Against all odds, a 65-year-old black pizza mogul is the Republican Party’s latest darling. Herman Cain, former CEO of the Godfather’s Pizza company, is surging in the polls, surpassing Rick Perry to sit neck-and-neck with Mitt Romney atop the GOP presidential field. Odds are that eventually the buzz around Cain will die down, and Romney will emerge victorious to take on Obama in the 2012 general election. But regardless of whether he wins or loses—and he’ll probably lose—as a black person I’m happy with what Cain has accomplished thus far. I’m happy he’s in the race and speaking his mind, and I think, despite inevitable problems, he’s good for black America.
Tell some liberals, especially liberals of color, that you like Herman Cain and you’re likely to get groans, chortles, or, from the far leftists, angry stares, and not without reason. Cain is, of course, a man who last week practically called black people political zombies, telling CNN that blacks “have been brainwashed into not being open-minded, not even considering a conservative point of view.” Beyond that statement, Cain’s politics themselves—low taxes for business, suspicion of Muslims—are not the kinds of things black people generally find endearing in their leaders.
Cain has his share of outspoken black detractors. Actor and former CNN host D.L. Hughley tweeted in September that Cain belongs on a pancake box, like Aunt Jemima. Another CNN contributor, Roland Martin, tweeted that Cain needs to eat some barbecue and listen to James Brown to get more black. He added, “Dude is in bad need of a brotherly hug!” Michael Colyar, a comedian, didn’t mince words a la Hughley and Martin: “Uncle Tom Cain is the newest Republican lapdog,” he wrote on Twitter. “[He] will do anything to be seen.”
It’s ironic that people irritated by Cain’s increasing popularity have responded just as Cain predicted: with closed-mindedness. Cain has theorized since the start of his campaign that there are blacks who will dismiss and disparage him out of hand simply because he’s a conservative. It turns out he’s right.
Of course, blacks have every reason in the world to be wary of the Republican Party. For decades, the GOP has leveraged anti-black fears to win elections. And the social welfare spending cuts advocated by conservatives are often thinly veiled whines about the black welfare state, the same kind of nonsense that perpetuated the myth of “the welfare queen” throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s. Neither major American political party seems to have the best interests of black people in mind, but if one is more racist than the other, it’s the Republican camp. Which is why I’m so happy Cain is a Republican.
When Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, he did so with the support of 96 percent of black voters. In the four decades leading up to that, at least 80 percent of black voters supported the Democratic candidate in every presidential election. Not only do blacks like Democrats, they also feel alienated by Republicans. “According to David Bositis, a political analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies,” wrote the Washington Post in 1998, “the GOP is still considered by most blacks as ‘the white people's party.’”
To every outsider looking in—Republicans, Democrats, and independents alike—the black community is a monolithic bloc when it comes to politics: all Democrats all the time. While there’s some truth to that stereotype, it’s been a disastrous one for the black community overall. Republicans know they’re not going to get black votes, so they don’t even try; in fact, they herald policies and perspectives that actively shun minorities. The Democratic Party, on the other hand, does what everyone does when given total dominion over an oppressed group: They take that group's loyalty for granted. In the end, neither party puts forth policy that will meaningfully affect blacks, and the black community suffers because of it.
Hermain Cain is not the savior of the black community by any means. His stated policy stances are mostly doctrinaire conservativism, and he cowers when faced with racial discussions. Nevertheless, I can’t help but be ecstatic that he’s in the running for president. He’s a reminder to Americans of every color that there is vast depth and breadth to the black community. Not every black person voted for Obama. Not every black person likes the welfare state. Not every black person wants higher taxes for wealthy white Americans. Cain is black, and he doesn’t fit any of those molds. If anyone is predictable, it’s Cain’s hecklers, booing and calling him an Uncle Tom from behind their Twitter avatars.