Monday, October 31, 2011

Blowing old allegations into headline news: The sex rumors about Herman Cain, and the ugly spectre of black men as sexual predators

POLITICO reports that back in the 1990s, "at least" two unnamed female employees of the National Restaurant Association, which black GOP Presidential candidate Herman Cain headed from 1996-1999, complained to colleagues and senior association officials about alleged inappropriate sexual behavior by Cain involving alleged conversations supposedly "filled" with innuendo or personal questions of a sexually suggestive nature, which supposed unspecified conduct allegedly offended the women and forced them to leave their jobs at the trade group. The unnamed women supposedly signed agreements with the restaurant group that gave them financial payouts. The agreements, we are told, included language that bars the women from talking about their departures.

POLITICO says it knows the identities of the two women but, for privacy concerns, is not publishing their names.

So the uppity black Republican is crucified by innuendo and unsubstantiated accusations, and the women who supposedly were wronged can't be subjected to the well-honed scalpel of cross-examination by those few media types who'd be willing to subject them to it.

In the days ahead, some members of the news media will try to dredge up the more-than-decade-old allegations in the hope of "trying" the claims in the court of last resort, the American media circus. The same media circus, by the way, that gave such a fair "hearing" to the Duke lacrosse boys, the Hofstra defendants and too many others to chronicle. And, yes, that was sarcasm.

In the end, the result of such efforts is as predictable as it will be unsatisfying: it will be "he said/she said," which means, he loses, because when it comes to sex allegations in America, the accusation becomes its own conviction, and it's usually enough to destroy any man, especially a prominent black Republican.

The Cain innuendo raises the spectre of America's shameful habit of stereotyping black men and boys as hyper-sexualized primitives, barely able to control their urges when it comes to women. It was that ugly stereotype that made a white woman's cry of "rape" a death sentence for countless innocent black men and boys in the Old South, and in too many other places (Duluth, most prominently).

Remember the 1897 New York Times piece we talked about earlier this year? It was an unabashed defense of the practice of lynching blacks for the crime of rape. The writer noted that the victims of such lynchings were "generally black negroes of the lowest order" because, he asserted, "the negro is generally the criminal" and "he seems particularly given to this odious crime." What about false claims? Make sure you're sitting down when you read this: "The only ground of objection to this mode of dealing with these criminals is the fear that the innocent might suffer. As the most careful precautions are taken against this result it is not a likely thing lest the wrong man is executed."

Have these attitudes really changed?  Surely the New York Times would never again print such an odious celebration of prejudice against black men, but the unspoken beliefs still bubble just beneath the surface. Can you say "Hofstra"?  As Clarence Thomas said at the circus that masqueraded as his Senate confirmation hearing: "This is not an opportunity to talk about difficult matters privately or in a closed environment. This is a circus. It's a national disgrace. And from my standpoint, as a black American, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you. You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree."

How should the allegations about Cain be treated?  The way the news media treated the sexual assault allegation against Al Gore. Or, rather, didn't treat it. The news media barefly covered it because it wasn't newsworthy, you say?  But a rape claim against minority teenagers at Hofstra was newsworthy?  Um, right. Put it this way, Al Gore, a former US Vice President, is one of the most revered icons of the left. He got more popular votes in the 2000 election than George W. Bush. He won the Nobel Prize and the Academy Award. But the rape claim against him was scarcely worth mentioning?

For the record, when the Gore claim finally hit the news last year -- several years after it was first made -- and was quickly buried by the press, I said this: ". . . the way the news media covered the claim against Gore is the way the news media should cover all rape claims." A lot of conservative talk show hosts were quick to malign Gore for political advantage.

In covering the innuendo against Cain arising from two alleged claims from the 1990s, we should be guided by feminist Susan Estrich, who, last year, discussed how we should treat the claim against Al Gore. "[T]he problem is," she said, "we just don't know and there's no way to determine." Then she said this: "I'm the mother of a son and a daughter. And I would hate like heck for my daughter ever to be in a position where she faces an unwanted sexual advance. . . . . But I'm also the mother of a son. And you and I both witnessed, for instance, in the Duke case, a number of young men whose lives were — for all intends [sic] and purposes . . . ruined by a false accusation."

Somehow, I don't think too many people will care if Herman Cain was falsely accused. Just a hunch.