The liberal site Think Progress has linked to my post about Herman Cain’s childhood in segregated Atlanta. And while I’m always happy for links (okay, they never actually linked to my story) — they have misinterpreted some of Cain’s remarks to me.
Here’s what Think Progress wrote:
Cain’s tone-deaf attitude to bigotry is unfortunately nothing new. The candidate and conservative icon recently recounted a story to The Daily Caller’s Matt Lewis where, when he was young, his mother warned his brother and him to only drink from the water fountain reserved for African Americans, a vestige of white racism. Lewis asked Cain what he learned from that experience, and Cain said, “We looked at each other and said, the water tastes the same! What’s the big deal?”
Based on the first sentence of that graph, it is clear to me that Think Progress (and, in fairness, they apparently got this idea from someone at Salon) has misinterpreted Cain’s remarks as an endorsement of segregation.
When Cain (who was recalling what he said as a little boy, mind you) recounted saying, “What’s the big deal?”, it was clear to me he was mocking the very institution of segregation, essentially observing that society had created a ridiculous policy of discrimination, which, at the end of the day, was utterly pointless and arbitrary. (All this fuss, and the water tastes the same!)
Without explaining my interpretation, I went back and asked Cain’s press person for her interpretation of Cain’s remarks. Unknowingly, she confirmed her interpretation essentially matched mine.
Of course, it could be that, as a writer, I simply failed to do my job of thoroughly explaining what was clear to me at the time (and within the context of our conversation) that Cain meant. And honestly, the notion that anyone would think a black man who grew up under Jim Crow might be an apologist for racism, never occurred to me.
Or it could be that Cain’s remarks serve as a sort of Rorschach test, whereby ones interpretation of Cain’s remarks says more about their world view than his.
Either way, I wanted to set the record straight.