Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Could a black man win the GOP nomination?

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
  • LZ Granderson: Could a black candidate win the Republican nomination for president?
  • He says Herman Cain and the media should confront that question
  • Race still matters in America, in terms of economics and racial tension, Granderson says
  • Black unemployment rate is at nearly 16 percent, under a Democratic president, he says

Editor's note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for, has been named Journalist of the Year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN The Magazine and, and a 2010 nominee and the 2009 winner of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation award for online journalism. Follow him on Twitter at @locs_n_laughs. Watch him on CNN Newsroom Tuesdays at 9 a.m. ET.

Grand Rapids, Michigan (CNN) -- We have seen Michele Bachmann being asked questions about her relationship with her husband, Marcus.

We have seen Mitt Romney deal with questions about his religion.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry recently denied rumors he dislikes George W. Bush.

And yet, despite our penchant for asking candidates personal questions that have little or nothing to do with their ability to do their jobs, everyone is avoiding the most basic question with regard to Herman Cain, which is, "Do you honestly believe a black man could win the GOP nomination?"

You know you were thinking it, and if you weren't you probably were not a very good student of history. Or current events.

To be sure, there are plenty of reasons besides race that are hindering Cain. While his experience as CEO of Godfather's Pizza shores up his assertion that he knows how to create jobs, he has never held political office, which makes one wonder if he can create those jobs in a government arena. He also has said some rather offensive things about Muslims and gays that may play well in the GOP primary but should make moderate Republicans question his electability in the general election. But given the racial tension seen during the 2008 campaign, it has to make you wonder if some of the people who drew caricatures of Obama with a spear and such are ready to embrace Cain as their own.

Cain: 'We are where we hoped to be'
Cain: 'I've never held public office!'

I'm not suggesting all Republicans are racists nor am I suggesting all Democrats are colorblind. After all, it was the Democrats who passed Jim Crow laws and a Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, who issued the executive order known as the Emancipation Proclamation. I believe the constant race card playing of the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are counterproductive and I think most people would be shocked to know that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Republican.

So with all of that, I wonder: How is Cain's campaign playing out in the parts of the country where the GOP is strong and the meaning of the Confederate flag debatable?

This is a country where race still matters -- and this is a month in which the nation saw shocking video of a random black man being beaten and then run over by a group of white teenagers yelling racial epithets.

Certainly Cain has already thought about and to a small degree talked about what it means to be a black Republican running against a Democrat who also happens to be the country's first black president.

If Cain isn't ready to talk in more detail about these topics, then he probably isn't ready to fix any of the country's economic problems, which are closely linked to race as well as class. One glance at who entitlements benefit the most tells us that.

Why the media feels more comfortable asking Bachmann and Sarah Palin if they are going to have a catfight than asking Cain if he believes the country is ready to replace a liberal black man with a conservative one is beyond me.

Talking about race does not make one a racist, just as not talking about race doesn't make it go away. I can respect Cain not wanting to spend a great deal of time talking about the color of his skin, but I can't respect a line of thought that wants to ignore it either. Especially when we know many blacks feel compelled to vote Democrat -- regardless of how they feel about the party's policies-- because the GOP refuses to address its image regarding race.

I suspect one of the reasons why Cain's race is being overlooked is not because he's dealt with it already or that we're a post-racial society, but because few people outside his camp believe he can actually win the nomination -- so what does it matter?

Sure his fifth place finish in the Iowa straw poll was better than expected, but come on, a congressman in his party recently referred to Obama's economic policies as a "tar baby." (The congressman later apologized.) Is this person really going to be behind Cain being the GOP nominee?

I'm not saying race qualifies you for office, but I am saying it can disqualify you in the eyes of many. And for those of you who may be tempted to accuse me of trying to inject race into the conversation, save it. I'm just pointing out the black elephant in the room.

If the mainstream media can openly debate if candidate Obama was black enough for the black community, there is certainly room to openly wonder if Cain is too black for a political party that has struggled to shake its image of being full of racists for the past 50 years, and thus has a hard time attracting black voters.

Does Cain believe he can beat Obama without the support of the black community? With blacks saddled with a 15.9% unemployment rate under Democratic leadership, could Cain win enough trust to debunk former RNC chair Michael Steele's epiphany that blacks "don't have a reason to vote Republican."

To me these are simple, yet important questions the country needs to be asking, because we're not turning this country around without racial minorities having a stronger economic footing than they now have. Someone needs to be able to cut through the racial malaise and talk objectively about facts, problems and solutions because entitlements need to be reformed, businesses like GE need to be paying corporate income taxes and folks who thought they were middle class just found out they are the working poor.

In other words, we have some real problems but we are not going to be able to ask ourselves the difficult questions that could help us fix them if the easy ones like Cain, race and the GOP are too much to handle.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.