Herman Cain’s other problem: African-Americans
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.
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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 man alive?”
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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.”