One of the most renowned surgeons in the history of this country, and now the head of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson, M.D., is under heavy scrutiny all across social media platforms after giving his speech suggesting that Africans, brought to the Western world through the Middle Passage to be made into slaves, were “immigrants” who viewed their coming to the the Americas — the U.S. in particular — as an upgrade for the betterment of their lives.
“That’s what America is about,” Carson said. “A land of dreams and opportunity. There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer [and] even harder for less. But they too had a dream that one day, their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons [and] great-granddaughters might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.” These remarks were made in the surgeon’s first speech addressing the employees of the agency to which his new position applies, regardless of him having no prior knowledge or experience in housing or developmental policy.
The African “immigrants” that he referred to were actually not immigrants, but instead, a massive group of people who were kidnapped, sold, traded and all-in-all stolen from their homes, ripping families apart and ultimately putting a hold on the social and economical mobility of a whole race. These enslaved people were brought to the Americas, packed like sardines in a tin, in the disease-infested bottoms of ships. They were chained to each other and the ship, forced to sleep where they used the bathroom and forced to use the bathroom where they ate — when they were given any food, that is. These groups of people were terrified and unwilling participants in a greedy quest for free labor, treated as property from the moment of their capture, with no way of possibly knowing where they were being taken and what was awaiting them there. There was absolutely no say in any of it.
For Carson, a black man, the descendant of slaves, to make these remarks is somewhere causing Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, Ignatius Sancho, Sojourner Truth and the generations of people who suffered under a system created to use them for all they could give while denying them basic human rights are weeping over the sheer rubbish that has been spewing from his mouth. Not only do his words undermine the efforts that these people, alongside many more, used to spread awareness of inequality and mistreatment of a people, but they also minimize one of the most heinous structures/systems in the history of the world by putting it out there as a mere group of people migrating to find opportunity where it was available. It paints the picture that maybe slavery just ‘isn’t that serious,’ and that is a breeding ground for other racially insensitive commentary, only nurturing hatred.
Carson retracted his statement on social media after the blowup, stating, “The Immigrants made the choice to come to America. They saw this country as a land of opportunity. In contrast, slaves were forced here against their will and lost all their opportunities. We continue to live with that legacy.” This goes to show that having an Ivy League education, being a businessman worth billions, being a regular ‘John Doe’ with a corner store, or a successful brain surgeon with exemplary academic background does not exempt you from ignorance or avoidance on history and race relations.