Thursday, October 13, 2011

Well, How Do You Measure Progress?

So, I'm sitting in my office this clear Bloomington fall afternoon and my friend and classmate, Kim, asks me what I think about Herman Cain. "No, no, no", is the only response that I can give her. "But why?", she asks.

Not wanting to tell the real reason, I am vague and mention something about his views on unemployment. I honestly don't even know Herman Cain's views on unemployment. The real reason why I'm not a fan is because Herman Cain called me brainwashed. Now, I'm no political strategist or anything, but I do know that accusing an entire population of potential voters of being brainwashed is not exactly how you win them over, even if it is what you believe. Especially when they are not brainwashed.

Let me take a step back a second and not for speak for people who I don't even know. Maybe some people (of all classes and ethnicities) are brainwashed, but I am not. I am not brainwashed to vote for liberals, and I don't appreciate being accused. This may make me overly sensitive, but it also makes Herman Cain one less vote. Who loses more in this situation?

Anyhow, the point of this post is not to rant and riff about what politicians should and should not say to garner my vote, but rather to encourage discussion on a specific platform of Cain's and the larger implications of it. Herman Cain has a very deterministic, can-do perspective of life and he believes that any barrier (including racial barriers) can be overcome with self-empowerment and self-improvement. I agree with this perspective to a large extent, but I know that it has its limits. The limit of such a deterministic perspective when you are running for president of the United States is that not everyone shares it.

This leads to relatively benign issues (such as being attacked by Harry Belafonte) to much more complex policy and institutional problems. Let's discuss the video by Harry Belafonte a bit, because it actually brings me to the real discussion.

Herman Cain posits that we now live in a post-racial America and people can lift themselves up by their bootstraps and become whatever it is they want. Harry Belafonte posits that just because Herman Cain has been able to do this to a certain extent does not mean that it's possible for everyone. The larger discussion behind Harry's point is that progress is not measured by how far Herman Cain or Barack Obama or Condoleeza Rice or Colin Powell has come, but how far an entire population has come.

How should we measure progress of African-Americans? Is it how far certain individuals have come or is it the general progress of the group? Does the fact that an African-American man has become president mean that racial prejudice is a concept of the past? Does it mean that black people everywhere have access to the opportunities of their interest? What are we as Americans striving for anyway?

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