This has been a very interesting couple of weeks when it comes to the issue of racism in our country. Herman Cain, the much talked-about semi-front runner in the race for the Republican nomination, has garnered a great deal of attention. It is hard to deny that some of the reason he gets so much attention is that he is prone to say some very provocative things. Add to that the fact that he is the only Black running for the Republican ticket, ironically for the chance to run against our nations’s first half-Black President, and you can see why the media loves him.
But one of the most surprising and controversial statements Cain has made, in the last week at least, is his comment that racism does not play a significant role anymore in holding Blacks or “anybody” back in this country. Not surprisingly many on the Left and many within the Black community railed against this statement and attacked Cain for pandering.
Now I don’t know if Cain was saying that to curry favor with conservative voters, though I suspect he knows statements like that certainly endear him even more to those on the Right who already believe such a thing to be absolutely true.
But here’s the thing. At the risk of alienating some of my progressive friends, I have to say I think Cain was not completely wrong in what he said. While Cain oversimplifies what is a very complex issue, and while he would be completely wrong if he was implying that racism no longer exists and plays no part in the lives of Americans, I don’t think that’s what he was saying. And I think it is important that we not get caught up in denying anything someone says on the Right, anymore than it is right when those on the other side of the aisle want to argue against everything Obama or anyone on the Left might say.
What I do agree with about what Cain said, was the general point that despite the fact that discrimination and racism clearly still exists, we as Blacks and other minorities must not keep pretending that sometimes lots of other factors do come into play when it comes to why some make it and some don’t. Skin color is not always the most important. And we cannot pretend that far too many Blacks, and other minorities, have proven that skin clor and ethnicity does not prevent them from succeeding at the highest levels. In other words racism is not the biggest thing in their lives and it does not stop them from succeeding.
Racism exists. But so does our first brown-skinned President. Racism exists. But Oprah Winfrey is one of the richest women in America. Racism exists. But in Forbes most recent rankings of the “Highest Paid Men in Entertainment” a black man, Tyler Perry, was at the top of the heap. Not Steven Spielberg. Tyler Perry. Racism exists. But we have some of the biggest and richest athletes, performers and business leaders in America.
Does their existence mean institutional and individual racism does not still impact the lives of many minorities? It would be silly to say people aren’t impacted in often terrible ways. But it is important, for all of us, to also acknowledge that we need to get beyond the notion that racism is the biggest thing and that because of it, Blacks, and others, simply have no chance.
Personally, I simply refuse to let the existence of the very real racism be an excuse for what I don’t accomplish. Of course it impacts me in ways subtle and not so subtle. And as I said before, I don’t think Cain was denying it’s existence, so I agree with his main point, as I understand it, which is that racism is simply not the biggest barrier to what I can do. Only I can stop myself. I recognize that for some, with less education, a worse economic start, and possessing other major hurdles to success, the power of racism can and is a great factor. And people cannot simply will their way to success. Which again is another place I disagree with one of Cain’s inciting statements, that anybody not rich only has themselves to blame, as he said referring to the Occupy Wall Street protesters.
Racism, it’s roots, complexities, and impact, is a very complicated issue. But it doesn’t help move our society further in the discussion or actual matter, if we have a knee-jerk response to comments or opinions on the subject. Cain was making an important point, an undeniable point in a way. He oversimplified, but let’s be honest and be willing to see that though it bothers some to see it, his general point that racism is not the biggest factor holding many Blacks back, has merit and is worthy of real discussion.