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Ben Carson: President Obama Was “Raised White,” Can’t Identify With African-Americans

Ben Carson may be essentially a non-factor in the Presidential race at this point, but that hasn’t stopped him from continuing to make controversial statements:

Ben Carson is the only person in the 2016 presidential field who is vying to become the country’s second African-American president.

If truth be told, however, he’s not entirely sure he wouldn’t actually be the first

Carson, speaking during a half-hour sit-down with POLITICO’s “Off Message” podcast as he waited for the results of Saturday’s South Carolina primary (he finished sixth out of six), laid out his views on racism – and his belief that his experience as poor black kid in 1960s Detroit represents the real experience of his people in way that Barack Obama could never understand.

“He’s an ‘African’ American. He was, you know, raised white,” said the world-renowned neurosurgeon, whose single mother worked three jobs – and occasionally relied on government aid – to elevate Carson and his older brother from the grinding poverty of ghetto life.

“I mean, like most Americans, I was proud that we broke the color barrier when he was elected, but … he didn’t grow up like I grew up … Many of his formative years were spent in Indonesia. So, for him to, you know, claim that, you know, he identifies with the experience of black Americans, I think, is a bit of a stretch.”

On some level, of course, Carson is correct in pointing out that President Obama does not share the same lineage as the vast majority of African-Americans in the United States, most of whom can trace their lineage back to someone who was brought to the United States as a slave or indentured servant. Instead, he is the son of an African man who was an immigrant to the United States in the early 1960s who married a white American woman and who was raised, largely, by his mother as a single woman or by his Grandparents, who were white. It’s also true that Obama spent a short part of his childhood living in Indonesia with his mother and her second husband. None of that means, however, that Carson can know whether or not the President, as a child or as a younger man, has not experienced some of the same racial discrimination and prejudice that African-Americans generally have experienced at various points in their life. Indeed, President Obama has spoken numerous times about points in his life when he experienced many of the same types of discrimination, prejudice, or pre-judgment based on his skin color that seem to be common among African-American young men as well as times when he was mistaken for a valet or a waiter because he was one of the only dark-skinned people at gathering in even seemingly open-minded places such as New York City.

In other words, the fact that President Obama was raised in a different environment than Carson, who grew up in the ghettos of Detroit and Boston during some very bad times for African-Americans, doesn’t mean that Obama has not experienced racial discrimination and to boil it down to the idea that Obama was “raised white” and therefore doesn’t know what it means to be African-American. The fact that Carson would make the distinction about how Obama was raised is odd in and of itself, but to go from there to make the claim that Obama can’t relate to the experience of African-Americans in general is little more than an example of Carson making assumptions for which he has no evidence. Indeed, for people who tend to treat someone unequally, or treat them differently based on the color of their skin, how they were raised is irrelevant and would not be something they would even know about to begin with. Carson deserves much credit for overcoming the adversity of his youth to achieve what he did in his career as a physician, but he’s crossing the line into some truly bizarre territory when he makes comments like this.

Carson’s comments about Obama are made even more bizarre by his assertions regarding his own recent experiences related to race:

When I pressed Carson on whether he’d experienced any racism in today’s Republican Party, though, he flatly denied it – and said the real issue was progressives who couldn’t accept the existence of a truly conservative black man. “They assume because you’re black, you have to think a certain way,” he said. “And if you don’t think that way, you’re ‘Uncle Tom,’ you’re worthy of every horrible epithet they can come up with; whereas, if I weren’t black, then I would just be a Republican.”

Yet, for a nanosecond, he admitted that he’s not exactly on the lookout for racists lurking in a party that is, by most estimates, about 90 percent white – with blacks like Carson making up just two percent of the total. “I don’t find any particular problem being an African American in the Republican Party,” he said.

(…)

At that point, I admitted to being a little befuddled. I’ve personally witnessed racist comments at events staged for candidates in both parties – the most recent being at a Trump rally in Lowell, Massachusetts earlier this year when I witnessed two young men calling a pro-immigrant protester a “nigger.” Back in 2008, I heard a Clinton supporter in Toledo, Ohio use the same epithet to describe then-Sen. Obama.

Carson was steadfast in defending his party (this is a candidate who has said a Muslim shouldn’t run for president unless he or she renounces sharia law) and when I asked him if Trump was a racist, he replied, “I have not witnessed anything that would make me say that about him.”

Perhaps it’s a matter of Carson not seeing what he doesn’t want to see.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. James Pearce says:

    This was tremendously funny to some of the conservatives I work with…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  2. Rafer Janders says:

    Probably more interesting than whatever idiotic thing Carson has said lately is the question of what, exactly, people think is wrong with Carson. Series of mini-strokes? Undiagnosed Mad Cow disease? Too much time huffing the ether? Or just a deeply, deeply weird and bizarre dude?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  3. Jenos Idanian says:

    Obama’s ancestry is far, far more likely to feature slave owners and slave traders and slavers than slaves.

    The relevance of that can be questioned, but not the truth of it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 14

  4. grumpy realist says:

    @Rafer Janders: Does Ben Carson have a history of saying wacky things, or has this just started recently?

    Ben Carson may work well with the Evangelical population, but to the rest of us he sounds like a nut.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  5. legion says:

    Has anone told Carson that Obama isn’t actually running?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  6. mantis says:

    Obama is a secret Muslim who lived in Indonesia and was mentored by black communists. You know, like most white people.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  7. James Pearce says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    Obama’s ancestry is far, far more likely to feature slave owners and slave traders and slavers than slaves.

    True and yet….racists continue to hate him for the color of his skin.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  8. C. Clavin says:

    Even Carson says this is being blown out of proportion…calling the discussion a “nothing-burger”.
    Then he suggested we could use truth serum rather than torture.
    Quality field there, Republicans.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  9. Jc says:

    I think David Chapelle would have had some great Carson sketches if he still did his show…The material almost writes itself.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  10. Jenos Idanian says:

    @legion: Has anone told Carson that Obama isn’t actually running?

    Obama ran against George W. Bush twice, and he’s still being run against now. Maybe you ought to spread the word among your comrades…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 14

  11. An Interested Party says:

    It’s incredible that this fool has been such an extraordinary surgeon and such a ridiculous human being…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  12. Monala says:

    @Jenos Idanian: actually, Obama descends from slaves on his mother’s side.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  13. Hal_10000 says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Probably more interesting than whatever idiotic thing Carson has said lately is the question of what, exactly, people think is wrong with Carson. Series of mini-strokes? Undiagnosed Mad Cow disease? Too much time huffing the ether? Or just a deeply, deeply weird and bizarre dude?

    It’s proof that genius in one field does not necessarily translate into other fields.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  14. Gustopher says:

    Unless Ben Carson delivered this statement while either rapping or breakdancing, I call foul.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  15. Tyrell says:

    Carson is essentially and partially correct on some of this. But he paints it over with not just a broad brush, but a roller and a heavy duty sprayer.
    Dr. Carson is soft spoken, usually has reasonable and thoughtful views, but sometimes wanders off in all directions. He certainly seems like a nice guy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  16. Kylopod says:

    @Jenos Idanian: A genealogical study has indicated that Obama is actually descended from one of the first black slaves in America…through his mother’s side:

    http://nytimes.com/2012/07/30/us/obamas-mother-had-african-forebear-study-suggests.html

    And no, this finding doesn’t “matter” in terms of assessing Obama, but it does help dispel the common myth that white Americans all have pure white ancestry.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  17. Jenos Idanian says:

    When I read Monala’s comment, my first thought was “his mother had Jewish ancestors?” Then Kylopod’s comment made me think “that’s really interesting.”

    Doesn’t change that Carson’s upbringing is far more typical for African-Americans than Obama’s, but still really interesting.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 5

  18. Grumpy Realist says:

    @Kylopod: ha. I’m a mutt on both sides–one side is mainly Slavic farmers wandering up from the Ukraine, the other side was descended from Belgium farmers. Neither side got to the US in any haste. Second generation immigrant on one side, third generation on the other.

    My Japanese friends always found it unusual I couldn’t trace my family back many generations.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. al-Ameda says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    Obama ran against George W. Bush twice, and he’s still being run against now. Maybe you ought to spread the word among your comrades…

    I agree with the president, who directed some comments to Trump back in 2011:

    “Now, I know that he’s taken some flak lately but no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than The Donald. And that’s because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter, like, did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac? …”
    The Republican Party is Trump’s party.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  20. legion says:

    @Jenos Idanian: I realize I haven’t been a regular here in quite some time, but it’s good to see that some things don’t change – Jenos is still a complete moron who has never once let the actual subject of a discussion divert him from having the argument he desperately wants to have, with all the straw men his subconscious can provide. Thanks for the continuity, J!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  21. Jenos Idanian says:

    @legion: The point Carson was making is that his ancestry and upbringing has a hell of a lot more in common with average African-Americans than Obama, and he’s utterly correct. I still think that Obama has more slavers/slave traders on his father’s side than slaves, if we’re going to play the identity politics games.

    I’d like to think we’re past that, but I ain’t foolish enough to believe it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4

  22. the Q says:

    “….. So, for him to, you know, claim that, you know, he identifies with the experience of black Americans, I think, is a bit of a stretch.”

    Because no one can top a black Republican when it comes to understanding the black experience.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  23. An Interested Party says:

    The point Carson was making is that his ancestry and upbringing has a hell of a lot more in common with average African-Americans than Obama, and he’s utterly correct.

    Funny, then, how Obama’s worldview has much more in common with average black people than Carson’s…not to mention that Carson could never hope to get even half as many votes from blacks as Obama has gotten…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  24. legion says:

    @Jenos Idanian: …and my point is: what the hell does that have to do with literally _anything at all_? Not only is Obama not running for re-election, but neither of the two Dems running are even _pretending_ to be like Obama. Yes, Obama basically ran against W in 2012, but that was only because all of the GOP candidates were actively promising to do everything W did in his 2 terms, only _harder_. That’s demonstrably not the case here; Carson is trying very hard here to make a point that is _fundamentally irrelevant_.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  25. Bill says:

    The main thing Obama shares with blacks is his absentee father, not much else. But wtf cares anymore, y’all fell for it!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 5

  26. An Interested Party says:

    The main thing Obama shares with blacks is his absentee father, not much else. But wtf cares anymore, y’all fell for it!

    Wow, that looks like something that was written by someone who also had an absentee father, or at least, a father who didn’t teach the writer a lot of things…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  27. Grewgills says:

    @An Interested Party:
    Well, he says his gf is black, so that means that nothing he ever says is racist, so…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  28. DrDaveT says:

    @Grumpy Realist:

    My Japanese friends always found it unusual I couldn’t trace my family back many generations.

    I can see that.

    My American friends always find it unusual that I can trace my family back many generations in every direction before I start to hit immigrants. I come from a bushy shrub of religious fruitcakes, younger sons, people fleeing civilization, and illiterate dirt farmers. (And the same common American ancestor that W and Obama share…)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  29. Kylopod says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    The point Carson was making is that his ancestry and upbringing has a hell of a lot more in common with average African-Americans than Obama, and he’s utterly correct.

    No, that wasn’t what his point was. First, he didn’t get into ancestry at all; only you did. His arguments might apply equally to a black person who was adopted by a white family. Second, he was using the facts of Obama’s upbringing to suggest that Obama cannot plausibly claim to “identif[y] with the experience of black Americans.” In short, he was reducing blackness to the environment of one’s childhood.

    When I was growing up in the 1990s there was a very right-wing black columnist named Gregory Kane who wrote for my hometown paper, the Baltimore Sun. Most of his columns were obnoxious, Limbaugh-esque rants, but every now and then he would say something surprisingly insightful. Around the time Tiger Woods was telling the press he wasn’t black but “Cablinasian” (a term Woods coined to highlight his various racial ancestries), Kane wrote that Woods should be given “the cab test”: “Stand him on a street corner in any large American city and have him hail a cab. If he gets one, he’s Cablinasian. If he doesn’t, he’s definitely black.”

    Kane understood, as you and Carson apparently don’t, that blackness isn’t just a matter of a person’s biological ancestry or who raised the person or who the person knew as a kid. It ultimately comes down to one thing: the fact that white society has chosen to label that person as “black.” Obama didn’t invent his blackness; if he had chosen to take the Tiger Woods route of denying it, it wouldn’t change the fact that an overwhelming majority of white Americans would still view him as black–whether saying so openly or not–and it wouldn’t have stopped him from being the target of antiblack racism.

    Furthermore, growing up in a black environment (whatever that means) does not automatically prove that the person possesses truer insights into the black experience than anyone who did not grow up in such an environment. To hear these arguments coming from a man who has described Obamacare as the worst thing to happen this country since slavery, and who has denied seeing any racism among his fellow Republicans (keep in mind that many black Republicans, from Michael Steele to Alan Keyes, have freely admitted to having seen considerable racism in the GOP), suggests he has learned nothing from his childhood experiences and has basically adopted the clueless perspective of the average out-of-touch privileged white elite.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  30. grumpy realist says:

    @DrDaveT: One’s interest in tracing one’s family background sorta drops off the cliff when one does some research and discovers the highest Google search involving one’s last name brings up a Nazi war criminal…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  31. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Well…

    That’s the pot calling the kettle white.

    Yep.

    I’m gong straioght to hell for that one.

    :)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0