Alternative fact of the week: Ben Carson's 'immigrants'
Mar 09, 2017 at 12:40 PM
The claim that slaves are immigrants in pursuit of the American Dream was wrong when Ben Carson said it this week, and wrong when Barack Obama said it in 2015.
"There were other immigrants who came in the bottom of slave ships, who 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."
— Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Dr. Ben Carson in his first remarks to HUD staff Monday.
So, technically speaking, it's true that the black Africans who were kidnapped, bound and shipped to America in sub-cattle-quality conditions to serve as slaves for white masters were also immigrants, in the strictest sense of the word. As in, they were people (though hardly recognized as such) who left one country to live permanently in a foreign land. And it's also true that they likely hoped, prayed and wished for better lives for themselves and their descendents. And yes, they "worked even longer, even harder for less," if by "less" you mean "nothing." But you really have to stretch to see that as an American Dream story.
And if you do, you also likely believe that rape is a romp in the hay; forced sterilization is an acceptable form of birth control; concentration camps were resort getaways; child pornographers are Scout leaders; and Historically Black Colleges and Universities are, as U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos recently noted, "real pioneers when it comes to school choice" and "living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality" — rather than historically under-resourced institutions created to educate black youth who were denied access to white schools because of Jim Crow laws and segregation.
Of course slaves weren't immigrants. It was a ridiculous statement when Ben Carson said it this week, and it was ridiculous when President Barack Obama said it during a December 2015 speech at a naturalization ceremony in Washington. "Life in America was not always easy. It wasn't always easy for new immigrants. Certainly it wasn't easy for those of African heritage who had not come here voluntarily, and yet in their own way were immigrants themselves," Mr. Obama said. "There was discrimination and hardship and poverty. But, like you, they no doubt found inspiration in all those who had come before them. And they were able to muster faith that, here in America, they might build a better life and give their children something more."
When Mr. Obama said it, there was no firestorm; media barely noted it. And those who thought twice about the comment appear to have dismissed it as hyperbolic overreach. Not so with Dr. Carson. Liberals have, in a word, freaked. Take this tweet from actor Samuel L. Jackson: "OK!! Ben Carson....I can't! Immigrants ? In the bottom of SLAVE SHIPS??!! MUTHAF[***]A PLEASE!!!#d[**]kheadedtom."
Is that a double standard? Yes.
Is it deserved? Yes.
Here's the difference: Mr. Obama's comment was a rare piece of politically preposterous prose regarding black experience in America. Dr. Carson's is part of a "pattern and practice," to borrow DOJ parlance, within the Trump administration to twist the African American narrative into something that fits the sensibilities of the president's base.
"Our African-American communities are absolutely in the worst shape that they've ever been in before. Ever. Ever. Ever, " President Trump said on the campaign trail, invoking the stereotype of black people as inherently dangerous and urban. "You take a look at the inner cities, you get no education, you get no jobs, you get shot walking down the street. They're worse — I mean, honestly, places like Afghanistan are safer than some of our inner cities."
His education secretary is not-so-subtly selling separation among the races through her strong support for vouchers and school choice, which studies show perpetuates segregated education.
And his newly confirmed HUD secretary is already on record minimizing the country's long history of civil rights violations based on skin color by comparing the Affordable Care Act to slavery, as in: "Obamacare is the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery." Right. Because forcing someone to buy health insurance is the same as forcing them into indentured servitude, where they could look forward to rapes, beatings and hard labor.
Dr. Carson, a retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon, doubled down on his slaves-as-immigrants claim a few hours after he initially made it, saying "I think people need to actually look up the word 'immigrant.'" It's certainly a more palatable characterization, dare we say, more politically correct, than "captive." It's also false. We think Dr. Carson needs to wake up.