Commentary: West and Smiley Lash Out at Herman Cain’s Latest Statement

Commentary: West and Smiley Lash Out at Herman Cain’s Latest Statement

The duo that brought you the poverty tour is quick to fight back.

Published October 12, 2011

Herman Cain, the fiery and controversial Black candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, continues his march toward becoming the African-American community’s most reviled man. “People sometimes hold themselves back because they want to use racism as an excuse for them not being able to achieve what they want to achieve,” Cain said on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday. His argument that some Black Americans are whining about racism rather than working hard drew fire almost immediately, as you might imagine.

At the forefront of those slamming Cain were Tavis Smiley and Cornel West, the outspoken duo behind the recent “poverty tour” of America. Smiley and West have recently been working in concert to attack Obama’s failure to create jobs and wealth in the struggling Black community. But they took a break from focusing on Obama to turn their attention toward Cain’s latest salvo.

“There are disparities in this country in every [socioeconomic] factor that we follow,” said Smiley, a PBS host and political pundit. “In every aspect of our human endeavors in this country there is a racial disparity element that's a part of it. It's almost silly to respond to [Cain] because the evidence is so overwhelming.”

Princeton professor West was more direct: “Black people have been working hard for decades. I think [Cain] needs to get off the symbolic crack pipe and acknowledge the evidence is overwhelming.”

Somewhere between all the arguing, it turns out that everyone is right. Cain is absolutely correct when he says that some people like to complain more than they like to work. That statement is not inaccurate, but it’s problematic because of the context in which it’s being made: simply by virtue of the fact that he’s a Republican, a party composed primarily of white people, Cain is speaking to mostly whites when he complains about Black laziness. That means that while he may not be saying all Black people like to whine more than work, he is making a racially charged statement about African-Americans to a white voting base, many of whom probably harbor racist opinions already. If Cain doesn’t know this, he’s sadly ignorant; if he does know this, it’s especially insidious, because he’s knowingly drumming up racism within a white electorate in order to win votes. Either way, West and Smiley are right to chastise him.


It’s hard out here for a Black person, and it’s not “holding yourself back” to say as much.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

(Photo: Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Written by Cord Jefferson


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