Is Herman Cain racist against African-Americans?

GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain caused a firestorm last week for saying that African-American voters had been “brainwashed” into unfairly dismissing conservative views. Democratic political strategist Cornell Belcher, also an African-American, promptly blasted Cain’s remarks as “racist” but said that the incident was a “teachable moment.” I agree that the incident was a “teachable moment,” but my lesson plan would be vastly different from Belcher’s.

Here’s what Cain said: “African-Americans have been brainwashed into not being open minded, not even considering a conservative point of view. I have received some of that same vitriol simply because I am running for the Republican nomination as a conservative. So it’s just brainwashing and people not being open minded, pure and simple.” Cain made his remarks to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.

Belcher, appearing on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360°, pounced on Cain’s statement. “You know, if I came on your show, Anderson, and I said, all Jewish people are brainwashed, I probably wouldn’t be invited back to CNN and I assure you the condemnation would be swift and it’d be powerful and be strong,” said Belcher. “What Herman Cain said was a racist, bigoted statement and it should be treated like a racist and bigoted person who makes those racist and bigoted statements.” (For the record, Cain never claimed that “all” African-Americans are brainwashed.)

My friend Fred Radewagen posted the video of Belcher’s remarks on Facebook and quipped: “Finally, a liberal who concedes that it is possible for African-Americans to be racist.”

Belcher made a point of repeating that no one could get away with calling Jews brainwashed. (Why, because the Jews control the media?) But Belcher missed an obvious point. True, it probably would not have gone over well had Belcher declared that all Jews were brainwashed. But Belcher isn’t Jewish. Criticism of one’s own community is generally not presumed to be motivated by racism or bigotry.

I happen to be Jewish (and also half Samoan, which makes me as Jewish as President Obama is black). If I were to hear a Jewish pundit declare that Jews were “brainwashed” into voting Republican in Anthony Weiner’s old district, I wouldn’t accuse the pundit of anti-Semitism or call for his banishment from CNN. I would accuse the pundit of stupidity, and accept the challenge to join a passionate debate within the Jewish community.

I’ll further confound Belcher with the following: I believe that the many Jews who are completely closed-minded to conservative views — particularly on fiscal and economic issues — are brainwashed. They’re not literally brainwashed, of course. Like Cain, I’m using the term as a figure of speech to explain the stubborn closed-mindedness of some in my community. And I can assure you, I’m quite proud of my Jewish heritage.

Michael Nutter, the African-American mayor of Philadelphia, conjured some of the worst stereotypes of African-American youth in a recent speech before his congregation: “If you walk into somebody’s office with your hair uncombed and a pick in the back, and your shoes untied, and your pants half down, tattoos up and down your arms and on your neck, and you wonder why somebody won’t hire you? They don’t hire you ’cause you look like you’re crazy!”

Nutter’s speech was reminiscent of remarks made by fellow Philadelphian Bill Cosby in 2004. Referring to inner-city African-Americans, Cosby said: “They’re standing on the corner and they can’t speak English. I can’t even talk the way these people talk: ‘Why you ain’t,’ ‘Where you is.’ … And I blamed the kid until I heard the mother talk. And then I heard the father talk. … Everybody knows it’s important to speak English except these knuckleheads. … You can’t be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth!”