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.