Herman Cain knew two things were certain to happen when he blathered that racism doesn't hold anybody back (though he added a tiny caveat "in a big way.") One, it would get the media tongues wagging furiously. Two, it would increase the rapture of ultra conservatives for him.
He was right. But Herm also knows that a black president reinforces the delusion that racism is still just a minor blip on the nation's chart, and millions can take comfort that -- as Cain implies -- if blacks fail to duplicate Cain's fete and be the boss of a major corporation then they have nothing and nobody to blame but themselves.
It's easy to peddle that line when millions believe that decades of civil rights laws, court decisions and affirmative action programs have pretty much wiped the last vestiges of legal racial discrimination off the nation's map. The line seems even more plausible when millions see blacks heading the nation's top corporations and financial houses. They turn on the TV and they see black news anchors, correspondents and commentators on all the major networks and cable stations. They see blacks at the top of the heap of the richest and most recognizable names in sports and entertainment. They see blacks living in every suburban neighborhood, sending their children to chic, pricey and trendy private schools. They live in cities that are run by black mayors, where blacks hold power and sway on city councils, boards of education and often hold the top police and city department posts. They live in districts that are represented by a black state senator or congressional representative.
This progress is not an illusion. Some blacks like Cain have gotten a small piece of the economic pie, and have markedly increased their political reach and standing. This makes it even easier to buy Cain's line and to get mad at those that don't and accuse them of screaming racism whenever anything goes wrong. However, Cain knows but would never dare publicly admit the tormenting facts that countless studies, surveys, reports, and investigations, lawsuits, and court challenges, and the mountains of EEOC complaints have irrefutably documented.
Blacks are still two and three times more likely to be unemployed than whites, trapped in segregated neighborhoods, and have their kids will attend disgracefully failing, mostly segregated public schools. Young Black males and females are far more likely to be murdered, suffer HIV/AIDS affliction, to be racially profiled by police, imprisoned, placed on probation or parole, permanently barred in many states from voting because of felony convictions, much more likely to receive the death penalty especially if their victims are white, and more likely to be victims of racially motivated violence than whites. Research studies show that whites with a felony record are more likely to be hired in some places than college educated blacks.
Cain would never purse his lips to acknowledge the stark fact that middle-class blacks, like himself, who reaped the biggest gains from the civil rights struggles, often find the new suburban neighborhoods they move to re-segregated and soon look like the old neighborhoods they fled. They are ignored by cab drivers, followed by clerks in stores, left fuming at restaurants because of poor or no service, find that more and more of their sons and daughters are cut out of scholarships and student support programs at universities because of the demolition of affirmative action, and denied bank loans for their businesses and homes. Cain could easily find himself being by passed by a fearful cab driver while on his way to an important business meeting who didn't watch Fox News and know who Cain was. In fact just a week before Cain cavalierly blew off the corrosive and shackling bars of racism that still shackle millions of blacks as "no big deal" Cain huffed at the revelation of his GOP presidential rival Rick Perry's "Niggerhead" rock. Cain quickly corrected his memory lapse and got back on script and shrugged it off as much ado about nothing.
The fierce battles over affirmative action, police violence, the segregation laws still on the books in some Southern states, the nightmarish scenes of thousands of poor Blacks fleeing for their lives from the Katrina floodwaters in New Orleans, and the big fight over what -- if anything -- should be done about the plight of the Black poor are further bitter reminders of the gaping economic and racial chasm in America. And they are hardly things of a by-gone, forgotten past. Cain's record of achievement -- corporate head, head of the prestigious National Restaurant Assn., a stalwart military career, radio talk show host, syndicated columnist, and now GOP presidential candidate is the storybook dream, the envy of millions and commendable. Many other blacks can tell similar stories of personal triumphs. But their triumphs don't cancel out the naked fact that the very barriers they overcame are still rigidly in place for millions, and in the wrong place at the wrong time for them too. For many, racism is anything but dead.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on KTYM Radio Los Angeles streamed on ktym.com podcast on blogtalkradio.com and internet TV broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com