Monday, October 10, 2011

The Pain of Herman Cain: How a Chance Encounter at an African American Barbershop Helped to Create a Black Conservative

All aboard the Cain train!

Brother Cornel West told CNN that Herman Cain is smoking the metaphorical crack pipe. Boyce Watkins used Herman Cain as an object lesson in black on black racism. Professor Eddie Glaude, polite as ever, said that Herman Cain practices "political chicanery." Elder god Reverend Lowery called Herman Cain a butt-licking coprophagist...but he said it using nicer words. And Harry Belafonte just eviscerates Herman Cain and his Tea Party GOP handlers.

What fun. The irony of course is that the more Herb Cain is criticized by African Americans for his role as a professional racism apologist the more popular he will become with his White Conservative reactionary audience and sponsors. Call it the black conservative patted on the head by their white masters corollary to Newton's third law of motion.

I have been reflecting on Herman Cain's story about being denied service at a black barbershop because they could not use the clippers on an African American and still keep their white clientele. That moment is very telling both for what it reveals about Herman Cain's psyche and also for the larger macro-level phenomena it signals to.

Historically, the socio-political interests of black Americans have been racialized. Group interests have served as a powerful variable in the political calculations of African Americans because the reality of white supremacy has been one where we have not had the luxury of buying into a narrative of wide eyed, pie in the sky Whiteness enabled individualism.

We got our butts kicked as a group; our individual merits mattered little to the slaver, Jim and Jim Crow, or the "racism without racists" post-Civil Rights milieu. For example, members of the black middle and upper classes use the social and economic status of their less well-off relatives, friends, and community members as variables which influence their political decision making. Why? The hold of black strivers on the ladder of success is tenuous. In addition, the stale, flat narrative of the black poor and black underclass that dominates the popular imagination is instead one that is real to us: said folks are our brothers, sisters, cousins, parents, and other kin, either fictive or blood related.

Black Conservatives like Herman Cain fit perfectly into this story because one of the variables that over-determines a sense of linked fate with other African Americans (and by implication their political orientation) is how deeply embedded they are in the black community. Black conservatives tend to have fewer attachments to African American social institutions (political associations, neighborhood groups, fraternal organizations, and of course the obligatory barbershops and hair salons) . Consequently, black conservatives are less likely to have a sense of group affinity for and with other African Americans.

In all, the black utility heuristic is not in play for the Cains, Thomases, and Steeles of the world.

The image Herman Cain paints of his barbershop encounter, assuming it is in fact true (and I have serious doubts as he is playing a blackface version of the Horatio Alger myth) is doubly sad because in that one moment he was ostracized from one of the few black spaces which remain in America, and said locale in the black public sphere was still governed by the white gaze and its power to marginalize and do harm to people of color.

Perhaps it is my love of theoretical physics and chaos theory. Or maybe I have watched the Star Trek TNG episode "Tapestry" too many times, but I wonder how that one moment impacted Herman Cain's future political attitudes and life trajectory? Would Herman Cain have become a different person, an upright and proud Morehouse man, instead of a professional racism denier and enabler of white supremacy, if one of the brothers had given his woolly head a proper cut?

I present two possibilities:

1. Herman Cain, a young man raised by a family who did not believe in the merits of the Civil Rights Movement, and which saw Dr. King and others as "outside agitators," had years ago decided to smile and grin in order to get along with white folks. The haircut moment had nothing to do with the man he would become in the future. Cain already believed that it was much better to lay down with the lions as a pet sheep than to dare resist and perhaps suffer harm (or risk being a difficult to digest meal).

2. Herman Cain, embarrassed by seeing black men humiliated by whites in their own barbershop, became disgusted with black people as a whole--and thus convinced of his own "uniqueness" as an "exceptional negro"--decided that he had shared few traits with the "common black." Instead of being angry at the white men who humiliated the black barbers, Herman Cain lashed out at African Americans everywhere. They are a pitiable people in Herman Cain's eyes, so why have anything to do with them?

I do have a thought that I need your help reasoning through: Why didn't Herman Cain, a product of Jim Crow and a man who should be familiar with the depth of the informal black codes and rules of racial comportment in the South, just find another black barbershop where he would be welcome?

Moreover, Cain's choice to buy his own clippers is also telling. There is an argument that black conservatism is actually none too far ideologically from black nationalism. In another person, at another time, with a different history, could Herman Cain's barbershop pain have resulted in him becoming a Black Nationalist as opposed to a race traitor who serves as a human parrot for racially resentful and bigoted White Conservatives?

The possibilities boggle the mind...


Henri B. said...

I'm going to be much too literal in my interpretation and say that "buying his own clippers" also spares him rejection from a white salon. I live in a lot of *ahem* rural areas where they're aren't a lot of us and more times than I care to remember I've had white stylists wig out and tell me they "can't" style my hair. [I could give a damn about the rejection but the last time I tried to force the issue I left with a mullet.]

The phrase cognitive dissonance is thrown around quite a bit when discussing the GOP and I imagine that a lot of Herman Cain's life is lived in constant avoidance of realizing what many white people think of us. He probably shops online to keep from being followed around a store - I don't have the facts to back that up.

Oh Crap said...

I think this anecdote is an invention meant to be some kind of object-lesson propaganda, especially that bit about buying his own clippers.

Yesterday, he was not running for theologian in chief. Today, God told him to run. It's really impossible to believe anything that comes out of HC's mouth.

I'm becoming fascinated with him, only because I've got Black GOP connism in my family, and was one, myself. It's of a different kind, I'm noticing.

My parents are a bit older than Cain, but he's still of that generation. Hard to tell what happened to him, really, especially given that he is a Kappa from, Herb.

But unlike him, my parents were civil rights babies to their respective ends. Their interest as GOP voters was in the social and religious politics, as was mine, except I accepted more of that Reaganoid economic line -- that was generational, I believe.

That was many years ago. But I was saying elsewhere that we really need to get used to Cain/Alveda King/Lloyd Marcus cons. There may be 17 of them today, but they breed.

And they have television shows.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't able to see the video? of the Cain's experience at the barbershop and was unable to find anything other than it's mention in his book, probably because I don't have flash player. Given the two suggestions of his mindset that you offered, I'm willing to even go with a mixture of the two. His comments regarding his parents as an example of hard work, dad holding three jobs as a barber, a chauffeur and a janitor and his mother as a servant taught him to "wake up singing" has me leaning more to the first example but your second example has me willing to go even further than disgust at witnessing the disrespect of blacks to possibly being the recipient of something more traumatic.

Either way, Cain is forgetting a lesson from his past. He at one point, acknowledged that he knew he had to worker harder than his white counterparts, that he could not simply be 'as good as' but he had to be better. When asked a question on foreign policy, he stated, that if asked about 'Uzbeki beki beki stan' that he would answer, "I don't know, do you?" "I don't need to know!" Well now, Mr. Cain, Yes, YOU in fact, do need to know that if YOU want to be President. See, all that cutesy ignorance is just gravy for a white candidate but he must have forgotten that he does have to work harder to be on a level playing field. Being dismissive about knowledge is never a good thing for a person of color.

CNu said...

While y'all impotently speculate about the Hermanator, a 3rd line inheritor pimp-in-the-pulpit has looted Wilberforce, his church, his constituents and his community. This is why the jiggabooalogical political conundrum that Constructive Feedback rails against needs to be smashed square upside the head. It's dishonest, frivolous, and regressive beyond belief.

Clearly not respectable...,

Anonymous said...

Disgusting post. The man figured out how to succeed at a time when the system was rigged against him. And he succeeded spectacularly. Rather than hold him up as a role model for others to admire and emulate, he gets torn down and psychoanalyzed to death because he refused to accept that he was an oppressed victim.

Really pathetic post.

This is the first time I've read this blog. And quite likely my last.

nomad said...

Why stop at the Republicans? I cannot help but notice how much of what you say about Cain can be applied to the traitor in the White House. Let me take the liberty of rewriting this sentence, oh ye who often goes after the POTUS.
"In all, the black utility heuristic is not in play for the Cains, Thomases, Steeles and Obamas of the world."

fred c said...

The above remark from disgusting anonymous proves that you're hitting the mark, Professor. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, an artist whose stuff all of the critics love is horribly missing the mark.

CNu said...

No Fred, CDV is not hitting the mark at all. Matter fact, he's only taking meaningless potshots at an opportunistically useful target that he's sanctioned to engage.

Were he to take on a serious set of point sources for what is actually afflicting the political economy of the black electorate, this public intellectual infotainment hustle wouldn't see the light of day.

Since we know he's not going to take on the shameful legacy of the 2nd and 3rd line inheritors, what's the hold-up for taking on something deeply pernicious like the Broad Academy which is attempting a disaster capital, hostile takeover of urban public education all across America?

Better to stay on the safe side of things and vent infantile gas about the possibly psychological roots of the Hermanator's haircut...,

chaunceydevega said...

@Cnu. You are good fun. Can I get a hug? What do you mean by sanctioned? Do I need to get a special hunting license to take on targets you approve?

You can take on the topics you enjoy and find compelling; I will take on the ones that I do. I speak on topics of which I have expertise. I am not an economist or expert in global political economy, therefore I won't be talking about peak oil for example. I am also not an expert on the history of the academy and how it is "taking over" urban public education.

Please explain that one to me?

I like infantile gas. In fact I haven't even started to work through my theories on feces, black conservatives, and their white friends.

I do like the complement of "intellectual hustle" though. Makes me feel good.

nomad said...

Sanctioned. Not liable to challenge the status quo. Or the PTB.

chaunceydevega said...

@Nomad. PTB. Hell I think I am pretty critical of orthodox black ideologies and politics quite often. Do you mean an on running meme where I criticize Obama every three seconds? Meh. You can do that on your own blog, magazine, radio, street corner, in the barbershop, on the bus, etc.

It doesn't interest me that much.

CNu said...

Do I need to get a special hunting license to take on targets you approve?


Hamfisted brah.

It's not a question of what I approve - rather - it's a question of what those who'll pay for and promote your frivolous infotainments approve of..., at this juncture, you're not hard-hitting, you're an Alternet photonegative of Cobb's Pajamas Media rental negroe...,

I do like the complement of "intellectual hustle" though. Makes me feel good.

If it makes you feel good, then you know it tickles me pink.

But it's decidedly not a complement...,

Sanctioned. Not liable to challenge the status quo. Or the PTB.

lol, bears repeating Nomad..,

particularly as it's run on to so much repetitive agitprop in an echo chamber.

The very next time the pseudonymous chaunceydevega commences another one of his fusillades on Brother Cobb or other so-called garbage pail kid conservatives - it will be de rigeur to remind him of his tame miniature poodle, public intellectual barkings from behind the screen door....,

Plane Ideas said...


SO in other words your envy of CD continues..

You with tired ass homespun family tales by the gas stove and Nomad's fetish over BO is getting real old and oh so boring I might add...

I bet you are one of those 2nd and 3rd line inheritors you love to repeat over and over and over,lol,lol

I love it when hypocrites start to eat themselves..Such fun to,lol,lol

Improbable Joe said...

Hey, when you do that old-time "intellectual hustle" do you need to be wearing a disco outfit with a wide collar, and sporting the platform shoes with the goldfish in them? :)

Seriously though, Herman Cain's barbershop story seems deeply inauthentic from where I'm sitting. Did black people cut a whole lot of white people hair back in the day? If he was working for DoD, why didn't he find a base barbershop before he wandered around town, since everyone knows that the on-base barbershop is the best deal in town?

And why didn't he see that his story is just effing stupid? If black people caving in to white racism in order to get ahead offended him so much, why did he choose to be the poster boy for it? The lesson I would have learned was "screw those bastards, I'm going to get my hair cut by my people!" The lesson he seems to have learned was "I'm not going into a barbershop again, until the day that I have kissed enough white ass that they invite me in!"

I'm just not buying it!

Chris Sharp said...

If what Sabrinabee says is true, why didn't HC just get a haircut from his dad, who was apparently a barber himself? I haven't read much about what Cain thinks of his parents, but maybe there is a story here.

I bought myself a pair of clippers about 15 years ago but it was mainly because I could not see the widom of paying someone $25 to do what I could do myself for free. Perhaps Cain was just trying to save money so he could launch his cold pizza empire?

Your comment about Black Nationalism has also got me thinking. I have never considered the similarities to Black Conservatism but there are some interesting parallels. I also recall another black guy who became a Nationalist after a hair incident, but his had to do with conking, not clipping. But as you say, that was a different person with a different history at another time. Thankfully he wasn't named Herman Cain.

CNu said...

six nervous "lol's" in one comment?

SO in other words your envy of CD continues..

no homo free jiggaboo, but why'na hail you on another man's johnson?

look here, be'in'at you older'n me'an all.., it's not my place to take you under my wing and properly son you - so....,

I'ma suggest instead that you tug the sleeve of one of your mama's seven boyfriends, (oops, I mean one of your "uncles") - an'ask that ole Ruckus-looking muhphuggah why he ain't jealous of the other six "uncles" up in granny Thrasher's musty drawls.

Hopefully he'll explain some of the straight, grown-ass man facts of life to you son, and you can avoid further inevitable clowning at my hand.


chaunceydevega said...

@Cnu. Why so grumpy today? Fiber issues? All love though, poodles do bite quite a bit.

@Thrasher. I appreciate cnu's playful grumpiness. He just wants me to move on from Brother Cain, but you know I can't I am so addicted to his low hanging fruit ;)

@Improbable. The more he tells his life story the less true it rings. I am hoping that some fact checkers will get at his dime store game. I have done a little research and am waiting to share something here and elsewhere that may reveal something quite inconvenient and politically damaging about Herb Cain. That is all I will say for now.

@Chris. That is another good point on having his dad cut his hair. The details are really something about Herbie.

Plane Ideas said...


Thanks for confirming I was right about you! Next time you spin one of your homespun kiddy tales don't lean on your son to pitch your hustle..

Oh yeah take this with,lol,lol,lol,lol,lol,lol,lol

Batocchio said...

Like sabrinabee, I don't think #1 and #2 are mutually excusive, since one of the defining characteristics of movement conservatism is the fervent belief that "Your misfortune is your own fault." (That's for everyone not in the in-group, of course.) More generally, there's a moment many individuals face when they decide to either become bullies (or suck up to them) or try to make things more fair. Some people grow out of their worst traits. But Cain's current positions suggest some stark decision(s) in the past, and rigid adherence ever since.

Karl Rove clearly went for option one, sucking up to the bullies and frat boys. Cain went the same general route, regardless of the particulars – but it'd be interesting to know them. (His dad being a barber does make his story especially odd.)

nomad said...


chaunceydevega said...

@Nomad. Not enough Obama bashing for you today? You need a daily dose of it, good for the soul you know.

StewartIII said...

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