What’s Herman Cain Got to Do With It?

People aren't wary of Herman Cain's blackness, success or political party. They're wary of him.

GOP Presidential Hopefuls Gather At Republican Leadership Conference

John McWhorter is right about one thing. Herman Cain “is evidence of, of all things, progress.”

McWhorter — iconoclast, The Root columnist and widely regarded author of the best-sellers Losing the Race and Winning the Race — argued this week in “Herman Cain and the Sadness of Black Folks” that the failure of black observers to give Cain his due is just one example on a long list of failures to acknowledge black progress.

And that’s one thing McWhorter is not right about at all. No one is wary of Cain’s blackness, his corporate success or his Republicanism. They’re wary about Cain’s candidacy — and rightly so.

Cain embodies the American dream: He’s a chauffeur’s son who became a Burger King exec, the CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, a board member of the Kansas City Fed and a conservative talk-radio hero on the way to becoming the first African American to grab a meaningful share of early polling support in a Republican presidential primary. And he’s running to unseat a Democratic black president in a world where nine out of 10 African Americans vote Democratic. If you care at all about seeing a diverse range of political views expressed in American political life, then there’s no way you can’t describe Cain’s rise as progress.

Yet the fact that Cain hasn’t caught on with most of the black electorate is not, as McWhorter suggests, an indicator that black folks are “trained to be wary of feeling too good about black success” or that they’re “perpetually sad” about the future prospect of being black in America.

So far, at least, black voters just aren’t into Cain.

After taking the New York Times’ Charles Blow to task for ascribing the trend of black migration back to the South to frustration with excessive stop-and-frisks by the NYPD, then calling out Ellis Cose for paying mere “lip service” to black folks getting beyond “old-style grievance” toward whites in his book The End of Anger, McWhorter oddly wheels around to lamenting that although Cain’s campaign “is a good story in many ways,” in his view, conventional wisdom says “we’re not supposed to look at it that way.” Says who?

People aren’t skeptical of Cain because they think that African Americans have to stay tethered to what Cain describes as the “Democrat plantation.” They’re skeptical because Cain works so much harder to cultivate the support of the real-life Joe the Plumber — who’s featured in Cain’s campaign-launch video — than he does to appeal to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ fictional African-American analogue: “Rashid the Barber.”