Herman Cain and the Sadness of Black Folks

These days, black people are trained to be wary of feeling too happy about black success. Case in point: Herman Cain.

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But all some can see in this is a repeat of the Great Migration, as if these people were riding the rails with sacks on their backs, escaping Jim Crow. Black writers are not the only ones pulling this: Walter Russell Mead’s take, titled “Black and Blue,” has us “fleeing” the North, the idea being that the failure of “social policy to create an environment which works for Blacks is the most devastating possible indictment of the 20th-century liberal enterprise in the United States.” What, pray tell, is “an environment for Blacks”?

Charles Blow’s read was also almost strangely off, claiming on the basis of no evidence that black New Yorkers are moving in part to get away from excessive stop-and-frisks. I recently listened to an NPR story on this topic where the interviewers felt beholden to examine whether racism played a part in New Yorkers moving away, despite the jolly interviewee and callers-in barely knowing what she was talking about.

Why does it have to be a suspicious, loaded event (call it Moving While Black) when a lot of black people move — smiling? A second question: If young, successful blacks see racism as playing less of a role in their lives than their parents or grandparents did, then why must our main lesson from this be that America is not postracial, and that black America overall continues to have serious problems?

That is the message of Ellis Cose’s new book The End of Anger, which pays lip service to getting past the old-style grievance against “whitey,” but is ultimately about how angry we should all stay because of racism in the Tea Party, the shunting of subprime loans to black communities and the fact that because of the economy, middle-class blacks are often not making as much money as their parents.

One answer, I suppose, is that people need to be reminded that the success of some does not mean that we have completely overcome. But: Who really thinks that people who read 300-page books, black or white, believe that if a black lawyer isn’t being discriminated against, then racism is over for all black people? Which people do we genuinely suppose need this “message”?

None, I submit. What’s really going on here is simply that sadness to which my friend referred. We are now trained to be wary of feeling too good about black success. Any black success: Cose generously cites a man who tells us that Barack Obama’s election was a mere fluke, due to a convergence of factors such as George Bush’s incompetence, John McCain’s lack of drama and the economy. That is, we are to suppose that the election of a black man as president was not evidence of a revolutionary change in racial attitudes.

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