Herman Cain's Racial Hucksterism

herman cain looks at the crowd

To the extent that Georgia businessman Herman Cain has an identifiable rhetorical style, it relies on the regular use of racially inflected humor, as The New York Times notes in this story on Cain’s tenuous position in the Republican nomination contest:

He has no qualms, for instance, about playing off black clichés: should he become president, his Secret Service codename should be “Cornbread,” he wrote in his memoir, “This is Herman Cain! My Journey to the White House.” Mr. Cain’s traveling aide, Nathan Naidu, already refers to him as Cornbread on the internal campaign schedule. (Why? Mr. Cain says he just loves cornbread.)

Ta-Nehisi Coates is right to describe this as “hucksterism,” and as a huckster, Cain’s snake oil is a false sense of racial absolution. He offers conservative audiences the ability to point to liberals and say, “We’re not racist”, as if casual support for a black presidential candidate is evidence of full racial acceptance. To wit, Cain’s use of “uneducated black vernacular,” as Brown University scholar Ulli K. Ryder notes in the Times story, is an attempt to pander to negative African American stereotypes in an effort to present a particular vision of black “authenticity.”

Indeed, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the right has gone crazy for a dark-skinned African American from the South; it’s not enough for conservatives to support any black person – he needs to be “real.” After all, as right-wing personalities like Laura Ingraham have been quick to point out, Obama isn’t really black, and liberals are running a “con” by claiming him as such.

Photo credit: Jamelle Bouie

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