Though his campaign caught fire for a time, many black voters did
not embrace Herman Cain because he rejects institutional racism as a
major issue. But his candidacy has exposed rifts in the black
During his remarkable roller coaster ride into the top tier of
Republican presidential candidates, Herman Cain has become both a
darling of the tea party movement and target for withering
criticism. For all the attention on allegations of sexual
harassment, though, Mr. Cain has also come under attack from another
group: black leaders.
At times, the exchanges between Cain and leaders in the black
community have been stunning.
Famous singer Harry Belafonte has called Cain unintelligent and a
"bad apple." Activist Cornel West claimed that Cain's ideas are so
delusional that he should stop smoking a "symbolic crack pipe." And
the Root, a website that addresses issues in the black community,
ran a headline that read: "Is Herman Cain the most unctuous black
Cain's responses have been no less pointed. At one point he
suggested that such criticism was close-minded and "brainwashed"
blacks in order to keep them on the "Democrat plantation."
At issue is Cain's frontal assault on an idea that has bound the
black community together politically for decades: He has largely
repudiated the assertion that institutional racism continues to play
a key role in why African-Americans lag far behind whites on nearly
every economic and academic measure.
By bringing the issue out into the open, Cain has sparked a
nearly unprecedented airing of the black community's political
laundry on the national stage, analysts say. In the process, he has
highlighted the small but growing section of the black population
that has become firmly middle class and is, perhaps, more open to
conservative political ideas.
The result is that three years after Barack Obama's successful
presidential campaign united blacks with a renewed sense of purpose
and possibility, Cain's campaign is revealing fissures within a
community growing more politically diverse.
"Cain is actually in the mainstream amongst African-Americans on
issues like abortion and even the role of racism in economic
inequality," says Andra Gillespie, a political scientist at Emory
University in Atlanta. "He's definitely not saying something so out
in left field that it's unrecognizable."
Cain's campaign has been thrown into doubt by allegations that he
sexually harassed four women during his time as president of the
National Restaurant Association in the 1990s. But Cain's rise in the
polls before that point was largely due to his affable debating
style and commitment to conservative orthodoxy - from a flat income
tax to an antiabortion position. Despite being black, Cain put
forward views on discrimination that fit neatly into that
Cain doesn't discount the existence of racism and acknowledges
that it may be part of why blacks only have 65 percent of the wealth
of whites. But he contends that racism no longer hinders the
progress of black individuals who are willing to work and pay a
price for success.
Cain's gains: 'Weird white people acting up'?
These views, however, put him at odds with many in the black
community. Moreover, Cain's take on racism hints at why the
Republican Party can't make more inroads among blacks, despite the
fact that African-Americans would generally appear to be sympathetic
to Republican positions on social issues such as gay marriage and
abortion, say some analysts.
"African-Americans are incredibly rational in terms of their
politics" and support for Democrats, says David Bositis, a senior
research associate at the Joint Center for Political and Economic
Studies, a Washington think tank that focuses on black political
Many blacks see economic inequality, incarceration rates for
black men, and a host of other societal ills as being rooted in
racism, he says. …