Herman Cain, the Magical Negro…and Other Topics on Ontological Blackness

Carlos Osorio/AP Photos

Let me just be up front and honest: I don’t like Herman Cain.

Granted I dislike his opponent Texas Governor Rick Perry even less, and Rep. Michelle Bachmann has devolved into a “Love Boat” joke, I just really don’t care for Herman Cain.  His politics seems to hearken back to a Brady Bunch or even “Leave It to Beaver” era of this country–one that never truly existed–and people are eating it up.  Maybe that’s what it is; I’m just mad people are actually buying what he’s shoveling.

But why not?  He’s a magical Negro.

Yes, the phrase “magical Negro” is a bit of a tongue-and-cheek mash up and probably draws more questions that it answers, but if you will go with me, I would like to explore this magical Negro called Herman Cain.

Let’s be honest, since we’re not in a post-racial society despite what mainstream media continues to assert, more and more people are trying to wrap their minds around the now seeable possibility of having two men of color run for the office of the President of the United States.  What is interesting to me, is that both of these men have had the core of their blackness challenged.  For Barack Obama it was his mixed ancestral heritage, being raised by his white grandparents in part and for Herman Cain his affiliation with the Republican party and aligning himself with the likes of other GOP’ers who take such conservative stances when it comes to the disenfranchised of this country.

So how is Herman Cain able to ascend to the point he has now despite being black?  I think very much the same way Obama did for the Democrats: there’s a level of “safeness” about both of these men.  This country isn’t ready for a black man to be president (( wink wink )).  By black man, one need only reference the 2004 nomination process for the Democrats and Al Sharpton didn’t make it past South Carolina.  While Sharpton was able to parlay himself into a nationally syndicated radio talk show and now a full time slot on MSNBC, an elected official he is not!

It’s easy to call Herman Cain a sellout for his political position when it comes to his comments on the Occupy Wall Street movement by inferring persons need to simply go get a job.  Even the most simple of political commentaries understands that with a 9.1% unemployment rate nationwide to suggest protesters need to just get a job wholly oversimplifies the problem.  And that’s Cain’s political achilles heel to me: he oversimplifies relatively complex problems.  While his 9-9-9 plan (( think 9 pizzas, 9 toppings for the low low price of $9.99 )) is easily repeatable, it’s a rather basic solution to a real complex problem.  Even in the last debate, after I finally got the gist of it, Cain was left comparing apples and oranges, literally, to an audience and debaters who could see through it.

This is the problem that Cain faces when it comes to his blackness being challenged.

Most political commentators with any validity to their reputation (so this excludes most anyone who appears on Fox News) and across color lines will admit that the issue of race is not a simple one: it never has been and will probably never be.  Cain’s haste to oversimplify things flies in the face of conventional wisdom in many of the black communities across this country.  This is why Obama’s speech on race in Philadelphia in 2008 following the initial fallout behind Jeremiah Wright was so poignant and resonated with many people.  It was the first time in recent memory we heard a speech that tackled the issue of race head-on and didn’t use euphemisms to address it.  Obama’s speech was the only speech on race I had heard in my lifetime coming from somone with the high level of political status as he, it at least did not dismiss race nor add to the apathy and disillusionment that often characterizes the lives of disenfranchised people.

A potential GOP nomination of Herman Cain could actually be a political jackpot for the GOP when it comes to issues of race.  The GOP has been facing ever increasing flak from the black communities across this nation when it comes endearing blacks to their party.  It’s a joke worthy only of the black blogosphere, Facebook and Twitter when GOP events are aired on national TV and we sit back and count the number of black faces we see in the crowd.  Usually we never run out of fingers.  With the recent chairperson of the GOP, Michael Steele, being black he was forced to deal with these questions directly, and the GOP as a party was able to point and say “Look, we’re not racist.  Our chairperson is a black guy!”

But, as I noted above, that oversimplifies the issue of race.

What the GOP obviously fails to realize is that running a black conservative candidate against Obama runs the risk of political suicide.

Just ask Alan Keyes.

Granted the GOP in the state of Illinois had Barack Obama running unopposed for a U.S. Sentate seat for six whole weeks, but Alan Keyes, as the paragon of foot-in-the-mouth conservatism was the absolutely worst candidate to run against an Obama campaign.  But Obama won 70% of the vote with over four million votes cast in a state that outside of the Chicago metropolitan area consistently voted Republican and in a state that has no qualms about electing a Republican governor when they feel like it.


For social conservatives to vote for a black man in a political office is the equivalent of the “oh, I have black friends” meme.  It somehow tells them that they’re really not that conservative–or prejudiced, or bigoted, or racist–deep down.  What makes this a falsehood one tells one’s self to sleep easy at night is the fact that voting for the likes of a Herman Cain don’t require much of a leap.  Herman Cain’s rhetoric, for the most part is interchangeable with that of Mitt Romney or Rick Perry at this stage of the game.  Nothing Cain stands for or has spoken about would look any different coming from a white GOP politician–no one would raise an eyebrow.

With the latest political bungle lain at the doorstep of Herman Cain surrounding this sexual misconduct from years ago, he seems like a Manchurian candidate of sorts to me.  He seems out of his political element–like Sarah Palin.  The folksy-ness comes off as aloof and unaware of the stakes of the game.  While I don’t mind perceived flip-flopping on the issues when new information is available, Herman Cain’s doublespeak is pushing the appalling level.  And his speaking in unknown tongues referring to not knowing the capital of “Uz-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan” doesn’t show salt-of-the-earth values, but rather a frightening dearth of knowledge of foreign affairs.

Launching into a rendition of “He Looked Beyond My Faults” at the National Press Club earlier this week–as though he were singing a sermonic selection before he preached…

…doth not a presidential candidate make.

Honestly, I don’t like the guy, but as a fellow black man, it felt like Cain set us back the proverbial 400 years when I saw him launch into song.  It came off as a minstrel production; that to placate to white conservative sensibilities he felt the need to sing a song.  It hearkened back to a time when racist whites of the antebellum and Jim Crow era dismissed Negro work songs as songs sung because we were happy to be doing the back breaking labor.  Certainly it roused images of blacks portrayed as mere entertainment and advertisement with black face, exaggerated lips and noses plastered on billboards, food labels and the like.

Notwithstanding Cain’s matriculation at Morehouse College or his parents insistence to not get involved with Civil Rights protests in Atlanta, to be unaware of the consequences of singing as he did disturbs me.

But so is this Magical Negro–the one Herman Cain.

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL

14 thoughts on “Herman Cain, the Magical Negro…and Other Topics on Ontological Blackness

  1. Thanks for this. Your insights make me think on so many levels. Tokenism is just another variety of racism, I think. And the whole “yes, I have black friends” thing is something I want to keep in my awareness.

  2. As a person that has spoken to Cain directly about his affiliation with the GOP, I will say this in his defense, he is ahead of the curve as it relates to Blackness. I am a conservative Democrat that loathes Cain’s political ideology, but I applaud him for attempting to provide the nation with moving pictures of a Black Man that is very conservative and unafraid to challenge the status quot from another angle (although he is on a cross for it-in black & white communities).

    Black people are always taken for granted by BOTH political parties. Therefore, it behooves us to be active in both of them. They must learn to seek our attention the way they seek other ethnicities. Cain may come off a bit “coonish”, but he is right for doing so in GOP shoes rather than Democratic ones

    Moreover, Cain is reshaping “Blackness” in a sense for this millennium. Blackness has not been defined in this “post-modern” period, thus I appreciate Cain for helping to found a nice wide chasm of “Blackness”, especially because folks say we are not BLACK any more.

    Great post,


    1. @ali coup

      What do you mean by “ahead of the curve as it relates to Blackness”?

      Personally I’m not locked into understanding blackness on a continuum that one can be more black than the other. That is to say, I don’t agree with the following sentiment: Al Sharpton is black, Obama is less black and Cain is a sellout. However, I will submit that I don’t appreciate the image Cain has purported, but it’s not rooted in him being black. But when he feels free to say on national television that blacks are brainwashed into voting Democrat that raises a major red flag for me. To hear anyone say that would bother me, but the fact that he’s black I think makes him feel licensed to say something like that. If reframing the conversation on blackness and race in this country means using broad generalizations that blacks are brainwashed into voting Democrat, then I want no part of this “ahead the curve” nonsense that Cain is pushing.

  3. Great post!

    Think Clarence Thomas, Supreme Court Justice, and his Teabagging paid Queen wife, Ginni Thomas; Ken Blackwell and the Diebold voting machines in Ohio, ex-military man Allen West in Florida, etc.

    Herman Cain has a right to be with the GOTP (got P?) as a tool of the Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a political arm of the Koch Brothers.

    When Ann Coulter on FoxNews is so enthusiastic with her support of Herman Cain as ‘our Black’ is better than ‘their Black’ that means that we as a people are in deep doo-doo about who Mr. Cain ‘belongs’ to.

    Keep on keeping it uppity. Thanks for the post.

  4. I wouldn’t say that I don’t like Herman Cain but I am aware of who he is and where he came from. His tongue moves in and out of his mouth just like President Obama predecessor did when he first took office. He is elusive and not inclusive and has practiced what he wes taught. That is he came out of the bushes as the forerunner of Jeb Bush, so be prepared. Thanks, I like your blog it says a lot keep up the good work.

    1. I like how Ron Paul doesn’t participate in class waarfre. What’s good for America is good for blacks. Thy BlackMan.com compares Cain to Paul and chooses Paul! Google Ron Paul Herman Cain’s Different Philosophies by StaffRe: Israel, Google Are Evangelical Christians Warmongers by Pastor Chuck BaldwinRon Paul re: Hispanics great interview /watch?v=oHiKRVm7ziACain said I don’t know much about foreign policy, but I can learn. We need a TEACHER, not a student! Ron Paul, President 2012

  5. Wow. I can’t believe he sang like that. Well, here is the value Hermain Cain offers…a different opinion. A different black. I don’t agree with his ideologies as well, but I do think it is very positive that America sees all types of different views especially from black people.

  6. Honestly, I don’t like the guy, but as a fellow black man, it felt like Cain set us back the proverbial 400 years when I saw him launch into song. It came off as a minstrel production; that to placate to white conservative sensibilities he felt the need to sing a song. It hearkened back to a time when racist whites of the antebellum and Jim Crow era dismissed Negro work songs as songs sung because we were happy to be doing the back breaking labor.

    that is why I call him a minstrel. plain and simple.

  7. Nice essay, but as an admitted grammar Nazi, and in deference to my OCD, I’m compelled to offer a couple gentle corrections.

    I think you dislike Perry even *more*, not less than Cain.
    Also, Cain’s remarks about OWS, were *implying*, not inferring, that they go get a job. He implied, you inferred.

    Of course, all of this is probably moot by now. Fortunately, (or unfortunately), he won’t be a factor for very much longer. I was kind of looking forward to his debates with Obama.

  8. Herman Cain’s train left the station today; he is suspending his electioneering at his newly unopened Atlanta Campaign office.

    Herman, we hardly knew you; what we think we learned was nein nein nein. So it shall be.

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