Tea Party presidential candidate Herman Cain is one of the top polling Republican presidential candidates, yet he seems to be treated still as a joke. Over the last few days alone, the biggest news of his candidacy was about just that—a joke on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
Last night the candidate brushed off the Stewart incident-which invoked racial images from Amos-n-Andy, and clarified that he was not just being attacked for his race, but for his political thought AND his race.
“But the thing more so than the whole race issue, which I don’t want to get into, Jon Stewart does not like me, in my opinion, because I’m an American black conservative. Because I’m black and conservative, I think he probably has a bigger problem with that than he does the whole race thing,” Cain told Fox News’ Juan Williams.
Black republicans and conservatives have reached some of the highest levels of power in the nation; yet often seem to still be seen as more of an anomaly than an actual voting block. While the statistics—which reveal that 90 percent of black populations is democrat or democratic leaning—don’t serve to help this image, one cannot deny the importance that powerful black republicans like Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, Clarence Thomas, Michael Steele, new comer Allen West and now Herman Cain have on the national political discourse.
“Let face facts, the only difference between a black conservative and a black liberal is ideology, not skin tone. Many in the black community view black conservatives and Republicans as “siding with the enemy”, “not sticking up for their own” or just plain “sell outs”. This is because the media has done a great job portraying the right as racist,” says Clifton B., a black conservative.
“White people have been able to choose what party they wanted to be affiliated with since politics came into being. Why is it that blacks can’t seem to have those same choices? We’ve allowed ourselves to be pigeon-holed in that way and I find it very offensive. It’s a way to control black people,” says Crystal Wright, a black Republican who blogs at Conservativeblackchick.com.
She says that black Republicans and conservatives are taken very seriously by their white counterparts, though she admits her party can do better on race relations; but it’s black liberals and some of the mainstream press that attempt to delegitimize the black Republican and conservative voice.
“The people who still poo-poo us and dismiss us are black liberals who are still caught up in this philosophy if you’re black you have to walk and step and fetch to the Democratic Party. Liberals and some in the mainstream press, they think by dismissing us and calling us uncle toms and all these offensive things is that it’s going to silence us and diminish our opinions. The reality is it’s only made us stronger.”
Clifton B. says it’s no surprise that the black community is not engaged with the Republican and Conservative movement, because the black community listens to what media tells them about blacks and conservatives in general.
“The mainstream media does not take black conservatives seriously, because they do not take conservatism in general seriously. The “mainstream” black community formulates it opinion on what is presented. If the media shows black conservatives as evil idiots, then of course you won’t find many blacks taking black conservatives seriously. How can they when conservative thought is not treated seriously by the media.”
Studies about whether there is a liberal or conservative bias in the media seem to be aplenty, depending on which side you support, but scanning the news headlines one clearly can see that there is usually a plethora of stories about Republicans and racism-some which are completely valid-and generally far less stories about racism in the Democratic Party.
“The media has done a great job portraying the right as racist. This is done by highlighting every racial slight or offense made by the right, while ignoring or downplaying every racial slight or offense by the left. The result is you have one party looking like the KKK and the other looking like saviors. So of course the black community ends up siding with the left and treating black conservatives and Republicans with suspicion.”
University of Chicago Professor Michael Dawson believes that Republicans and Conservatives must play on racist sentiment, in order to win votes.
“The Republican strategy has to be based on winning middle class voters and independents who voted for Obama last time, and to translate economic happiness with racial resentment. If it get’s translated among pure class lines, Republicans are in trouble. So the best and very much tried and true response is to turn economic resentment of whites into racial resentment of blacks.”
Several polls, including one by Gallup in 2008, find that African Americans are closer in line to Conservatives on social issues, but economically still distant.
Many black conservatives seem to support this sentiment, including Clifton B, who writes at anotherblackconservative.com.
“I have found that when I speak with other blacks about my feelings on various political issues without divulging my ideology, I find there is quite a bit of agreement. So it seems to me, that blacks are not naturally hostile to a conservative message. It is just that that message must first break past old and ingrained perceptions.”
Wright thinks that Cain’s run, along with the election of two new black Republican congressman (a first since the nineties), prove that blacks are beginning to come around to Republican ideology.
“The landscape is changing. Apathy towards Obama’s policies has emboldened black conservatives to come out of the woodwork. If you had told me five years ago that we’d have this number of black conservatives out there I wouldn’t believe you. People shouldn’t be surprised if an African American walks up to them and says I’m an African American republican. This shouldn’t be stunning in the 21st century.”