Dr. Boyce: Cain, Stewart, And The Handicap Of Blackness

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It appears that Republican Presidential candidate Herman Cain is offended because Jon Stewart mocked him on his television show. He even said that Stewart attacked him because he is Black. Cain, hearing that Stewart ridiculed the fact that he said that he wouldn’t sign bills longer than three pages, had this to say:

“As far as [Stewart] mocking me, look, I’ve been called every name in the book because I’m a conservative, because I’m Black,” Cain told the small audience.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, words are not going to hurt me,” Cain continued. “I was on [the Sean Hannity] radio show because I happen to be an American Black conservative. I labeled myself. I’m an American Black Conservative, an A-B-C. They keep trying to put labels on me. I have been called ‘Uncle Tom,’ ‘sellout,’ ‘Oreo,’ ‘shameless.’ So the fact that he wants to mock me because I happen to be a Black conservative, in the words of my grandfather, ‘I does not care. I does not care.’ “

Cain’s comments about Stewart are a bit odd, given that Cain feels an inexplicable degree of comfort around men like Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, who have insulted people of color in ways that were previously unimaginable in the new millenium. While Stewarts’ racism is debatable, the racism of (what I refer to as) the “The Fox News Axis of Ignorance” is undeniable.

But in all fairness to Cain, a deeper analysis of this dialog should probably take place. It’s easy to assume that men like Hannity are simply pretending to like Cain because he is a fellow conservative, but the truth is that their appreciation for Cain is likely to be genuine. Cain is a loyal Right Wing soldier, whole-heartedly supporting the Fox News agenda, which makes him a friend and ally. Cain’s Black skin serves as icing on the political cake, because his words have more reach and credibility in some circles than Hannity, Limbaugh or anyone else; sort of like hiring a woman to lead a campaign against women’s rights. Cain serves as a trusty and reliable mascot.

In contrast to the peculiar alliance between Cain and the good old boys at Fox, another Black man across the aisle, President Obama, has also been the target of a long series of racial slurs from the men and women on the right. But while we can point to quite a few politically incorrect statements being made by conservatives, there were also some less than desirable words about Obama being uttered on the left. Examples would be when Vice President Joe Biden referred to Barack Obama as the first African American to be “clean and articulate,” or when Bill Clinton said that just a few years ago, guys like Barack Obama would have been serving him coffee.

Here’s the deal as it pertains to Herman Cain’s remarks about Jon Stewart. Blackness, on all sides of the political fence in America, is generally a liability. How white leaders respond to that liability depends on the degree to which their interests are correlated with your own. Hannity loves Cain but hates Obama, and therefore has no problem making racist statements about the president. Bill Maher loves Obama and hates Cain, so most of his racism might be targeted in the opposite direction. What is consistently true, however, is that in all states of the world, most whites are wired to believe that African Americans are second-class citizens. Your ability to have access to some semblance of equitable treatment is largely dependent upon whether or not the white man in power considers you to be a friend or foe.

To take the analogy full circle, consider your own family. If a man has a relative who is overweight, he is likely never going to tell them that they are fat. But if there is an overweight man who fires him from his job, he might say, “I can’t stand that fat SOB.” Given that some consider being overweight to be a generally less than admirable quality, our decision to acknowledge another person’s obesity may come down to whether or not that person is our friend. Given that Black men are treated as the cockroaches of America, with the highest incarceration and unemployment rates, there is almost no favorable stereotype of Black males that enters into the minds of powerful men in either the Democratic or Republican parties. In fact, the best thing that a Black man can do, in the eyes of some, is to act just like a white guy.

What’s really sad about racism is that the divide and conquer of it all often pits men like Herman Cain against men like Obama. Cain gains political points by shooting arrows at Obama that Hannity would never be allowed to fire. Obama gets rewarded by focusing his energy on liberal and elitist causes that have almost nothing to do with the day-to-day concerns of downtrodden Black folks. He is also allowed to take advantage of the instant perception of Cain as an Uncle Tom for being a Black conservative, even though there are millions of Black folks in the church who share views that are similar to Cain. But when the dust settles, Black men across America are at the bottom of the American caste system, and always relegated to the back of the political bus.

Jon Stewart didn’t attack Herman Cain just because he was Black. He attacked him because he is a conservative, knowing full well that he could use his skin color against him. So, in some respects, he is simply Sean Hannity playing for a different team.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition.  To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email,please click here.

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