Is Herman Cain the Most Unctuous Black Man Alive?
Why the Hermanator experience is making me sick
Yeah, if my last name was Neblett I’d try to keep it a secret too.
This presidential election has not lacked for clowns, and in a circus Herman Cain fits right in. But as the Black clown, Cain’s foot-in-mouth moments mostly involve insulting the Black community. This could be to establish his independence from the community in order to earn his bona fides with the GOP electorate or a way of appeasing the white conservatives he’s courting. Or it could be that his foot and his mouth are magnetized. Whatever the reason, as a Black person, the Hermanator experience has been as distasteful as rancid, spoiled, stinky, curdled milk.
First Cain’t told Blacks we were “brainwashed into not being open-minded or considering a conservative point of view.” Brainwashing is a highly offensive charge that suggests the Black mind is defective or has gone to sleep. In a world where Black intelligence is constantly maligned and denigrated and underestimated, this cuts deeper than the quick. Alleging that we’re not intelligent enough to make rational political decisions would hurt if it weren’t so comical coming from his mouth. Also, has the GOP offered a reasonable alternative?
Then the Black Sarah Palin said, “Obama’s never been a part of the Black experience in America.” Now we’re doing teenage-level disses? What is this narrowly imagined Black experience that Obama has never been a part of? His background is unique, but he’s Black, so it was a Black experience. Also, never includes now, and Obama today is a central figure in the modern Black experience: we’re in the Age of Obama. But let’s deign, for the sake of argument, to accept Hermy’s childish suggestion that because Obama has lived a life that’s different than most Black people’s lives that means he’s not lived the Black experience. Well, even after accepting that “you ain’t Black” silliness, you’re still left with Obama’s redefining what it means to be Black to include the presidency and thus becoming the most iconic Black man in America today. The mountain came to Muhammad.
Also, Big Daddy Cain recently said racism no longer “holds anyone back in a big way,” which is a disgusting and dangerous statement because it gives leverage to those who want desperately to believe that lie. Racism is like the weather: we only talk about its extremes, but it’s always there. America has institutional inequities built into its structures that guarantee that millions of Blacks have no chance at success. Those systems operate powered by white privilege, which works automatically, no need to apply or activate it. And much of modern racism is subtle and hidden; there are fewer smoking guns now than ever. For my book Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness?, I asked about 100 people, What’s the most racist thing that’s ever happened to you? More than a third of them said the answer is unknowable. It’s something that they weren’t aware of happening but that materially changed their lives. There was no confrontation, no ugly words, just power exerting itself in a smooth, efficient, prejudiced way to maintain the vast inequalities of this country. Racism is far from over, and the success of some Blacks — including Herman Cain — doesn’t refute that.
Cain is a clown. You see it in the way he constantly mollifies white audiences with self-effacing, racialized comedy that borders on minstrelsy (referring to himself as “black-walnut ice cream” or suggesting that the Secret Service call him “Cornbread”). You see it in his stunning gaps in knowledge and understanding of foreign policy and domestic affairs. He says if you don’t have a job, don’t blame Wall Street, because it’s your fault, which in a crippling recession with historically high unemployment numbers means he’s either frighteningly blind or offensively ignorant. This is not a man of serious intellect or realistic solutions or admirable character. This is a buffoon.
Cain is what I long imagined the first Black President would be like: a Republican who many Blacks find unctuous. But is he really the most unctuous Black man in America? I’d say it’s a race between Clarence Thomas, Flavor-Flav and the Hermanator, and if Cain isn’t No. 1, he’s no worse than tied.
C’mon Touré, don’t hold back! Tell us what you really think.
When we last encountered Touré he was telling us all about racism in America. His Wiki bio doesn’t tell us much, just that he was born is 1971 and that his mother named him after Sekou Touré, then President of Guinea. After attending the prestigious
Punahou School Milton Academy he dropped out of Emory University to become a writer for Rolling Stone.
After a little more digging I discovered that he was raised in Randolph, MA, his father owned an accounting firm, his last name is Neblett and he hates his last name. Here’s some interesting tidbits from a WaPo profile:
A black man is guided to a table at a pub in Harvard Square. He is surrounded by white people. He sees fried chicken on the lunch menu. Does he dare order it?
Touré shrugs. “I’ll have the fried chicken,” he tells the waiter. Hold the stereotypes.
“I don’t care if anybody cares,” the single-named author, hip-hop journalist, cultural critic and provocateur says. “It’s a taste issue, and fried chicken is just good. In my life, I have rejected the white gaze. I’m freed from it, so I’m not really concerned with what people may or may not think about what I do.”
Not usually, anyway. But there is one thing, Touré says: He will not eat watermelon, anywhere, ever, and especially not in public. It’s not in his personal repertoire of “performing blackness,” which he explores in “Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness? What It Means to Be Black Now,” a straw-stirring racial memoir-cum-manifesto.
“As soon as I see the red insides of a watermelon I feel ancient racist images slither into the room like a cold, sinewy, sinister breeze,” he writes. “When I was young my parents schooled me against eating watermelon in front of white people lest I confirm ancient stereotypes. I will eat fried chicken with impunity in front of anyone but because the anti-watermelon virus latched on to me early I have no taste for it.”
“I’m telling the self-appointed identity cops, who want to say, ‘This person isn’t black enough,’ to put down their swords. Fear of post-blackness just inhibits our potential. Stop the bullying, and stop telling people they don’t walk right, talk right, think right or like the right things. It’s silly and ridiculous and pernicious.”
When he went to Emory University in Atlanta, Touré made fast friends with the white students in his dorm. Then he read “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” switched his major to African American studies, started a black nationalist student newspaper, brought the incendiary rapper Chuck D to campus and, eventually, moved into the Black Student Association’s private house.
It was in the so-called Black House, he says, that after a party, in a room full of black people, that he was “loudly and angrily told by a linebacker-sized brother: ‘Shut up, Touré! You ain’t black!’ ”
The episode, which Touré writes about extensively in “Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness?,” led to an epiphany, he says, about what it means to be black.
“Who gave him the right to determine what is and not blackness for me?” Touré writes. “Who made him the judge of blackness?”
Well, I’m not the judge of blackness but I do know hypocrisy when I see it. I also recognize when someone has issues. “Anti-watermelon virus?” Puh-leeze.
Considering their backgrounds I find it interesting that Barack Obama and Touré Neblett have both spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to be black. Both of them wrote books about it.
Herman Cain, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to think about it a whole lot.
Cain was born in the segregated South in 1945 to a mother that worked as a domestic and a father that worked as a barber, janitor, and chauffeur. Cain grew up in Atlanta and went to public schools before attending Morehouse College and then Purdue. He’s a Baptist minister too.
I have to wonder if Herman Cain was a liberal Democrat would Touré Neblett despise him so much?