John McWhorter Responds to Swerdlick on Cain


David Swerdlick may think I am right about just one thing, but he's right in his response about almost everything. He is wrong in only one: his reading of the intention of my piece from Monday, "Herman Cain and the Sadness of Black Folks."

I meant a single thing: Herman Cain's popularity with a healthy segment of white voters is evidence that racism among whites is ever less prevalent. That, and only that, was my topic. I wrote that we are trained to focus on evidence that it isn't, to the point that we miss that things with bad sides also have some very good points when it comes to the racism issue.

So: My point is not that black people don't like Cain because they don't want to be happy. It's that black people thinking about the prevalence of racism miss the good news in Cain, despite views of his that, for the record, I support no more than do most black people.

And the fact is that Swerdlick demonstrates this in his response. I write that even though Cain can be interpreted as a good story, "we're not supposed to look at it that way," and Swerdlick asks. "Says who?"


Who? Swerdlick, for example, whose piece is a perfect example of teaching us that the main lesson from Cain is gloom rather than progress — when, after all, Cain isn't even going to become president.

John McWhorter is a regular contributor to The Root.

John McWhorter is a contributing editor at The Root. He is an associate professor at Columbia University and the author of several books, including Winning the Race: Beyond the Crisis in Black America and Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English. 

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