New York Times reporter Susan Saulny suggested G.O.P. presidential contender Herman Cain employed old anti-black stereotypes in Wednesday’s “Behind Cain’s Humor, a Question of Seriousness,” even letting a professor accuse Cain of using “a certain kind of minstrelsy to play to white audiences.”
It is safe to say that no other Republican on the campaign trail this year -- or ever -- has begun a speech with the phrase “Awww, shucky ducky!” the way Herman Cain did this year to the utter delight of his audience, which responded with wild applause.
Few candidates compare themselves to a flavor of ice cream, but Mr. Cain is intent on letting people know that he is like “Häagen-Dazs black walnut,” the point being that he is certainly not a flavor of the week because it “tastes good all the time.”
Mr. Cain, who is black, has a penchant for gold ties because, as he explains with flirtatious flair, “that color happens to look good against this beautiful dark skin.”
And while his casual style of racially inflected humor works to ingratiate him with mostly white audiences at campaign rallies, it has angered some black critics, who believe he uses age-old stereotypes.
He has no qualms, for instance, about playing off black clichés: should he become president, his Secret Service codename should be “Cornbread,” he wrote in his memoir, “This is Herman Cain! My Journey to the White House.” Mr. Cain’s traveling aide, Nathan Naidu, already refers to him as Cornbread on the internal campaign schedule. (Why? Mr. Cain says he just loves cornbread.)
Those kinds of comments have drawn criticism from the likes of academics like Cornel West and entertainers like Harry Belafonte, who called Mr. Cain “a bad apple.”
Actually, West and Belafonte (who are both radical left-wing activists, which Saulny failed to mention) have called Cain a lot worse, as Matt Hadro showed at NewsBusters. Here’s West raising Cain on CNN October 10: “Well, I mean it's fascinating to juxtapose on the one hand Herman Cain who has -- who's got mediocrity, mendacity, mean-spiritedness toward the poor, and now mean-spiritedness toward black people fighting for their lives in this very ugly economy.”
Here’s Harry Belafonte on Cain, as aired on the Joy Behar show October 14 and captured by Noel Sheppard at NewsBusters:
BELAFONTE: “...I think he’s a bad apple, and people should look at his whole card. He’s not what he says he is.
BEHAR: No. I don’t think he has a prayer anyway in the election actually.
BELAFONTE: I don’t think prayers were created for him.
Saulny moved on to accusation of "minstrelsy":
Of particular concern, some say, is how he seems to make a parody of black vernacular and culture.
“It makes the hair on my neck stand up,” said Ulli K. Ryder, a visiting scholar at the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America at Brown University. “The larger issue that a lot of people have, and I certainly have, is that he uses a certain kind of minstrelsy to play to white audiences. Referencing negative stereotypes in order to get heard to a white audience in the 21st century is really a problem.”
Take “shucky ducky.”
“It’s a nonsensical thing, down-home Southern black vernacular,” Ms. Ryder said. “It’s coded as a black vernacular and it’s uneducated black vernacular, so I find it really interesting that he would reference that, seeing as he is not that.”
Nonetheless, some strategists say that Mr. Cain has succeeded at being the everyman candidate, much like Mike Huckabee, whose clever quips helped him win the Iowa caucuses four years ago.