Tuesday, October 25, 2011

John McWhorter's Defense of Herman Cain's Race Minstrelsy is the Very Definition of Piss Poor Thinking

But there is little evidence that Cain is trading on that kind of racism: “Shucky ducky” and “I does not care” are harmless cultural flotsam. Rather than policing Cain’s behavior, we should take it as a learning opportunity. At the least, our conception of blackness should be generous enough that conservative black Republicans can afford to be black in public.
John McWhorter is a curious fellow. When McWhorter is working in his depth as a socio-linguist he is devastatingly sharp. By comparison, McWhorter's writings on politics are horribly uneven. At times, he knocks it out out of the park; more often than not McWhorter's observations are a more high-brow version of typical, lazy thinking, black conservatism.

Unfortunately, McWhorter's piece in the New Republic defending "Cornbread" Herman Cain falls into the latter pattern. He is bending over backwards to explain away a black buffoon's routine that is prefaced on denigrating the intelligence and dignity of African Americans for the glee, approval, and entertainment of white conservatives. Moreover, McWhorter, a true intellectual, misses the obvious, i.e. the reason d'etre of race minstrelsy. The black mask was precisely a fantasy role that validated the fantasies of white supremacy at the expense of African American personhood and humanity.

How John McWhorter can miss this obvious aspect of Herman Cain's presidential campaign--by a man who is a rocket scientist, and a Morehouse graduate, feigning a version of country negro illiteracy that is straight out of Song of the South--is shocking to me. Such an omission on McWhorter's part can only be intentional.

If John McWhorter were a social scientist, I would accuse him of conducting "piss poor social science." He is a professor in the humanities. Thus, I am unsure of the equivalent to describe McWhorter's myopic and poorly reasoned article on Herb Cain. Any suggestions as to a fitting moniker?

Here is a particularly rich passage. The whole essay can be found here.
Were it that we could come to the same agreement about Herman Cain’s sense of humor. Unfortunately, when he says that his Secret Service handle could be “Cornbread,” or greets an enthusiastic audience with the theatrically humble expression “Shucky ducky,” commentators get their hackles up. Read the op-ed written by Brown University’s Ulli Ryder last week in the New York Daily News and you would think that Cain is himself a racist, encouraging insulting “stereotypes”.
The truth is much simpler—namely, he is exposing (in some cases, introducing) the country to an authentic thread of black culture. Cain isn’t a self-hating minstrel. Quite the opposite: He’s a black man from the South actually comfortable enough to be himself on the national stage.On the epistemological question of whether there is such a thing as “authentically black” culture, I have my doubts, and have expressed them at length in my previous writing.
But we also shouldn’t say that there is no such thing as blackness at all, as some educated black people have alleged. A culture with no traits is nothing—or at least nothing worth discussing. The real problem is that many political and media elites have a much too narrow conception of what it means to be black. Indeed, one of the saddest things about modern black American culture is the sense that there are large aspects of it that are somehow not respectable.

The fact is Cain is a black person from the state of Georgia: Why shouldn’t he have a right to invoke vernacular Southern black culture, including a fondness for cornbread? Cain’s saying “shucky ducky” is no different—no more anti-black—than when President Obama says “goin” instead of “going.” It is Cain’s critics, with their deep-seated ambivalence about the value of black culture, who deserve to face the charge of self-hatred. Where Cain is proud to display his blackness—from its physical characteristics (he has openly said he finds the color of his own skin to be beautiful) to its more subtle and humble cultural components—his detractors would seem to wish he would not be so black where white people can see it.
Certainly, some of Cain’s rhetoric needs to be contextualized to be properly understood. More than anything, Cain shows an affinity and comfort with the particular sense of humor rooted in black American experience. However questionable it is as a political trope, Cain has been regularly employing on the campaign trail a particularly black rhetorical comic style, one that involves a certain cartoonish, and fantastic treatment of violence. This is the tradition he was drawing on, for example, when he called for a border fence that would electrocute Mexicans.


CNu said...

McWhorter's analysis is entirely correct.

CDV, I sincerely hope that the Chicago 2nd and 3rd line inheritors - who continue to exclusively and parasitically subsist on a cognitively thin diet of issues, events, and personalities - to the exclusion of substantive project and institution building - have handsomely compensated you for all your vapors catching and pearl clutching anti-Cain histrionics.

chaunceydevega said...

@Cnu. Modestly. But not enough. Hook a brother up. Sadly, the pay is in self-satisfaction.

We can agree to disagree on this one. Cain is rich with possibilities.

what do you have finger on? you were ahead of the game in calling attention to the connection between food inflation and social unrest.

prognosticate for us oracle if you would...i mean that seriously.

CNu said...

Cain is rich with possibilities.

Not least of which is the impoverishment of your professorial authority. As you're frequently wont to tell Cobb, "You're better than this."

what do you have finger on?

Staying on topic, Cain is not Clarence Thomas without the robes. Compare and contrast the personal histories, associations, and deportment of each.

Cain is demonstrably more black partisan than the oily rorschachian currently occupying the White House.

A few months back you axed me a kwestin, and I responded very glibly at that time. However, on further reflection, I picked up the phone and contacted some of my elders and betters so as the verify my dismissive arms-length impressions. I was quickly disabused of any further scorn for the man's track record and his leanings.

chaunceydevega said...

I hope you are right if I read you correctly.

I disagree on the Cobbers, he feigns expertise and over-reaches, I am staying in my depth and calling Cain out for the performer that he is.

Moreover, I am not Cobb because I admit when I am wrong and actually ask folks for feedback on things I may not have expertise on. Thus, my queries to you on this and other matters.

If you think Cain is an undercover brother of sorts please write up something on it as I would like to be convinced.

Plane Ideas said...

Cnu aka Jim (I know who you are) post is shameful... What a pure hypocrite you are..

Does your superior know how you feel about the HNIC?

Amazing what unfolds in the dark..BTW looking forward to that lunch date soon...lol,lol,lol

CNu said...


free jiggaboo mad cause his mama's AOL dial-up account goes directly to the spam filter at my spot...,

A Lurker Abroad said...

We humanities peoples would also call it piss-poor scholarship, at least in my department. But given McWhorter's scholarship in linguistics and the obvious connotations, I also quite like calling the article "gecke." In seventeenth-century cant, "getting the gecke" could mean either duping and mocking or being duped and mocked. I still can't make up my mind about whether McWhorter actually believes his own rhetoric.

Incidentally my CAPTCHA for this comment is "fristbat" which also seems like a nifty neologism, if a bit of a blast from the past.

Anonymous said...

"The truth is much simpler—namely, he is exposing (in some cases, introducing) the country to an authentic thread of black culture."

While at the same time trying to portray himself as better than the average Negro. As someone much more knowledgeable and enlightened. Someone who wishes to be seen as high-brow towards his race shouldn't need to sound like he came from the plantation that he claims blacks are still living on. It may very well have been authentic in his formative years but, it certainly is not something he used to build his success which is what he is running on. And that makes it inauthentic. I'm almost certain that he didn't walk into various board meetings and greet those people with "shucky ducky". In my eyes this is a black authenticity that he ran away from on his climb up the ladder and conveniently pulled out to validate his claim the President Obama doesn't understand the black experience in America. That is inauthentic. It's the race card in reverse. The author's attempt to see this for anything other than what it is enabling excuse making.

CNu said...

While at the same time trying to portray himself as better than the average Negro.

comedy gold..., nothing Cain does or even thinks to do will ever hold a candle to the sidditty hot mess that walked into the White House with the Obamas..., bourgeouis kneegrows putting on airs are among the most unselfconsciously fraudulent people on the planet.

fred c said...

Oh, I enjoy the Herman Cain discussions herein. This comment string is stand-alone fascinating, although some of the emotions are a little strong for a weak sister like me. I can feel the angry blast from (redacted) twelve time zones away.

However . . . for me, Mr. Cain's Blackness, even his attitude about it, should not be a threshold issue. The main point should be that he is not suited temperamentally, nor by personality, nor experience, nor intellectual background, to be president. Please note that I believe him to be a highly intelligent man, and obviously very disciplined and effective, but if rocket science prepared a man for the presidency Jimmy Carter would have been the greatest president in history (nuclear engineer, XO of a nuclear missile submarine).

We have problems now that dwarf the mere Blackness of a certain candidate. We are in the teeth of a flood caused by the confluence of the modern rivers of Neo-Conservatism and Neo-Liberalism. These systems cooperate more than they compete, they share a virulent monetism that flies in the face of all of the ethical, philosophical and moral progress that humanity has made (such as it is).

No criticism intended, Professor. Any problem needs to be broken down and tackled in its particulars, and this blog is a valuable part of doing just that.

Anonymous said...

What is all this high Negro soliloquizing? Cain said he was joking then immediately (literally, in the next breath) said he wasn't joking he wouldn't apologize for proposing erecting an electrified border fence. No grown black man is going to walk into a room full of white people shouting "shucky ducky" as an exercise in cultural authenticity. Herman Coon IS the joke and he's laughing all the way to the bank.

CNu said...

why is it always and invariable the case that useless eaters, i.e., those utterly lacking in any kind of meaningful vocational/occupational skill, are the very first to whine like little bishes?
Cain could hardly roll out in front of the base and go AWWWW SHIT!!!! shucky ducky defined.

Anonymous said...

CDV: Can both you and McWhorter be right in a sense?

Anonymous said...


I can only assume that your comment is directed towards me and to that I say, you have no idea of what my vocational or occupational skills entail. As to your weak defense of the phrase shucky ducky and the manner in which you assume Mr. Cain used it, all I can say is believe what you must, but consider that Mr. Cain is being funded by two billionaires who are actively involved in an attempt to desegregate schools in NC along with being prominent members of JBS. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Birch_Society

Any self respecting black man, no matter who wishes to perceive them as a cover operative, would even consider linking their image to such an establishment.

BTW, I saw your link up page but didn't respond because Rogers is not running for President, nor is she publicly denouncing blacks in order to further her opportunities, such as is the case with Cain.

CNu said...


nothing personal sabrinabee, but I know the Koch bros., I grew up in Wichita, attended the school that their family and staunch birchers founded, and I've forgotten - from direct personal access and exposure to the JBS core - as an adolescent and as an adult - about their politics and Randian corporatist praxis.

umm..., George Schuyler was a highly self-respecting black man and he was linked to and supported by the John Birch society after he denounced MLK.

Bottomline here, Cain is not the monster that CDV, a paid partisan chicago afrodemic political operative, makes him out to be. In fact, Cain is a vastly more substantial political candidate than the wall st. corporatist stooge rorschachian in the white house, and a vastly more substantial political candidate than any of the gatekeeping and ineffectual corporatist stooge jiggaboos currently comprising the

oh, yeah.., sorry to hear that you're a member of the surplus labor value pool. that's not a good spot to be in, you should knuckle-down and acquire some objectively valuable vocational skills so that you won't be further haitianized in the perpetually contracting economy up ahead.

Anonymous said...

Again with the speculation and subtle insults? Yes, I made the choice to punch a clock to earn a living. While I appreciate you presuming to know what my actions and goals are, I'm going to have to restate, you have no idea what I am doing or am capable of doing.

I don't know what you consider 'objectively valuable vocational skills' to be or if there is even such a thing. Practically every skill set has been touched by the decreasing economy and most likely will be in should the economy continue to decline. There are plenty of freelancers out of work.

If you have such a skill set, which I assume is your point, then I hope it serves you well because your passive-aggressive nature is glaring. That cannot be good for your objectively valuable social skills.

While I agree that President Obama is a Wall St. corporatist, the only difference that there will be between he and Cain is the choice of who greases their pockets. Cain worked as a lobbyist in Washington for big tobacco. He is simply seeking his chance to line his pockets further. I thought that would be apparent by the number of times he's already had to walk back his statements. Substance?

As to Schuyler, well, I'll be waiting for his monument when it is erected in Washington.

chaunceydevega said...

@Cnu. Schulyer was the truth.

Where is this money I am supposed to be getting as a paid operative. I am waiting for my check. Can you please make some phone calls to check on my wire transfer?

Now, the question is: are you on Cain's payroll? If so, hook me up because for you to suggest--his cooning aside--that he is at all competent enough to be president is absurd. That he is "substantial?"

Well he is substantially ignorant on all matters of policy and politics...

Lord have mercy as you would say.
Unless he is playing some deep game of cornbread stepin fetchit nonsense where he feigns foolishness in order to win over Red State America you have totally lost me.

Given your refined sense of real politik I am surprised that you are defending that clown.

CNu said...

Unless he is playing some deep game of cornbread stepin fetchit nonsense where he feigns foolishness in order to win over Red State America

He is.

Given your refined sense of real politik I am surprised that you are defending that clown.

I'm more concerned by the insubstantial and histrionic race-based attacks on Cain, than I am with Cain's qualifications.

I'm attacking the one-dimensional and utterly inconsequential attacks on Cain. None of what you've put forth is going to dissuade ANYBODY to whom Cain currently appeals from supporting him, so all just noise in an echo chamber.

The fact that Cain has John Bolton as his primary foreign affairs advisor is of VASTLY greater consequence than any of the weak and wack shyte you and most others have been on about here to date.

chaunceydevega said...

@Cnu. I agree with you there about the con he is running. But his steppin fetchit game is a means to an end. Consider that he wants to eliminate minimum wage laws in black inner city neighborhoods and exempt them from workplace safety, zoning, and other requirements. His zero percent tax on the financier class is also Ayn Randian in its onerousness.

We need to be talking about that too. Don't mistake my refined study of Herman Cain with others who are only going superficially, and way after the fact.

I am going to have something next week on Salon.com (should be anyway if things align) on this very issue. I am going to say and do something that may meet with your approval as well.

CNu said...

If you have such a skill set, which I assume is your point, then I hope it serves you well because your passive-aggressive nature is glaring. That cannot be good for your objectively valuable social skills.

rotflmbao@passive-aggressive nature