Cain runs away from his African roots in GOP race

Herman Cain is still on the plantation.

In a recent interview with Jeff Goldberg for the Bloomberg View, Cain said “I am an American. Black. Conservative. I don’t use African-American, because I’m American, I’m black and I’m conservative. I don’t like people trying to label me. African- American is socially acceptable for some people, but I am not some people.”

It isn’t quite clear what about the word “African” Mr. Cain took issue with, but he clarified himself when he said: “Most of the ancestors that I can trace were born here in the United States of America, and then it goes back to slavery. And I’m sure my ancestors go all the way back to Africa, but I feel more of an affinity for America than I do for Africa. I’m a black man in America.”

Obviously Herman Cain needs a history lesson.

It seems he forgot how the great American economy was originally built on the backs of free laborers called slaves. He seems to be blissfully unaware that those slaves came from the western shores of the African continent. Cain feigns a willful ignorance about the very reasons he is unable to trace his ancestors back to Africa: they did not come with passports and paperwork through Ellis Island, but on ships riddled with chains, covered in blood and vomit after the long, hard journey traveling over stormy oceans. Those ancestors arrived on American shores ready to be sold and re-sold, beaten and bruised, raped and broken.

It is insulting to the greater American political consciousness that this man believes he is qualified to become the next president of the United States. He appears to have joined forces with the likes of Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich who would love to rewrite American history and forget the who, what, when and how of the past 400 years.

Herman Cain, the Republican presidential hopeful and former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, is 65 years old and was raised in Georgia at the height of the Civil Rights movement. If anyone should be well acquainted with the socio-political realities of race, racism and segregation in America, one would assume Cain is. And even if he chose — as many black Americans do — to associate as ‘black’ instead of ‘African-American’ or ‘Afro-American’, his statements are inappropriate on the grounds that they seem to deliberately negate the African ancestry inherent in being ‘black’ American.

In an age which celebrates President Barack Obama’s ascension to the nation’s highest office, and the hopes this historical moment can mark the beginning of a post-racial society, Cain’s statements reflect the need for further education and safeguards against the ignorance which spawns racist ideology to begin with. Cain essentially suggests that being ‘African’ is somehow a trait to be disavowed – instead of embraced and celebrated. And herein lies the conundrum of Herman Cain’s bid for the Republican nomination: that in order to be a black, Republican presidential candidate he must appeal to the far-right base and Tea Party enthusiasts who have spent the past two and a half years waging a neo-civil war against Barack Obama. The subtext of which has been racial animus and fears of a changing tide in the American political power structure.

Cain sought to appeal to the fading birther movement when he said, “Barack Obama is more of an international. I think he’s out of the mainstream and always has been. Look, he was raised in Kenya, his mother was white from Kansas and her family had an influence on him, it’s true, but his dad was Kenyan, and when he was going to school he got a lot of fellowships, scholarships, he stayed in the academic environment for a long time. He spent most of his career as an intellectual.”

When confronted with the fact that President Obama had, in fact, never lived in Kenya, but had spent four years of his childhood in Indonesia, Cain replied “Yeah, Indonesia.”

Cain’s blissful ignorance is both disconcerting and telling: that this is the only way a “black conservative” can fit in today’s Republican Party.

Cain has been toting the party line for a long time. At the Conservative Political Action Committee in February he told a largely white Republican crowd: “They call me racist too, because I disagree with a president who happens to be black…you are not racists! You are patriots because you are willing to stand up for what you believe in!”

It remains to be seen what exactly Herman Cain believes in. But what is abundantly clear is that Obama’s promise of hope and change is a far better proposal than Cain’s past and prologue.