 
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  1. tbraton says:

    Nothing illustrates your point better, Prof. Gottfried, than the savage “interview” of Cain by Lawrence O’Donnell on O’Donnell’s show “The Last Word” on ultra-liberal MSNBC. O’Donnell even berated Cain for accepting a deferment instead of enlisting during the Vietnam War. (Cain was working for the Navy Department doing mathematical calculations on ordnance, and his local draft board in Georgia deemed his work important enough to the national defense that it granted him a waiver from the draft.) What was remarkable was how Cain maintained his cool and sense of humor while O’Donnell lost both. Cain is not my choice (I happen to prefer politicians with some success and experience in politics), but he is obviously a bright guy with a terrific personality.

    BTW, long before Cain came along, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was subjected to the same savage treatment by the black establishment, which continues to this day.

    Incidentally, someone has advanced the outrageous idea that Cain has actually modeled his campaign on the plot of “The Producers.” See

  2. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Please refrain from speaking of “the black community” as a monolith. I am black and have not heard anyone in my life –I’m talking real-live black people who are educated and politically aware, not celebrities or politicians — say anything about Cain not being “really black.” That type of accusation is generally only wielded by people in the public eye who have an agenda.

    Some folks may not agree with his politics but we recognize that black people come in all different flavors — just as other groups of people do.

  3. Aaron says: • Website

    You chose not to include links to the alleged comments in your post, or to quote actual comments. I’m not seeing where Morgan Freeman has “questioned whether this Republican candidate is really black”. Please help me out.

    In terms of Belafonte, I see a quote in which he suggests that elements of the Tea Party and Republican Party want to hold up people like Cain as “representations for what they call black, what they call the real Negroes”. Is that the quote you had in mind? If so, Belafonte is saying something different than you suggest.

    And how do you leap from the comments of two celebrities (comments that I can’t find that they actually made) to “the politically correct Left”? Could you please define “the politically correct Left” for me, and tell me who is included in that category other than possibly a couple of celebrities and the Congressional Black Caucus? That is, are we talking about more than 45 people and, if so, who? Is “Hispanic Republican syndicated columnist Mary Sanchez” part of “the politically correct Left”?

    Speaking of Sanchez, she wrote,

    “Cain went to work at Coke after graduate school, later following a mentor from there to Pillsbury, where Cain’s career took off. He was put in charge of turning around a lackluster sales region of the company’s Burger King subsidiary. He succeeding with flying colors, in part thanks to a program he instituted to urge employees to smile more. Later he pulled off a similar turnaround of Godfather’s Pizza.

    “But more than a sunny pep talk is needed to handle delicate international relations, deal with a $14 trillion debt or get 16 million Americans back to work.”

    I can’t find a similar passage in which Sanchez says “I am tired of Cain’s ‘sunny pep talk.’”, nor do I see an immediate reason to reject as “dumb” the truism that pep talks (from any politician) won’t fix the nation’s economy. Are you looking at something else? I expect not given that you say “”, but that passage also carries a different meaning than you suggest:

    “He says he refuses to think of himself as a victim of racism, but one wonders if this has blinded him to the ways in which it did harm others — and the ways that impact is still entrenched today.

    Cain recounts being with his younger brother in Atlanta and daring to sip once from a ‘whites only’ water fountain, making sure no one noticed. He talks about being a teenager and moving to the back of a bus, against his sense of dignity but with the intention ‘to avoid trouble.’”

    Nowhere does Sanchez either attribute Cain’s “refus[al] to consider himself as a victim of racism” to “cheeriness”, nor does she say that it is Sanchez’s focus on career that may have “blinded him to the way in which it [racism] did harm others”, as opposed to a family philosophy of fastidiously staying out of trouble. I also don’t see any suggestion by Sanchez that Cain should not have worked hard or should have joined protests – where can I find that statement?

    Sanchez describes Cain’s father as “the private chauffeur to the CEO of Coca-Cola, one of several jobs he juggled”, and indicates that it is Cain, in his biography, who “Cain graciously acknowledges his parents for giving him a foundation… to pursue his dreams” and that Cain’s father was a “savvy man” whose “connections landed [Cain] a non-manual labor job in a laboratory during college”.. You are stating that Sanchez misrepresents the content of Cain’s biography? If so, what does Cain’s biography actually say on this issue – he gives his father no credit for his finding that job?

    You are making serious allegations about the people you reference, so it would be helpful if you could provide sources in which they are actually expressing the sentiments you attribute to them. I want to reserve my outrage for actual outrages, and so far this one doesn’t seem substantiated.

  4. Nic says:

    I am not a fan of Herman Cain. However, I believe comments as to whether or not he is black have to do with (in part) his comments about not blaming the rich – get out there and work for it. Which to a high degree, I agree with. But there is also the fact that there will be poor people who are poor not because they want to be – but because that’s the way it is in this kind of society. The Bible even says the poor will always be among us – Matthew 26:11. To have the viewpoint that everyone can get rich is not true. Wealth is controlled by a small percentage of the population and that’s a fact. Many can do very well if they choose too. However, not everyone makes it into the top 1-5%. Now before I get way off topic….. this morning, media began weilding allegations of sexual harrassment on Herman Cain’s part. Personally, I was not at all surprised. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying he did or didn’t. What I am saying is that I was just waiting for the moment they would try to take him down like this. It’s just like the dumb crap about Obama and his birth certificate. People can’t find anything else and now look for dumb stuff to take people out – people of color, women, whoever they don’t like, etc…

  5. Both Freeman and Belafonte were quoted in the national press as questionning whether Cain was really black, presumably in some metaphysical or essentialist sense. The article by Mary Sanchez does indeed criticize Cain for having been insufficiently activist in fighting racial discrimination; I interpreted the references to his cheeriness as being a slam at his lack of grimness in confronting racism, which Sanchez emphasizes is still a major problem “impacting” on American blacks. With all due respect to black supporters of Cain, they are in a very small minority. According to a story in the NYT last Thursday, the overwhelming majority of American blacks (well over 90%) consider Obama to be the true advocate for their race. This choice is of course ideologically shaped; in the same way that over 90% of Pennsylvania blacks voted against the very black Republican gubernatorial candidate Lynne Swan in favor of his buffoonish Democratic white opponent Ed Rendell. Black conservative Republicans seem to be almost as rare as unicorns.

  6. tbraton says:

    The analogy between the Herman Cain campaign and “The Producers” might not be so far fetched after all. According to today’s Washington Examiner:

    “Donna Donella, 40, of Arlington, said the USAID paid Cain to deliver a speech to businessmen and women in Egypt in 2002, during which an Egyptian businesswoman in her 30s asked Cain a question.

    “And after the seminar was over,” Donella told The Washington Examiner, “Cain came over to me and a colleague and said, ‘Could you put me in touch with that lovely young lady who asked the question, so I can give her a more thorough answer over dinner?’”

    Donella, who no longer works for USAID, said they were suspicious of Cain’s motives and declined to set up the date. Cain responded, “Then you and I can have dinner.” That’s when two female colleagues intervened and suggested they all go to dinner together, Donella said.

    Cain exhibited no inappropriate sexual behavior during the dinner, though he did order two $400 bottles of wine and stuck the women with the bill, she said.”

    I think Max Bialystock would have highly approved of Mr. Cain’s sticking those USAID employees with the bill for two $400 bottles of wine—not to mention the womanizing. Pure chutzpah.

  7. Remember that back in the day, people questioned whether Barack Obama was black enough:

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