Monday, December 5, 2011

Bye Bye Herman Cain: True to Form, His Race Minstrel Show Ended the Only Way That It Could

Goodbye Herman Cain. You will be missed.

Unable to weather repeated charges of sexual harassment and infidelity, the Herman Cain train has finally gone off the tracks. Yet, even by the unique and unconventional standards of the 2012 Republican presidential primary field, Herman Cain was a spectacle—and one with a unique advantage.

I signaled to Herman Cain’s potential in February 2011 in a controversial essay on the online magazine Alternet, where after his break-out speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, I described it as a race minstrel-like performance. There, with everything but blackface cork, Cain channeled his dead black grand pappy with a semi-literate Southern drawl, told white folks that racism is a fiction (and that they are in fact the real victims of bigotry in the Age of Obama), and validated a belief that black people like Herman Cain—those who don’t complain, make trouble, or participate in the Civil Rights Movement—are the way forward.

In total, Herman Cain was a fantasy projection and type of racism shield, an Anti-Obama, who could soothe the anxieties of racially resentful white conservatives. While Cain’s shtick did not rise to the level of comedian David Chappelle’s character Clayton Bigsby, black white supremacist; it was, in many ways, a genius performance. He was Sarah Palin mated with the Boondocks’ Uncle Ruckus.

At the time, I was widely criticized for daring to suggest that Herman Cain was channeling such an offensive stereotype. My analysis proved prescient. In time, other observers either borrowed the meme, or were clearly inspired by it.

Unfortunately, many of those who ran with my suggestion that Herman Cain was performing as a race minstrel for the pleasures of his white conservative public, did not understand the depth of the claim. I was not trying to engage in name calling, or to get a snicker from the public, by calling attention to Herman Cain’s racially infused Tomfoolery. Rather, my deeper point was that Herman Cain’s race minstrel performance was a carefully crafted means towards an end.

Herman Cain was the mouthpiece for the unrepentant id of the New Right. He could advocate for the most extreme aspects of their ideology behind a mask of black incompetence, and “down home” mannerisms, that could potentially protect him from criticism. In addition, conservatives could deploy the race card at will to defend their chosen son: Herman Cain was a black cheerleader who could advance some of their most onerous and extreme policy positions.

The Herman Cain New Age Race Minstrel Show ended in the only way that it could. In keeping with the routine, Cain was brought down by his own arrogance and narcissism. He had grand plans and schemes that he could not fulfill. Because the race minstrel was a white supremacist fantasy that embodied fears about African Americans’ citizenship and freedom in the aftermath of the Civil War, he was a bumbling fool, and an incompetent who was not fit for democracy. And of course, the race minstrel lacked impulse control. His libido and craven pursuit of white women—what was an unattainable prize—would be his ultimate undoing.

From his willful embrace of ignorance on matters of foreign policy, a “9-9-9” tax policy cobbled together by secret advisers (and likely borrowed from a videogame), dreams of electrified fences and moats to kill “illegal” immigrants, rampant and almost cartoon-like levels of Islamophobia and Christian nationalism, “whistling Dixie” demagoguing of blacks who are not Republicans as being “on a plantation,” and of course his purported propensity for sexual harassment and adulterous behavior, Herman Cain played the role of race minstrel for the Tea Party GOP with aplomb and zest.

In all, the Herman Cain candidacy was a thing of ugly beauty. Cain began his presidential primary run with the priceless and under-used phrase “awww...shucky ducky,” seasoned it with a spiritual sung at the National Press Club, and offered a funereal oratory for his campaign that concluded with a quote from the Pokemon cartoon series.

Herman Cain caught lightning in a bottle. He combined the worst aspects of Tyler Perry’s various TV and film exercises in black buffoonery, the denigrating humor of Amos ‘N Andy, and the tropes of 19th century race minstrelsy into one show. While some observers will try to divine some deep and symbolic meaning about race in the Age of Obama from Herman Cain’s brief and shining moment in the 2012 Republican primaries, the lesson here, is in fact, more basic. Give people what they want. In this case, the white populists in the Republican Party wanted a black man who told them that they are not racists, Jim Crow wasn’t that bad, and “our” blacks are better than “those other” blacks who happen to be Democrats.

Herman Cain, master of the racial authenticity game, fashioned himself as “a real black man” as compared to President Barack Obama. He reminded his audience of this “fact” at every opportunity. They lapped it up. Sadly for Herman Cain, just as Michael Steele and other black conservatives learned long ago, the love and affection of the White Right is instrumental, and the devotion to their mascots is temporary, with a limited shelf-life.

As of Saturday, Herman Cain was barely the flavor of the month. Black Walnut has melted; Cornbread is now stale; it is time to go home…or perhaps begin a second career as a traveling bluesman and motivational speaker, for Herman Cain’s unlikely saga as a 2012 Republican presidential primary candidate has yielded more than enough material to last a lifetime.


Matthew Hubbard said...

Let's be fair. He has a lovely singing voice.

Honestly, if the Republicans now think Gingrich is the messiah, they have just switched from an unelectable black guy from Georgia to an unelectable white guy from Georgia. I'd put the under/over for Obama electoral votes at 360 if Newt is the nominee.

40 said...

Alas, I am disappointed. I really wanted Herm to get the nomination so that America would have to be forced into choosing the spook of lesser evil, or better yet forge a much needed third party (that would garner significant votes), even it was born out of white America screaming "Enough is enough!" in the voting booth. It was a fun, entertaining ride Hermanator, the way they had you centered on the debate stages like the proverbial inkspot in the bowl of milk. Love or hate Herman Cain, he was an interesting moment in Negroe history, who's political career arc almost brought the classic Eddie Murphy black politician joke to fruition "You mean he fuckin' won?" LOL. Herm now you can harass heifers on your own time with out all the media bugaboos. So long my man, just put some brothers on the wall in Godfather's Pizza corporate office, other than you your own, for Radio Raheem's sake.

Plane Ideas said...


BRAVO!!...You were ahead of the curve and right on the money about CAIN without any reservation or apology..

I was willing at some point on this saga willing to give him some humanity and context given the hundreds of unworthy white candidates that were marketed to us YET your take no prisioner formula was the right equation all along..


Brotha Wolf said...

In the immortal words of Pikachu, "Pika! Pikachuuuuuuuuu!"

Adios, Herman Cain. Thank you for reminding me that republicans and conservatives really are mentally delusional. You may be a black man who likes white, sees red, and loves green, but in the end you really are yellow, and now you're singing the blues.

parvenu said...

From the point of view of social anthropology for the evolution of African America's path to becoming a people; Herman Cain was an absolute neccessity.

Previously African America (AA) was given a tremendous boost in their evolutionary process through the election of a ROCK SOLID black family man, Barack Obama, to the position of POTUS. On the strength of this historic event in America an entire catalogue of racist stereotypes were summarily and publicly smashed upon the steps of the Nation's capitol in January 2008.

Herman Cain attracted worldwide attention as a hard line black bigot and "concervative" who entered the race to be the Republican nominee for the president of the United States. But what was more significant from the prespective of AA social anthropology was the essence of the issue that caused Cain's rather swift downfall; namely the unbridled philandering of white women by an aggressive bombastic black man. This bit of low life theater needed to be acted out many times over in full view upon the American media stage. Herman Cain's escapades with white women put the most feared salacious stereotype linked as instinctual to Negro men smack dab up into the face of racialist white America. White Americans were forced to suffer through endless news reporting of example after example of how the Hermanator set about the task of finding his way into some white woman's sexual organs. Somehow in spite of their extreme anguish these white racialists found that they were able to survive the horror of the unimaginable forced on them by revelations of Cain's past intimate escapades with white women.

If you think the destruction of these age old racial stereotypes is for the benefit of the white American population, you are badly mistaken. In reality it is we the social evolving African American population who are the ones that really benefit the most from these recent events. We need this iconoclasim in order to remove those stereotypical chains from our minds so that we can continue our evolution into the people we are destined to become.


Plantsmantx said...

Horace Boothroyd III needs to take that stick out:).

Unknown said...

I feel like I just read an eulogy.
RIP Herman Cain.

Plane Ideas said...


Please spare me the long winded impaired analysis..Black people were evolved already and have a legacy of strong families before BO's tenture in the white house..I also have major reservations abot white woman as the basis of his meltdown I am tired of that fiction even in Cain's saga..

The essence which fuels our evolution and growth has very little to do with tired irrevelant racial stereotypes..Perhaps it is you that needs to evolve and catch up with us..

CAIN was a yahoo no need for a long narrative invoking all kinds of social science,lol,lol
Please offer up better material when you enter WARN..just sayin..

Oh Crap said...


In reality it is we the social evolving African American population who are the ones that really benefit the most from these recent events. We need this iconoclasim in order to remove those stereotypical chains from our minds so that we can continue our evolution into the people we are destined to become.

Lol what iconoclasm? That HC didn't get the hemp rope when it was revealed that he messes around with blondes?

Hallelujah for The Black Community™, America has evolved passed the Reconstruction era. I'm so grateful.

deep.honey said...

Loved this have been right about Hermie (and Ginger) from jump!

Plantsmantx said...

That HC didn't get the hemp rope when it was revealed that he messes around with blondes?

Eh. Their fear of what they say "no one cares about any more"- charges of anti-black racism- trumped their anguish. They didn't hesitate to (ostensibly) give him the boot over an affair with a black woman, because by booting him over Ginger White, they could avoid charges of anti-black racism.

Abstentus said...

I have been going back and forth over my comment. I do have to thank Herbie Cain for one thing. I found myself needing to re acquaint myself with the actual particulars of the 19th Century Minstrel act. Something I have not done in decades, really, since taking that course in 19th and 20th Century Theatre History. But I finally got to a new cheeky thought.

'Memba when that book came out about Sarah Palin and said she and her sister went black, but went back? Well? Looks like the GOP done caught up with the Heath sisters.

There's an additional sexual punchline there. But I can resist it.

chaunceydevega said...

@Matty. He whispers in all the ladies ears.

@40. I forgot that eddie bit. Got to look it up. I too wish he hung around

@Thrasher. Kneel before Zod. Just kidding. Glad you had my back. Decades from now I will be a footnote.

@Brother. Money is green and you know what is wet. Remember that song?

@Parvenu. You on some space age knowledge. Please explain for us Earth dwellers.

@Plants. Dude is mighty naive and high on that liberal racism colorblind crack rock.

@Hurkikane. Here lies Herman Cain?

@OhCrap. Be nice my commando commander. You had my back too. Appreciated.

@deep. The show is over...for now.

@Abstentus. You on some next level stuff too. What are you talking about?