Opinion: Herman Cain Dismisses Racism, Making Him Easy to Dismiss

Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - 07:55 AM

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.


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Comments [7]

Fred Brown

I agree completely with the writer. Racism is an issue that has been persistant in America. This has been worsened by the fact that too many people dont want to discuss it because it's embarrassing. IT SHOULD BE!
I am an intelligent and educated black man that has seen racism be a stumbling block in all areas of my life. I have been refused jobs, profiled by the police, and treated as if I were less intelligent because of my skin. I DO NOT have the luxury of believing that racism does not exist given MY personal experiences.
Harrison. I respect your opinion but with that being said it is an extremely shortsighted caucasian assessment. When comparing black people with Jews lets be fair. No jew came to these shores as a slave. There were NO laws on the books to seperate and disenfranchise jewish people in America .Can you say Jim Crow? Jews in America are largely caucasian, many of which you couldn't identify as a Jew on sight alone. None of these things can be said of my African American brothers and sisters. I didnt see any Jews out there in the 60's fighting for basic rights that were included in the Constitution almost 200 years before! You have made an attempt to compare apples with oranges to prove your point.

Nov. 02 2011 04:51 PM
Paul from NYC

Yes this reminds me a lot of Gay Republicans who insist that gay people are brainwashed into not supporting that party. Nothing at all to do with their long and continued open policy of Homophobia of course!

And I am talking more about Gay Republicans who are out (not too many of those actually running for office) and not so much the ones who are in the closet AND homophobic BUT somehow can't seem to keep from being "uncovered" with some boy escort they've hired for the evening.

Oct. 19 2011 05:09 PM
jami floyd


Your comments are thoughtful and heartfelt and I appreciate them immensely.

Yes, my blackness has been a huge impediment through out my life, from routinely being called ni**er and beaten by my fellow classmates on the way home from school; to being called ni**er IN class and having the teacher say nothing; to being told by guidance counselors that I wound never be a lawyer to being passed over for promotions etc. And I am a light skinned black woman. My dark skinned black male colleagues fare worse. The statistics in law and journalism only support my story. And my father's story is more painful than my own.

But we all have adversity to overcome; blacks are not alone.

As for what Herman Cain meant, we would have to ask him for clarification, something the media has not done. I promise you that I will, if I ever get to interview him!

Thank you again for taking time to read my post and to make a comment of your own!

Oct. 19 2011 10:28 AM
jami floyd

thanks for taking time to read. i have a separate post on Rick Perry and his ranch. My mother's entire family is from that part of Texas. She was disowned when she married my father. (she is white, he is black). I can't let Perry off that easy, and i feel he has failed to adequately address the subject. Herman Cain, btw, rightly called him out on it.

Oct. 19 2011 10:18 AM
Charles Silas from carson, California

Love this Queen Jami, one would be a fool not to think racism doesn't exist in all areas of our lives!

Oct. 18 2011 10:21 PM
Karol from NYC

Jami, I disagree with what a lot of what you say here but I think this line is especially wrong: "It would be bad enough if the candidate whose ranch is called N*ggerhead" (I can't write out the name as the comment system blocks it).

It's not Rick Perry's ranch and it's not called N*ggerhead.

I think calling out racism is really important that's why it's also important to take a stand when someone is maligned as a racist and is not. You write "I know we don’t like to talk about race and racism, because it they are painful topics." Perhaps it is especially painful, and perhaps people shy away from the topic, because a person's reputation can so easily be marred with an accusation of racism exactly as its being done to Rick Perry.

Oct. 18 2011 02:55 PM
Harrison Bergeron from NYC


Only recently have I started to pay attention to Herman Cain. From what I understand so far, I agree with your assessment that he is not the right guy to lead the country.

But I think that you are misinterpreting his statement: "I don't believe racism in this country holds anybody back in a big way".

The statement strikes me as both an acknowledgment of the existence of racism in America -- and an observation that it can be overcome. This is based on Mr. Cain's own life experience.

How about your own life experience? Has your blackness held you back from your own life goals? Judging by your on-line persona, you seem to have attained some respectable credentials and achieved some professional success.

I am a white guy. I cannot know what it is like to be a black guy. But with every honest and respectful intention, my outsider's assessment is this. The Black American narrative of "woe is us, we've been hurt and abused" -- while certainly true -- is also is the main thing holding down Black people in America today.

Contrast the Black cultural narrative with that of the Jews. They believe that they are God's chosen people. With only 5% of the American population, probably 20% of the country's doctors and lawyers are Jewish. And they have a clear control of the entertainment industry, yielding great control of public opinion and the Washington decision making process. I do not believe that it is because they are God's chosen people. I believe that they have created a positive forward looking prophecy for themselves, and like most prophecies -- it is self-fulfilling.

Like you, I probably won't support Mr. Cain, but I believe that he is representative of a better self-identify for American Black people.

Best regards,

Oct. 18 2011 11:35 AM

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