Herman Cain intrigues me. As a black American, any black man making a difference in America intrigues me.
But Cain is a Republican and I am not. So I will not be supporting him. Cain suggests that members of the African American community who refuse to support him "have been brainwashed into not being open-minded, not even considering a conservative point of view."
I can assure Mr. Cain that I have not been “brainwashed.” My reasons for not supporting him are as follows: He opposes abortion, including cases of rape and incest.
He thinks Iran could be deterred from aggression by deploying more warships. He is a proponent of privatized Social Security. And his 9-9-9 plan seems to be based largely upon a children’s video game.
But if that wasn’t enough to seal the deal and drive me toward just about any other presidential hopeful, Cain made this assertion:
"I don't believe racism in this country today holds anybody back in a big way."
It would be bad enough if the candidate whose ranch is called “Niggerhead” made such an inane and insulting statement; but coming from the only black contender in the GOP field, it is intolerable.
In my own reporting at ABC News, first as the Law & Justice Correspondent and later heading up the Consumer Unit, we were able to show hiring discrimination based on names (preference for Scott Booth's resume even though it is in every other way identical to LeShaun Washington's, for example) and linguistic profiling (based on the inflection of an applicant’s voice, over the telephone). We found discrimination in commercial transactions like buying automobiles and purchasing homes, as well as profiling by the police, in myriad jurisdictions, across the U.S.
Beyond my own experience and the work of one news team at a single news organization, over an eight-year period, there are volumes of evidence to demonstrate that racism and discrimination still exist in every sector of American life, from politics, to health care to life expectancy. As Cornel West correctly wrote fifteen years ago, “Race Matters.” It still does.
I know we don’t like to talk about race and racism, because it they are painful topics. However, if our leaders – especially our black leaders – won’t address what author and historian Studs Terkel called “The American Obsession,” who will?
Yes, we have come a long way. Ten years ago, I publicly stated my belief that we would not, in my lifetime, elect a black man to the office of President of the United States.
Before you scold my cynicism, consider my context. We had passed the Civil Rights Act as recently as 1964. The Voting Rights Act had passed in this writer’s lifetime. The Supreme Court had struck down laws that made interracial marriage illegal only after I was born – in 1967. Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated a year later, in 1968. This was my backdrop for hope.
I was wrong. A black man can aspire to the greatest office in the land. At the same time, Herman Cain should not be fooled by his current place in the polls, any more than house Negroes were fooled by their masters on the plantations, down in the Old South. The legacy of racism is visible everywhere to anyone who wishes to see it. Herman Cain does not. This is why I refuse to support him. I can’t speak for my brothers and sisters, but I’m guessing the reasons are similar.
Cain is unapologetic about his ignorance not only on race, but also on other issues. Asked recently, in an interview, with the Christian Broadcasting Network, whether he would be able to name the president of Uzbekistan, Cain mocked the name of the Central Asian nation and spoke derisively of “small insignificant states.”
“When they ask me who is the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan, I’m going to say, ‘You know, I don’t know. Do you know?’ And then I’m going to say, ‘How’s that going to create one job?’ ”
“When I get ready to go visit that country, I’ll know who it is,” he continued. “But until then I want to focus on the big issues that we need to solve.”
Simply put, Herman Cain is not the man to take our country into the 21st Century. He may mean well. But he is just not ready for prime time. Can a black man lead in America? Yes, but he already does.
Jami Floyd is an attorney, broadcast journalist and legal analyst for cable and network news, and is a frequent contributor to WNYC Radio. She is former advisor in the Clinton administration and served as a surrogate for the Obama campaign on legal and domestic policy issues. You can follow her on twitter.