Being black in America translates in manifold ways, but for Cain and Obama, the import of American blackness translates similarly. Cain queues white adoration when he, appropriately I think, evokes the story of how his father worked three jobs until he could afford to work two, and two until he could afford to work one. But then Cain errs by misjudging his father’s experience as a demonstration of American colorblindness rather than calling it what it really was; an affirmation that hard work is a formidable tool for combatting institutionalized racism.
Similarly, when faced with African American consternation, Obama, like Cain, queues white populist arousal by asserting that “a rising tide lifts all boats”. When Herman Cain intimates that everything is all hunky dory in America, his sentiments are echoed by a President who chides black people to stop “crying” and take off their “slippers”. In a nutshell, the President is saying, as did Cain, “…blame yourself.”
Does anyone seriously believe that most of the policies we see coming out of the Obama administration, such as freezing federal wages, cutting discretionary spending, bailing out banks, increasing drone attacks and the like, wouldn’t be the same policies we’d see coming out of a Cain administration?
What Cain and Obama have in common is that they both represent domesticated adaptations of blackness. They both fish in the same pond because theirs are the only representations of blackness accepted by the mainstream political establishment. Repudiation of generally accepted African American memes is the litmus test for black presidential candidates in both major political parties.
So we end up with two men who are saying roughly the same thing, to the same people (white people), and, quite remarkably, getting opposite reactions from the black community.
One man fetishizes the 60’s with a faux -preacher style rhetoric, but doesn’t reflect any of that 60’s moral conviction in his policies. The other man discusses self-stewardship in the same vein as Malcolm X, but doesn’t include any critique of racism in his rhetoric.
Truth is, both men are crippled aberrations of authentic black leadership. Cain and Obama are nothing more than stilted re-imaginings of Malcolm and Martin. But with our blind spot firmly in place, we somehow see these failings in only one man.
Maybe Cain was right. Maybe we are brainwashed.