We'll Tell You When to Be Offended, Herman

Over the weekend Herman Cain summoned up the collective pain and anguish of the long-suffering sable masses and boldly charged that the name on Rick Perry ranch was "insensitive." 



At RedState, Erick Erickson concluded, "It also seems to be a slander Herman Cain is picking up and running with as a way to get into second place." Glenn Reynolds remarked that until now, Cain's "big appeal is that he's not just another black race-card-playing politician." Over at the Daily Caller, Matt Lewis called Cain's remarks "a cheap shot, and, perhaps a signal that Cain is willing to play the race card against a fellow Republican when it benefits him." 

The key phrase here is "fellow Republican." Because, you see, no one thought Cain was "playing the race card" when he said in the same program that black people are "brainwashed" into voting for Democrats and suggested that black people who vote Republican are "thinking for themselves." Cain wasn't rebuked by conservatives when he previously suggested President Barack Obama was not "a strong black man," implied liberals were out to commit genocide against blacks through support for abortion rights, and said he wouldn't appoint a Muslim to his cabinet. 

 None of that, in the eyes of the conservatives who cheered him for those remarks, constituted "playing the race card." But when a man who is old enough to recall living under American apartheid gets a little emotional over a piece of land called "Niggerhead," that's where the right draws the line. Not just because Cain is attacking a fellow Republican, but because he stepped out of the proper role of a black conservative, which is to reassure Republicans that their political problems with race are the inventions of a liberal conspiracy. Cain just ran head first into the brick wall of conservative anti-anti-racism, the attitude on the right that accusations of racism directed at white people are of far greater consequence than any lingering vestiges of institutional racism nonwhites might face.

Of course Cain, himself, made no mention of the word racism. But the mere whiff of any criticism  which is rooted race, directed at a Republican, is enough to bring the dog out.

It has charged earlier by some commenters that liberals only offer a racial critique when it's a conservative. I can't speak for "liberals," but the record on this board is fairly transparent. 

It's not so much that there are no liberal racists, it's that liberals have cultivated a constituency which takes racism seriously as opposed to claiming that  Karl Rove actually writes Bill Maher's jokes. All liberals aren't on board with that constituency, and so there's a fight. This is a good thing.

But the GOP has no real need of black voters, and to a lesser extent, non-white voters period. And on the national level, it has no need of black candidates to speak on race--except in so much as they defuse the sense that an uncomfortable portion of the GOP's base is racist. 

Herman Cain--a man who owes his place in the primary to an almost exclusively white electorate--forgot that prime directive. Today he was given a reminder, and is now...

"They painted over it. End of story! I accept Gov. Perry's response on that."

...working as intended.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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