The Herman Cain Scandal and the Role of Race

The Herman Cain Scandal and the Role of Race

As the sexual harassment allegations against Herman Cain snowball, questions about his treatment arise.

Published November 3, 2011

Sex scandals are not uncommon during a heated election season but the latest sexual harassment allegations against GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain are causing many political watchers to scratch their heads. 


Is Cain being targeted because of race and does the media treat Black conservatives more harshly than others? 


It should be made clear that sexual harassment of any type should never be tolerated. But stepping back to look at what might be fueling the scandal begs a closer look.


This latest scandal and the Clarence Thomas sexual harassment case ring eerily familiar. And while the two cases are distinct, they both involve strong, outspoken, conservative Black men who harbor polarizing points of view.   


What is to be made of the apparent media onslaught and the nonstop attacks Cain is receiving from the left and right?


George Curry, political commentator and former editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service, believes the hoopla is par for the course for all front-runners regardless of race. He said, “It became a story when Cain got ahead in the polls.  When that happens it’s a whole new game. But it’s not just that, it’s also the way he’s handled it."


Curry adds, “The first rule in these scandals is to get everything out and get it out quickly. One of the reasons why this thing has lasted so long is because he’s changed his story so often. This is more about crisis mismanagement than anything else.”


Conservative media mainstays Anne Coulter and Rush Limbaugh rushed to Cain’s defense when the news broke, painting him as a target of a liberal media dead set on destroying Black conservatives.


Curry disagrees with that assessment saying, “Consider the sources. They have no credibility.  They are the last people to speak to the issues facing Black America.”


But political strategist Charles Ellison doesn’t completely discount the notion that a racial component may be at play here.


Ellison says, “There is definitely a racial dynamic since you have this rather powerful, prominent Black Republican voice, conservative man in the line of fire. It seems that when you have scandals dealing with Black Republican men, all types of racially charged stereotypes are at work. The stereotype of the sexually aggressive Black man tends to come out,” Ellison continued.


While it’s worth pointing out that this scandal could potentially take down Cain’s political prospects, it’s also worth noting that white politicians like former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Bill Clinton and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani continue to thrive despite high-profile sex scandals.   


Ellison said, “The racial undertones are quite apparent because he’s a Black man running in a Republican primary. As big tent as Republicans would like to be, you’re just going to have some racial dynamics there. In terms of his treatment, I believe that depends on what we see in the polls next week, and how people receive his accusers should they come out.”


Many are waiting to see what race the accusers in the Cain case are, believing that will only add another racially charged layer to a story that takes a new twist by the day.

(Photo: Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images)

Written by Andre Showell


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