On December 13, 1945, a cleaning woman and part-time janitor/barber welcomed a smiling brown boy with the odds already stacked against him to Memphis, Tennessee, a proud part of the Jim Crow South. His parents moved to Georgia and he grew up on a farm there where he lived a poor but happy life. His father worked three jobs to keep the family clothed and fed and encouraged him to get a college education. Just three years after the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, this young man went on to attend the prestigious Morehouse College and graduate with a degree in mathematics. From there he started working for the military while pursuing a master’s degree in computer science. After earning his master’s, this enterprising young African-American went on to work for Coca-Cola, Pillsbury, and then Burger King, each time gaining in status and acclaim. While at Burger King his division went from the least profitable to the most profitable. From there, this baby boomer was appointed CEO of a Pillsbury’s rapidly declining pizza chain. Under his leadership, the company did a complete 180 and became a profitable chain again. He gained national acclaim when he challenged then-President Clinton’s health care reform bill which, according to the now seasoned businessman, would force business owners to “lay off hundreds of folks.” In 2006, he battled Stage IV cancer with a 30% chance of survival and emerged victorious. In 2009, this industrious man founded the “Intelligent Thinkers Movement” with the intent of organizing activists in every congressional district.
And now, this man is poised to make history as the first Black man to win the Republican nomination, ensuring that 2012 would be the first presidential election virtually guaranteed to produce a Black winner. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m talking about Herman Cain. Herman Cain… the man who might be in the Top 10 for People Blacks Would Like to Auction Off in a Racial Draft a la Chappelle. Why the hate?
Ever since prejudiced Southerners hijacked the Republican party in the 1940’s, African-Americans have generally voted for the Democratic Party. According to FactCheck.org, over 88% of Black Americans voted for a Democratic president in 2004. Black conservatives such as Supreme Court Clarence Thomas, Michael Steele, and now Herman Cain are often considered sell-outs and called Uncle Toms. By and large, many Blacks believe that black conservatives have turned their back on their community, by voting for measures and legislation that harms low-income and usually minority citizens. I tend to agree.
Nevertheless… in our haste to castigate Herman Cain and his “9-9-9 Plan”, many folks have missed what may be a monumental historical moment. Whether we agree with Mr. Godfather Pizza or not, we cannot negate that his rise in the Republican Party is something no one could have anticipated. The polls in Florida, South Carolina and other places show Herman Cain is outpacing Mitt Romney and even the handsome governor from Texas, Rick Perry. About 4 years ago, many people said they thought would never see the day when we would have a Black man running for president. If you had told me then, even while watching coverage of our newly elected “post-racial” president, when the world briefly believed in unicorns and fairy dust and miracles, I wouldn’t have believed that a Black Republican, particularly one who had no real political experience before, would be Obama’s most competitive opponent in 2012. Colin Powell? Maybe. The former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza? Nahhhhh. Creator of a tax plan that sounds like some type of low-end retail store sale? Not a chance in hell. Even if he doesn't win the nomination, he’s already achieved more than can be expected. While I strongly disagree with the notion that America is post-racial, I do believe Cain’s seemingly vast acceptance by conservatives -black and white alike- is a positive marker of race relations for America.
Let me be clear: unless Herman Cain completely changed his views on tax cuts, proper government spending, health care reform, energy independence, and just about every other political stance, I wouldn’t vote for him to be president of a book club, much less a country. But that doesn’t mean I don’t acknowledge his intelligence or rightful place in the history books. He received a lot of flak for a CNN interview where he stated, “I don’t believe racism in this country today holds anybody back in a big way.” Well, besides the fact that that’s not a fact, I don’t even think hebelieves that. He was born in 1945, almost a decade prior to Brown vs Board of Education; he knows better. I certainly wouldn't underestimate the tenacity of the Southern Black son of a janitor and maid who ascended to immense success in the restaurant industry, a world typically run by old White well-connected men. Whether you plan to support the Pizza Peddler turned Politician or not, it makes sense to take note of Herman Cain.
He’s making history, one debate at a time. No need to be surprised. I warned you.
What are your thoughts? Anyone voting for Mr. Cain? Do you believe he deserves a respectful place in history?
Other good reads on Herman Cain:
1. The Post-Racial Tipping Point by Panama Jackson of VerySmartBrothas.com
2. Three Things I Love About Herman Cain's Campaign in The Nation