While President Donald Trump and his minions remain staunchly entitled to their own divisive opinions, Dr. Ben Carson who is beginning to settle in to his role as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, had made some spurious statements that liken enslaved people to immigrants on ships bound for a wretched future in America. During his first address to the HUD employees Carson stated that
“There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less. But they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters, might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land”
After the video and the statements expressed went viral Carson took to social media to clarify by summarily stating that
“You can be an involuntary immigrant.”
“Slaves didn’t just give up and die, our ancestors made something of themselves!”
”An immigrant is a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country.”
But this seemed even more damning and Carson’s niggling began to agitate my sensibilities on the topic of slavery and his current role in government under the Trump administration. First off, what may have been written off as a gaffe was actually confirmed by the HUD gaffer. Slaves are immigrants. Many have come to Carson’s defense by stating that the media and Trump’s political foes are the ones conflating the two concepts cynically to disparage the new HUD Secretary.
I don’t think so.
There appears to be a pattern with Dr. Carson and his actual conflation of slavery to almost anything, such as when he conflated Obamacare to slavery. In 2013 Carson stated that it ‘was the worst thing since slavery’. And the concept of abortion was conflated in some contorted way to slavery as well during an interview on NBC in 2016. I will get back to that one a little later.
Dr. Carson’s most recent attempt at ameliorating slavery not only does a disservice to the epistemology of human history, but is a dishonor as well to those persons who lived through abduction and a tortuous demise. Others endured that with bondage and subsequent vassalage in order to attain some degree of dignity, freedom and equality. Only motivated ignorance attempts to conflate slavery with such crude reduction.
This is why I am appalled. It is not because a celebrated black surgeon turned ranking official and politician said it. It is because of the political acrimony and social conditioning that collude by way of an active view of ignorance that is acculturative of insensitive beliefs of tragic events in human history. Ultra and neo conservative groups, libertarians, nationalists, and liberals who dominate the political narratives and framing are complicit in glossing over or holding such insensitive beliefs casually and often without dispute, which are nonetheless disconcerting. The subscription to such motivated ignorance yield to social trappings by which relatively few opportunists thrive at the expense of alienating various groups. The dissensions proffer specious policy-making that widen and deepen inequality which inevitablity destabilizes the union.
Dr. Carson’s critical faculties in medicine seems to be conflated with a republican mantra of small government and conservative principles (rugged individualism) of effort, self-reliance, and hard work for economic prosperity. Well it should be no surprise that most Blacks who lean democratic, as well as immigrants and generally people of color share this stance, with the caveat however, that structural racism does place obstacles of disadvantage comparatively, and contribute heavily to inequality. Carson’s respectability politics and utter adherence to majoritative conformities is something handed down from patriarchal types which is rife with a belief perserverance that tend to obfuscate and blur this reality for him.
Our ancestors made a life of themselves, yes, but under terrible circumstances of injustice that had far-reaching generational consequences. Apparently during Carson’s speech there was a conscious effort to highlight only the other immigrants aboard those ships—by disregarding the enslaved, their more respectable mention came after the blowback.
Carson is also entertaining the thought that those immigrants “worked even longer, even harder for less” than those shackled onto those slave ships in that instance. Dr. Carson’s clarification over social media is also telling — essentially shifting the burden of the slave trade as somewhat entirely unto Africans selling themselves into slavery, negating the earlier raids by the Portugese and duplicity by Europeans that were a precursor to the Atlantic Slave Trade. Again Carson mischaracterizes history with apocryphal oversimplications of slavery.
Carson also equated abortion to the experience of slavery.
“Think about this. During slavery — and I know that’s one of those words you’re not supposed to say, but I’m saying it — during slavery, a lot of the slave owners thought that they had the right to do whatever they wanted to that slave. Anything that they chose to do,” Carson said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“And, you know, what if the abolitionist had said, you know, ‘I don’t believe in slavery. I think it’s wrong. But you guys do whatever you want to do?’” he added. “Where would we be?"
Who says you are not suppose to talk about slavery? Does your empathy for white guilt prevent you from talking about the truth and consequence of this? Slave owners actually did carry on with doing anything they wanted to do with many slaves, regardless of any perceived unenforced right otherwise. The innocuous questions at the end of the excerpt above seemed to have gone unchallenged because of the absurdity of the false equivalence used no matter which side of the abortion debate you stand on. The abolitionist in that supposition is constructed on sincere fiction.
This essay and any other critique written as a challenge to Dr. Carson’s thought process on slavery should not be interpreted as ridicule or malice towards him. This right here is merely a slice of humble pie.