According to Politico.com, Republican Presidential contender Herman Cain was accused of inappropriate behavior by two women during his tenure as head of the National Restaurant Association. According to the story published on Sunday evening, the women both took a financial payout, left the organization, and stayed silent. The article stated reporters had identified (though Politico chose not to name) the two women. The story quickly went viral. (Note the social media stats at the top of the article in this screen grab just a couple hours after its release.)
As someone who pays attention to the sometimes bizarre and troubling collisions of race and politics, my mind immediately went to the question of who these women are — their race, their political persuasion, and their backgrounds — and whether, if that information is revealed, it will change how these allegations are perceived. The story went viral immediately — and so did the meme of a “high-tech lynching,” a reference to the words of Clarence Thomas after Anita Hill gave her testimony. (In May, Cain said: “To use Clarence Thomas as an example, I’m ready for the same high-tech lynching” — perhaps just a turn of phrase, or a calculated scene-setter for defending his reputation should the allegations come out.)
We recently passed the 20th anniversary of the Thomas confirmation hearings. After the 10th anniversary, Professor Anita Hill opened up about the experience in a forum at Stanford University, covered here by their news department.
“If you think about the way the hearings were structured, the hearings were really about Thomas’ race and my gender,” she [Profesor Hill] said.
In reality, her race and Thomas’ gender were more relevant, she said. During the hearings, “it was as if I had no race or that my race wasn’t significant in the assessments that people made about the truthfulness of my statements,” Hill said. But “how do you think certain people would have reacted if I had come forward and been white, blond-haired and blue-eyed?” she continued. “And I will just give you one name: Strom Thurmond.”
I searched Twitter for the phrase “high-tech lynching” at eleven o’clock Eastern on Sunday, just hours after Politico posted its article.
… and also ran the phrase through the social analytics tool Topsy.
No surprise: “high-tech lynching” — the phrase, that is — is on the rise. Cain is scheduled to face reporters at the National Press Club on Monday. So far, Cain has decried but not denied — decried the coverage of the allegations, without issuing a statement that they are untrue. Will the debate over Cain’s alleged harassment truly echo the Thomas hearings, in vitriol and divisiveness? We should hope not… and perhaps fear so.