by Deborah Mathis, special to Blackamericaweb.com
To all of the black Americans who are struggling economically, here is what the suddenly surging Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain thinks of you:
1. Racism has not held you back; and
2. Your sorry state may be your own fault because “people sometimes hold themselves back because they want to use racism as an excuse for them not being able to achieve what they want to achieve.”
That’s what he said in a recent CNN interview.
Although I had hoped otherwise, Mr. Cain is proving himself to be one of those black folks who play the race card as a “Get out of Jail Free” card — with “jail” being the assumption that all black people are unhappy with the country’s interracial dynamics.
This, he understands, will make certain white people like him — adore him even. At the very least, they will not fear him as some angry black man who, if elected to the highest office in the land, would use his enviable power to neglect and frustrate white Americans or, worse yet, wreak vengeance upon them.
By saying such things, Cain announces to non-blacks, especially those who have had little experience with black people, that he is “safe.”
I am not the first observer to connect the Herman Cain dot to Booker T. Washington, the legendary educator and statesman who did all he could to make white folks relax about the black people who were still learning the ropes of freedom.
Washington was desperate to prove that he was safe, so much so that he proposed this infamous bargain to a white crowd at the Cotton States and International Exposition Atlanta one September afternoon in 1895: If they would help and encourage black people to work in the fields and factories and get an education without disturbance, “you can be sure in the future, as in the past, that you and your families will be surrounded by the most patient, faithful, law-abiding, and unresentful people that the world has seen.”
Other than that, Washington said, blacks and whites could maintain their separate ways. “In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.”
Of course, Cain has not and would not go that far. This is, after all, the 21st century, not the 19th. But, his brushing off the color line as a tireless hellion in American life has the same tranquilizing effect on audiences that still think of African Americans as a breed apart. I suppose we can be grateful that Cain does not purport to speak for the entire race.
Like Washington and Cain, most of us have no issue with self-determination, personal responsibility and perseverance. In many cases, we are the very embodiment of those qualities.
But to dismiss racism as factor in the unforgivable disparities between black and white net wealth, education, health, housing and employment is a great offense to black people who have “played by the rules” and still have not been named CEO of a pizza chain.
No one should wallow in victimization. When we’ve been hit, it behooves us to get up, bind up our wounds and live on.
But that survival does not mean the assailant is supposed to get off scot free. Holding him accountable starts with calling out his name. That name is Racism. It exists. It’s an attitude. One of its applications is discrimination. Does Herman Cain believe that is non-existent, a mere crutch and excuse?
I dare say, even Booker T. Washington knew better than that.