Cain "Makes the Hair on my Neck Stand Up"

Sometimes the most rabid protestors are the guiltiest of the sin they hate.  Ulli Ryder in the New York Daily News has decided that Herman Cain is a racist.  Ryder believes Cain is guilty of pandering to rich white conservatives and therefore he is furthering old racist stereotypes to the detriment of the African-American community.  She thinks there are specific criteria that can determine a racist and Cain fits those criteria.  However, does Ryder actually fit that rubric herself?

Susan Saulny of the New York Times quoted Ms. Ryder in a New York Times piece entitled, ‘Behind Cain’s humor, a question of seriousness.’ October 19, 2011.  Ryder is quoted as saying:

“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.”

Ryder is offended by the ‘ick’ factor of Cain using Southern black vernacular.  She’s especially offended Cain uses it in front of white people.  From this, she surmises Cain is acting as a minstrel to his audience.  He’s using negative stereotypes to have access to the group he’s addressing.  She’s especially annoyed that Cain, a highly educated man, would ‘revert’ to that kind of speech.  For her, it seems Cain is using old stereotypes to ingratiate himself to white people.

The problem with Ryder is, she’s never heard Cain talk to people before.  Herman Cain’s speech patterns are a mixture of articulate elocution and down-homespun plainspeak.  Ryder has obviously been out to lunch because she thinks this is an act Cain is performing and not his own particular style of communicating.  She sees his skin color, hears his words to a conservative audience, and using her own perspective immediately assumes the worst.  If Cain is talking to conservatives, they must be white, rich, privileged, and therefore racist.  Her immediate bias toward conservatives is the essence of racism.  She presumes a set of negative facts based on nothing more than skin color.  That’s racism.

Ryder’s remarks must have caused her some celebrity because it caused her to write a defense of her beliefs in the New York Daily News.  ‘Herman Cain’s use of racial language is rhetoric we must refuse,’ Oct. 23, 2011.   Ryder argues, “I stand by my claim that Cain‘s speech is like a form of minstrelsy. This is very different from President Obama, who some say speaks “black” when in front of all-black audiences. In Obama’s case, the use of folksy speech tells his audience: “I am like you and I understand you.” For Cain, the effect is the opposite: “I do not look like you and I am not a threat to you.” It seems the most important question is: Why is either of these strategies necessary in 2011?”

What an interesting differentiation between Obama and Cain.  Cain, a black man raised in the South, has a style of speaking that incorporates educated diction with his own particular colloquialisms.  Obama, raised in Indonesia, Hawaii, and here and there, doesn’t have a native language pattern.  [Except Paqu-EE-Staan].  Upon moving to Chicago, in order to establish ‘street cred’, Obama affected his speech patterns in order to ‘reach’ the people.  There is no authentic black vernacular in Obama’s vocabulary and tonal cadence without him artificially including one.  While Cain is authentically a son of the African-American  South, Obama is a hanger-on Chicago fraud, at least as far as language and linguistics goes.  Ryder’s analysis is completely false.  So what is Ryder really getting at?

If we look into Ryder’s previous writings, she begins to give us a taste of what her definition of racism truly is.  In an analysis of Charlie Sheen’s unintelligible rantings about Jews and race, she argues this;

“Anti-racism requires an individual to actively work against inequality. It requires an individual to recognize the ways they have personally benefitted from an unequal society and strive to both reduce the amount of unearned privilege they receive and try to create a more equal society for everyone.”

Ulli Ryder in OpenSalon, ‘The Sheen Defense: Charlie Sheen and Multiracial Identity,’ March 12, 2011.

Ryder’s defines racism as not recognizing that racism is endemic to the system and isn’t working to eliminate “unearned privilege.”  According to her definition, her job as race baiter is the only socio-political position that isn’t racist.  Ryder’s living is making racism a driving force in the country and taking from some to give to others.  Without a perception of pervasive racism, her position as race baiter would be inconsequential.  So, she needs this artificial construct of racism to endure.  Ryder also feeds off economic inequalities.  Her definition makes inequality a capricious measure of personal worth, based on race.    Therefore, it is she, and her fellow race baiters, who become the arbiters of who should have what.

Ryder simply proves that her warped sense of racism is blatant self-interest.  Her position as an academic socio-political gadfly only exists as a result of a strange view of racism as a many-headed hydra and not as a social issue.  In fact, Ryder’s racist view of the world is in diametrically opposed to that of the civil rights leaders of the past.  While Ryder takes a cynical view of the America as a hostile battleground of hatred, others have seen it differently.

From ‘Rosa Parks, My Story,’ Parks writes, “I have spent over half my life teaching love and brotherhood, and I feel that it is better to continue to try to teach or live equality and love than it would be to have hatred or prejudice.  Everyone living together in peace and harmony and love . . . that’s the goal we seek, and I think the more people there are who reach that state of mind, the better we will all be.”  Parks is arguing that hearts aren’t changed by attacks and labels.  Hearts are changed with greater understanding and by example.  Parks’ goal was a world more harmonious and equal.  Ryder’s dystopic world is one of constant conflict and recriminations, disorder and hate.

Herman Cain also sees the United States in a dynamic and positive way.  He rejects Ryder’s viewpoint of endemic racism and said on Hannity, “I don’t have a lot of patience for people who want to blame racism on the fact that some people don’t make it in America.”  The world of Democratic Party-legislated segregation is over.  The social fabric of the United States has changed.  Cain’s point is that African-Americans have achieved socio-economic success and that race is no longer the limiting factor it once was.  In fact, his success is the embodiment of that promise.  Cain sees the socio-economic climate of this country as now independent of racial barriers and open to success for all.  His message is the one of hope while Ryder’s is the message of despair.

I’ll take Parks’ and Cain’s world over Ryder’s any day.


Crossposted at Looktruenorth.com