Black GOP candidate missing right words
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First, let me say that I think long-shot Republican presidential aspirant Herman Cain is a funny guy. (Imagine Joe Pesci's "How am I funny?" speech from "Goodfellas" coming out of Mr. Cain's mouth.)
Seriously, Herman Cain is that funny. When Bloomberg columnist Jeffrey Goldberg referred to the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza as "African-American" during an interview, Mr. Cain took the opportunity to demonstrate American exceptionalism in action:
"I am an American. Black. Conservative," he said. "I don't use African-American, because I'm American, I'm black and I'm conservative. I don't like people trying to label me. African-American is socially acceptable for some people, but I am not some people."
At 65, the businessman-turned-talk-radio host is as prickly and resentful of that racial description as is my grandmother, who, like many of her generation, actually prefers "colored" to either black or African-American.
Like my grandmother, a fellow survivor of life in the Deep South during the Jim Crow era, Mr. Cain is oblivious to the concept of irony. Just dealing with the daily absurdities of racism was a full-time job for their generation. To their credit, they developed coping mechanisms that made it possible to maintain their integrity while smiling in the faces of the very folks who once humiliated them.
After fleeing to the North, my grandmother became a hospital dietitian. Mr. Cain, younger by two decades, graduated from college, entered the Navy and returned to the South, where he became a multimillionaire before being appointed chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. They both followed honorable paths.
Still, Mr. Cain loses points when he opens his mouth, including his own bigoted statements about minorities. He said, "Many of the Muslims, they're not totally dedicated to this country," as an excuse for why he wouldn't appoint them to his presidential cabinet until they've been vetted by an extra layer of background security.
When Mr. Cain found out that the doctor who operated on his cancerous colon was a Muslim, he was bothered by it, he admitted, because "based upon the little knowledge that I have of the Muslim religion, you know, they have an objective to convert all infidels or kill them."
While this is deeply and appallingly ignorant, Mr. Cain is merely reflecting decades of bias he's personally experienced, but he's forgotten to maintain his sanity and social equilibrium.
Campaigning in Iowa recently, Mr. Cain promised that if elected president, he'd build a fence along the nation's Southwest border akin to the Great Wall of China and install an alligator-filled moat on our side to discourage wall-hoppers. Is there any wonder that despite his Horatio Alger-like story and great wealth, he's never held elected office or won a Republican primary?
Not to excuse it, but every black person in America has crazy older relatives who say wacky stuff just like this every day. Such idiotic notions testify to the pain Mr. Cain is still dealing with decades after sneaking sips from whites-only water fountains in Georgia.
Recently, Mr. Cain accused Comedy Central's Jon Stewart of mocking him with an "Amos 'n' Andy" voice on "The Daily Show" because the candidate is a "black conservative."
Despite expressing the same disdain that all black Republicans do of "race hustlers" who use "victimization" to deflect criticism, Mr. Cain wasted no time in ascribing the worst motives possible to a comedian who has criticized the entire Republican field. It would have been more racist if Mr. Cain had gotten a pass.
Besides, Mr. Stewart went after Mr. Cain because the candidate foolishly promised that he wouldn't sign any bills into law that were more than three pages long.
"If I'm president," Mr. Stewart said satirically, not quite catching the feel of Mr. Cain's voice, "treaties will have to fit on the back of a cereal box. From now on, the State of the Union address will be delivered in the form of a fortune cookie. I am Herman Cain, and I do not like to read."
At a stop in Iowa this week, Mr. Cain declared again to the all-white crowd that he was being persecuted because he's a black conservative. Meanwhile, I suspect he's as much a fan of "Amos 'n' Andy" as my grandmother is. He's a funny guy.
First Published June 24, 2011 12:00 am