Despite What Herman Cain Says, Racism Still a Critical Issue in 2012


According to a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 93% of African-Americans would vote for President Barack Obama over Herman Cain in a hypothetical 2012 election race. Why is Herman Cain failing to win over black voters?

Cain has hypothesized that the 93% have been “brainwashed into not being open-minded and not considering a conservative point of view.” But my view is that African-Americans’ distaste for Cain is the result of his view on race. Most black voters are just not willing to fall for Cain’s rhetoric that “Racism if not a thing of the past, is of marginal importance in the 21st century.” 

Cain has been knocked for his foreign policy weaknesses, but on the issue of race, I’m not sure if he has his eyes wide open either. Racism surely is not a thing of the past in this country (see James Craig AndersonTroy Davis, and recent data on the spike in hate crimes against Latinos if you need recent proof). If Cain says it has marginal importance, that is only because he isn’t willing to face the race issue head-on.

Obama’s election has led some to celebrate a “post-racial” world, but these discussions are hasty and misinformed (as well as meaningless, according to Touré’s great New York Times piece). Although a social construct, race still has very real implications for the ways in which we live our lives. We can choose to ignore that, as Cain has done, but this won’t make our problems with inequity just disappear.

Those who point out that racism is still very much present are not cry babies, lazy, or overly sensitive. They see our current state of affairs for what it is: Flawed (sometimes to a disastrous degree as the examples above show), and still in need of attention.

If the 1990s were the age of political correctness, today we are entering another PC phase – what I would like to call “Politically Confused.” Some of us want to believe that race and racism have no place in our current culture, that we are finally experiencing a period of equality. And others don’t see how anyone would even deign to make that supposition. Saying that we are in a post-racial era may make some of us feel better about ourselves, proud that we looked beyond race to elect our “first black president.” But, doesn’t patting ourselves on the back for Obama’s election prove that we aren’t post-racial after all? If we were really beyond race, we wouldn’t have to commend ourselves for voting for Obama, in all of his blackness. We would vote for the better candidate, holistically, and that would be that.

Instead, advocates like me now have to try to convince people that racism is still alive and well, when politicians like Cain pander to conservatives who don’t want to hear about racism anymore. Cain’s position may put people at ease that racism is no longer a real concern and make supporters feel good about themselves. It takes away the guilt, and maybe even the headache, of trying to figure out what to do with the mess of racism.

It’s time we actually talked about race, understood its current impact on our society, and developed strategies to both change minds and practice. It is only after we do this that we will be able to work for the institutional, cultural, and individual change that is required to get us to a place where we see race but can then look for what lies even deeper than that.

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