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Leonard Pitts Wonders If Herman Cain Is Ashamed to Be Black

Racialized self-loathing is a pretty common ailment many African Americans suffer from, both in major and minor doses. Almost everyone has dealt with some form of it at some time. The important thing is usually through the help of others or self-education, many individuals can work through it. In his latest column, Leonard Pitts, Jr. wonders if Herman Cain is one of those folks who fully bought that white is right.

One of the least-discussed impacts of the black experience in America is its emotional toll. African Americans were psychologically maimed by this country, the expression of which can still be seen in the visceral self-loathing that afflicts too many.

Meaning the black child who equates doing well in school with “acting white.” Meaning the famous black man who bleaches his skin. Meaning the famous black woman who rationalizes her use of a certain soul-killing racial epithet. Meaning Herman Cain.

In his diminution of African-American struggle, he comes across as a man profoundly at odds with the skin he’s in. He seems embarrassed he’s black.

Pitts was responding to recent statements by Cain that downplayed the effects of racism, arguing that racism is now a non-factor. Then, later, accused blacks of being racist towards him due to his political views. Pitts argues that Cain is playing into the mindset of certain Tea Party conservative whites who believe they are the "true" victims of racism, despite the overwhelming lack of evidence.

I don't know if Cain is "embarrassed" of his blackness. There's no way of knowing someone's heart in these situations. But I have known my fair share of Herman Cains in my lifetime, those "bootstrap" individuals who lived through one familiar set of experiences, and instead of those experiences making him more empathetic and altruistic, they made him more self-centered and hardened. He's not nearly as rigid with anger and bitterness as, say, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, but he's operating with a similar mindset.

Some people go through a struggle and make it out on the other side and think, "Man, that was hard. It shouldn't be so hard for people. I made it, but think of all those who didn't. We need to change our system so that it isn't holding people back, but instead making things fairer for everyone."

Then there are those who experience something similar and think, "I succeeded because I was special. You're not special. You don't deserve what I have because you weren't willing to do what I did to get it. You're weak and you make excuses. I did it, so why can't you?"

Usually, in both cases, what's needed is some perspective. Some black people have had it impossibly hard, but "made it" anyway. Many of you who read my blog are either related to those people or ARE those people. You or your parents watched your peers get caught up because it was so difficult, but some had the drive, the breaks, the support, the edge that got them over the top and out. Still, you all recognize, that everyone is not you and that there were too many obstacles beyond control that made failure a more typical result than success.

But, the most absurd conclusion to draw is that poor or undereducated people "can't" do something, simply because they are poor and marginalized. I run into that logic from time-to-time on the political left where you have a lot of the "soft bigotry of low expectations." Where you get rid of homework in a Los Angeles public school because the kids are too overworked and stressed out from poverty to do their homework, rather than find a solution that helps poor children get their proper schooling so they can get their education. The same education that affords them the best chance to get out of poverty. 

Or those who argue that teen pregnancy is just a foregone conclusion of poor black girls because they may never get married but want families, ignoring the reality that if you have less or no children, even as a poor person, you still have more opportunities to get better work and make better financial and educational choices. By delaying having children you have a better shot at getting out of abject poverty. You can still have that kid at 30 when you're more financially stable, whether you're married or not.

Education, reproductive or otherwise, is not wasted on someone just because they come from an impoverished environment.

But then you have the other side that has its own patent absurdities of "bootstrap" theories. Ignoring that almost no one goes it alone. That people have relatives, mentors, co-workers, friends, connections, networks and organizations who help them along the way. While one is making apologies and excuses, saying the standard needs to be lowered, the other thinks the social safety net should be gutted and that if you're born poor to under-educated parents that's somehow your fault. That rich people deserve all the opportunities under this idea that all rich people are equal, good and worked hard, when quite a few are benefiting from family name and connections, and several more are where they are because we have an underclass that will work for below minimum wage.

Cain seems to be of the latter. Essentially a Economic Neo Monarchist. He's not really alone in that mindset. There are quite a few folks running around today that if they'd been politically active during Revolutionary War times, they'd less likely be Tea Partiers and more likely be Tories or Royalists, fighting for the preservation of the wealthy, protected class and the status quo. Or, in Cain's case, pointing out his "specialness" to his captors and how he is different. But those other folks? Yeah. They probably deserve to be slaves. Maybe he'd like to own a few someday. Looks like a great business model.

It's a great mindset for the advancement of self. Not-so-great for the advancement of a historically disadvantaged group of people. It reminds of a guy I used to date who hated most black people because he blamed the slaves for being slaves, not their captors for controlling their entire lives since birth and forcing them into labor. After all, he just knew that if he'd been born into servitude he would have been the one who got away and not anything like the millions of other people, trapped in an unfair system. He hated the shame and indignities tied to our time in this country so much, he'd chosen to hate the victims of racism more than the perpetrators. In his mind, the perpetrators were "smart," even though he often had some of the same anger towards white people when they made assumptions or discriminated against him personally.

Which brings us back to self-loathing. It takes a certain amount of self-loathing when a black person looks at a crowd of black people and sees the same things a racist sees. That a black teenager might just look like an annoying teenager to one person, but a criminal to the next. And that even the most "enlightened" of black people even still fall into this mindset because racism and self-loathing is so prevalent that it is near impossible to not absorb some of the negativity that is passed through the breast milk of our society. But most of us know to stop ourselves when we say something we know is not right, or when we don't afford other black people the same benefit of the doubt, the same courtesy we want people to afford us as human beings.

But then there's Cain. And Cain believes he's pretty special. The rest of you folks though? Meh. Maybe not so much.

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Reader Comments (12)

Beautifully written Danielle!!!! Always love your writing....I agree we need to demand more of ourselves b/c frankly we have the ability (mentally) to rise to the challenge....however, wherever needed we do need to offer a helping hand where one achieved anything solo...someone received help somewhere along the line. I think people like Cain tend to forget that.

It reminds me of this black guy at my firm who made mention that he hates affirmative action but I got the feeling he was only saying it to apease our white colleagues and Managers....but when I made the statement that for one thing white women benefit more AA than any other group they all looked so perplexed and then when I made the point that even with affirmative action opportunities for white males do not get taken away and the policy is not set to pull opportunites from white men but to help introduce opportunities to everyone....The black guy insisted he never needed affirmative action and didn't want to be looked at as a charity case but he was soon slienced when the partner of my firm, a white male in his 70s made the statement of saying that the fact is the candidates that he's hired under the companies diversity recruiting (an initiative that targets Blacks, Latins, Asians, and Women) have been candidates that he knows would have gone overlooked and that it would be a ashame b/c some of his brightest associates have come from this program and gone on to do great things and the truth is he and the firm would have missed on these candidates because of conscious and unconscious prejudices.....

All I could think was "Well said indeed"

October 17, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersweet_b

how dare he expect better and hold people to higher standards? what a sellout.

October 17, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterswiv

Great post, Danielle!

My big concern with modern day Black America is that we will (are?) increasingly embody(ing) Herman Cain's sentiments: I'm successful because I'm great and you're unsuccessful b/c you are lazy. Dangerous train of thought because it presumes that black people are at the bottom of the totem pole b/c black people are dumb. When, in fact, it's important to understand how the lack of education and access denied to us prior to Brown vs. Board / Civil Rights movement in the 60s continues to play into our behavior and circumstances today.

Indeed, we [black people] need to take responsibility for our actions, but, for persons to presume that poverty is always a choice, and not a matter of circumstance, institutional racism [lack of education] is quite scary.

October 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterObserver

It really saddens me when I see a Black person who has succeeded despite racism and behave as if racism doesn't exist. It is so disrespectful to all of those who suffered, fought, and died so that Black people could experience something akin to freedom . Collectively speaking, Blacks still deal with the residual effects of slavery and race based discrimination and sadly we don't work as hard as we should at repairing the psychological injuries that we have developed as a result of our reality. I hope that Blacks come to realize that how other peeople view us is not nearly as important as how we see ourselves. Success is wonderful but if you have to deny your own reality as well as the reality of those like you to achieve success then there is a problem. There is an even bigger problem if you are willing to do so with no questions asked.

October 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTikitorch

Ms Belton:

As I read through your analysis I noted that you were forced to use the very same tactic that Prof Kennedy did with his assessment of Herman Cain - Keep the spotlight focused on your ideological enemy BECAUSE - any beam of light that went astray and was shown on the forces within the Black community with actual power would topple your argument - and your support for them.

Self-Loathing. Hummm.
Ms Belton - If I argued that the aggregated forces within the Black community that were promoted by the Black community to run our school systems show more evidence of "Self-Loathing Of Black people" per the product of their work - would you agree that this argument has a far greater bearing on the condition of Black people than anything that Mr Cain can say to "offend" "US"?

You see, while Mr Cain, a politician is making untoward statements which "offend" Black people in his quest to win favor for his political party - that most Blacks don't vote is the party who most Blacks DO VOTE FOR that has all of the "keys to the kingdom". Strange indeed - that this force who can't get elected when Blacks have the final say over who will represent their interests - is now used to FORTIFY the statement "This Is Why Blacks Don't Vote For Republicans".

But wait, Ms Belton - I thought that Blacks were not voting based on "offense or appeal". We were voting BECAUSE:
* We want Quality Schools
* We want Safe Streets
* We want Thriving Local Economies
* We want Healthy Lifestyles and Relationship Outcomes

Do you see, Ms Belton - that when the argument is left UNATTACHED from the attainment of the "Permanent Interests" of our community then the bleed over effect between gossip and politics gains traction.

it can logically be argued then, Ms Belton that - IF one does not OFFEND BLACK PEOPLE in the prevailing consciousness that we are in.............the failure of these same forces who gain power because of our collective favor can't OFFEND our people when they fail to deliver upon our key Permanent Interests. This despite them occupying the same seats of power that triggered protests when such failure was delivered to us.

Do you see that one can't index "Offended Black People" with the question of our alignment with our "Permanent Interests".

October 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterConstructive Feedback

@ Constructive:

The story was about Leonard Pitts saying Herman Cain was ashamed to be black. So I posited that he's not. He just is an individual over community kind of guy, like many conservatives with a religious/puritanical/Calvinist slant.

Secondly, I don't focus much on Cain's "opinions," largely because they are unformed and contradictory and I don't take him very seriously as a candidate. Most of his support is reactionary support from activists dissatisfied with Mitt Romney as their potential candidate. Very little of his support has converted into volunteers or dollars, giving the impression that like Perry and Bachmann before him, he is the flavor of the month as the Republican Party struggles to come around to Romney as their candidate.

So this was all this post was about -- Cain and the modern conservative ideology that the self is more important than the whole and how that is applied politically. I'm plenty critical of the Democratic party in my other posts, but routinely make the point that black people have poor options in a two party system between one party who makes an effort to appeal to black voters and another party that is disinterested-to-borderline-hostile to the notion. Cain, like many fringe candidates, is preaching that we can solve all our problems through revising our tax policy. Only what makes him worse than most is his tax policy appears to have come from the back of a Cracker Jack box.

He, like Palin, Bachmann, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum are embarrassing, rude, cynical, fanatical candidates who have little to no interest in anything you just listed, as they have no intention of using their role in government to help education. Their solution to pretty much everything is to remove funding and government from it and wait for the magic to happen from a rapidly shrinking tax base that pulls more and more money from those who have it least under the guise that maybe our captains of industry will pass the savings onto us, rather than hold on to their profits. They pretty much believe if you are poor and uneducated it is because you are unmotivated to better yourself or simply don't deserve it because you did not work as hard as they.

Cain doesn't align with anyone's permanent interests (white or black) because he does not care about them. He's not even running on education and anti-poverty initiatives. He's not running to end the abuse of money in politics, or to fix the banks that put us in this financial crisis. He's running on what will appeal to the fringe that is supporting him. The same fringe that will abandon him when the race finally turns into actual voting.

So it's a bigger picture than Cain being offensive. It's that Cain's entire platform smacks of the same insensitivity the other fringe and non-black candidates are running on within the GOP and that this is, by far, the most bizarrely rag tag grouping of conservative activists masquerading as political candidates I've ever seen. The only one who would appeal in a general election (Jon Huntsman) didn't even poll high enough to be included in the most recent GOP debate.

Also, it's pretty much part in parcel that if you're running for national office you try not to offend potential voters, which was why Rick Perry was trying hard to explain away the "Niggerhead Ranch" debacle. Even though Perry was unlikely to get much in the way of black support, white people also don't like voting for someone perceived as racist or racially insensitive even if they have no interest in "black" interests. Recently, Cain threw up all over himself trying to find a position on abortion, potentially offending not just women voters, but anti-abortion voters who make up the bulk of the GOP voting block.

The guy does not know what he's doing. How can anyone take him seriously when he can't even learn how to articulate his points without setting off a firestorm of offended people and confusion in his wake? You can only say "I misspoke" so many times before people realize you're just clueless and have no business running.

October 23, 2011 | Registered CommenterDanielle Belton

You just made my Sunday waffles taste better! Thank you!


October 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJustice

Ms Belton:

In front of me I have all 3 of our transactions printed out (your original post being the first) with the key points underlined.

My goal is not to exchange volleys with you but instead to suggest that we are talking about two different things. Or at least two different proposed methodologies for a fix of what ails our community.

You see, both you and Leonard Pitts point to Black people who were "damaged" by their experiences in America. It appears that you also have an issue with Herman Cain having "under-reported" the impact of RACISM(!!!!) in America today.

From my perspective - I see a Black community that has committed its "Community Development Consciousness" into a particular channel (The American Political Domain) and yet its main cry is that our young people are still being derailed by these forces of racism without the necessary tools to counter them.

All of this comes at a time when the key "Human Resource Development Institutions" that are charged with developing competencies within them are now controlled by "Favorable People", unlike the past.

If Herman Cain's "sin" is that he UNDER-Represented the force of racism then it must be said that the greater sin of the "Black National Guardians" is that they refuse to measure the force of RACISM today as the primary step in tuning the "Uplift Engine" with the appropriate thrust.

You see, Ms Belton - left unchecked - those in charge (who I call "Embedded Confidence Men" ) they assume more POWER over more institutions yet they outsource all accountability for their failures to develop our people upon these nefarious external forces who will stop at nothing to destroy Black people.

Surprise, surprise - all of these negative forces against Black people just happen to be Conservatives.
The Progressives who have all of the investments of our "Equal Black Ballots" and who have successfully fused our "Black Community Development Consciousness" through their channels - escape unscathed - despite our continuing grievances.

In your article you mention that some who went through the system and were bruised commit to "CHANGING THE SYSTEM". What you appear loathed to accept, Ms Bolton, is that TODAY many Black communities are LIVING in the "Mission Accomplished Moment" of this CHANGE that they had committed to several decades ago.

I am left to wonder exactly when you and others will accept that the little 6 year old boys and girls that now sit in the chairs of our local schools are not victims of the "Long Arm Of Slavery, Jim Crow - and Republicans who wish to Turn The Clock back" but instead the INSTITUTIONS that they have been inculcated with during their short lives are in fact more powerful forces of thrust. The key problem is that the THRUST is blowing them in the wrong direction. The "Embedded Confidence Men" who have command of the "control surfaces" remaining quiet about their misdirection because they need not commit "self-indictment" when so many of their fellow Blacks are willing to buy in to the "Soft Issue Injury Of Racism" - that no X-Ray, MRI or CT scanner can detect as their source of pain. Instead they OWN IT and will let it loose when they get good and ready.

(Or until they are out of range of an "Indictable Figure" and note that it is not an effective strategy for "Congregational Unity" any longer)

I still find it strange, Ms Belton, that Herman Cain - a Black man who has never held an elective position is not only able to garner far more press than the aggregate group of people who DID receive hearty investments of "Equal Black Ballots" - they also use his words as the primary justification why...................."Black people don't vote for Republicans".

Is it possible that "Voting For Our Salvation" is the problem? That two party system that you spoke of is a binary choice for "Black Community Development" only for people who believe that the "American Political Domain" is the only source of uplift. We do see, however, that this is a very profitable message for those who convince Black Americans that this is so. Not so much for the community which fears to look at its "401K statement" for evidence of return on investment.

(The proper rebuttal to the last statement is NOT - "Well what would the Republicans have done? It is - 'Why then haven't other channels been developed outside of the "Malcolm X Political Football Game?" )

October 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterConstructive Feedback

@ Constructive

My point is that if you want to discuss what is the proper approach to help African Americans, this isn't the post. This post is about what Leonard Pitts wrote about Herman Cain. What you're talking about is an entirely different discussion which is not what this post was ever about. It is purely about presidential candidates, as I've written about quite a few candidates many times before. And, to repeat, the attention Cain has garnered is similar to the attention Bachmann and Perry received before, when people saw that activists within the party were excited about them, but the candidates fell apart upon further scrutiny by those same activists and the press. If you want to talk about the veracity of Cain's candidacy or his relation to African American people or what Leonard Pitts said, that's what this post is here for as that is the topic at hand. What you're attempting is an entire subject change. Also, I never said my beef was with Herman Cain not acknowledging racism. My beef is, and will always be, that he is a joke candidate with ill-formed economic and social plans who is unprepared for the main stage. He is no different than Bachmann, Perry and to a much lesser extent, Ron Paul, who at least has the longevity of being in Congress and having fully formed ideas and arguments going for him. He at least knows how to stay on message and handle a debate. I'd argue staying on message is something Cain has proven to struggle with over and over and over again.

Also, if it was only about getting press, Sarah Palin would be the GOP nominee right now. The press likes fancy things and ratings. If people only want back-to-back stories on Obama (as we had from 2008-2009) the press will give that to you. That's not so much an endorsement as "Hey, people like to watch this. Let's show more of it." And at least Obama's press hype came with the air that he was capable of actually winning his nomination, people were legitimately inspired and the election was historic. Cain's coverage has focused on mostly how he's either a contradictory gaffe machine and/or odd duck who says funny things -- like putting up an electric fence to deter illegal immigration.

October 23, 2011 | Registered CommenterDanielle Belton

Dear Ms Belton:

Thank you for your interesting, evocative essay. I also find the readers' comments stimulating. I only wish such topics could/would be discussed rationally in White-World (where I was born and pretty much work; I coined the term when I was teaching at Clark Atlanta University and the movie Water-World was out.) You certainly present the topic with more complexity and depth than one hears outside the Black community, where generalities rule the airwaves. Perhaps one of the steps for our races reaching understanding is to realize that neither is monolithic (I know you know this), and there are race haters on all sides. I suspected a form of 'loathing' you describe guided Justice Thomas, but one is uncomfortable expressing it, especially if one is White. But in a way, as others have indicated, allowing certain things to be said but not questioned, because they come from a Black person's mouth, is also a form of patronizing too close to racism.) The subject came up when Reverend Jackson ran for the Democratic Presidential nomination, as I'm sure you recall. In any case, to return to my point, it is informative to hear your voices express what cannot yet be said--and perhaps should not--by people outside a cultural or racial group. Better to be silent, listen, and learn from writers like you than to risk saying something that, though sincere, may be taken as a biased or hateful statement about another race.

By the way, I tell my college students: "You know the people who say, 'I don't have anything against Black people'? Don't you think that's a content-free statement--like me saying I have nothing against giraffes? In other words, those people (maybe some of you) don't really think about Black people any more than I think about giraffes."

I also tell them, pointedly, what Elie Wiesel said: "The opposite of love is not hate; it is indifference." "Now, ask yourselves how much indifference you feel toward other races in our country."

Take care (and excuse my rambling),

Eric Pennington

October 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDr.Eric Pennington

Poor Herman Cain.......Clarify, clarify, clarify. Never verify, verify, verify. "I don't have any of the facts regarding this issue......but, I'm going to put my foot in my mouth and hope my mouth stays clean". That is Herman Cain's way of answering.

In reference to the writings of Mr. Pitts:

Herman Cain is not ashamed to be Black; he is ashamed of Black people. He views the collective culture of Blacks to be inferior based on their lack of persistent progress toward equality and equity. By saying, “If I did it, you can do it” he is simply stating that the condition of the people is evidence of their lack of education, gumption, and vision to rise above what ails the black community. He has a point in that the lack of education and gumption contribute to the outcome and issues of the community; however he fails to realize the structure of the institution of education is faulty and is not dedicated to the success of all students. Basically, education is a crap shoot. Purposefully, Mr. Cain continues to rail against Blacks as people who are uninformed and confused about the facts regarding their situation.

Here’s a thought that continues to swirl in my mind. Herman Cain is lauded for his management of those Pizza joints and his ability to take them from sinking ships to profitable establishments. In business it is easy to identify the problem of poor business; it is one of five things: Product, Place, Price, Promotion, or People. The skilled business person is able to craft a plan to improve the business through tough decisions while maintaining a presence in the marketplace. The unskilled business person decides to shut down the non-performing establishments and shrink the number of stores and employees. That takes very little skill. That is like saying, “My marriage doesn’t make me happy, so I’m walking away”. The real value in leadership is inspiring people and making tough decisions while maintaining an equitable presence in the marketplace, not simply walking away.

The way Mr. Cain has separated himself from the black community is the same way he separated the business units. If the issue is a drag on the business model, shut it down. This is how he views the black community, “Shut it down”. He has no time or skill for actually supporting and crafting a plan for improvement, he chooses to shut it down instead. Heed the message.

Points to ponder:

Each company George W. Bush ran was run into the ground, including America. Resumes matter.

Barack Obama was a community organizer and in Academia. He handles each issue like it is a case study with no perfect answer while assembling a multitude of teams to problem solve. If you’ve ever done case studies you know that they are debatable to the N'th degree and take forever to craft the response. This is why America is frustrated with his problem solving skills. We don’t have time to wait.

Mitt Romney was a Corporate Strategist. When there is a problem with businesses, he comes in, consolidates them and shuts them down. Then the jobs are shipped overseas. Think about the future of government and what Romney really thinks about the American worker.

Herman Cain was the CEO of a failing pizza company and mathematician. He found the problem and solved it by closing down stores and letting go people. He also created the 9-9-9 plan which is mathematically devastating to the middle class. He too will govern in a way that solves the problem through “shutting it down”. This is a glimpse of the future with his decision-making skills; everything will be solved mathematically and shut down. If it is not cost effective to him or his team, he will shut it down. Of course this is in theory, because they will never pick him. They are barely contributing to his campaign. They are paying him in golf claps and Black Walnut ice cream. As Eugene Robinson wrote in the Washington Post, “The problem with ice cream is- it melts”.


October 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJustice

[quote]He views the collective culture of Blacks to be inferior based on their lack of persistent progress toward equality and equity.[/quote]

Justice - still up to your old tricks.

The key point that you miss in your argument is that many Black Americans are now living at a time when the key "Human Resource Development INSTITUTIONS" are controlled by people that they have put into power.

Justice - when will you come around to even wondering when the "aborted take off" of so many and the failure to obtain the sufficient altitude for others is a factor of the INSTITUTIONS? Why doesn't anyone ever get fired? (Besides them promoting the wrong ideology? Certainly not over results).

You are content that "Every Business Bush Ever Ran Has Failed". I wonder if you are transparent enough to look at the 'Mission Accomplished Cities" that also have a certain concentration of our people and then note that the forces that have been placed into power by the congregation has a similar track record to Bush? Except they DO get the balance of the investment of "Equal Black Ballots" as the embedded confidence men fuse our "Black Community Development Consciousness" into their political game.
(Newark, Camden, Philly, Baltimore, Buffalo, Rochester, Detroit, Flint, Cleveland, Beton Harbor, Chicago, Milwaukee, Memphis, Kansas City) - Show where in these "Mission Accomplished Cities" there has been a uniform increase in the attainment of the interests of our people - shifted upward by one standard deviation as a result of having a line up of favorable people where Herman Cain could not be elected "Shoe Shine Boy".

I wonder when you and others will remove your political arbitrage and make note of the fact that POLITICS and IDEOLOGY is but your coping mechanism that prevents you from dealing with the painful truth about what is going on WITHIN the Black Community.

October 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterConstructive Feedback
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